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How Much Energy is on my Plate?

Lane Seeley - Seattle Pacific University, Karin Kirk - SERC, CLEAN Community Collection

This activity leads students through a sequence of learning steps that highlight the embedded energy that is necessary to produce various types of food. Students start by thinking through the components of a basic meal and are later asked to review the necessary energy to produce different types of protein.

The activity takes about one to two class periods.

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Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This activity done with various degrees of scaffolding. Students can either follow the step-by-step activity or activity can be left open-ended for students to explore a range of answers.
  • Another extension to this activity would be a discussion about energy use and climate change in different societies with different eating habits.
  • Students with limited quantitative skills or Excel knowledge could be paired with experienced students.

About the Science

  • Students explore the embedded energy in various types of foods.
  • Students calculate the amount of energy per gram of protein in common foods to find the most efficient meal.
  • The calculation of embedded energy is provided for the students.
  • A lot of good background and reference material is provided with the activity.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This is a good basic resource to allow a general audience to think critically about food sources and the energy need to produce the foods. Many of the references do not appear to have good scientific rigor. Several are found on blogs.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity provides students with a jumping-off point to do various calculations regarding the energy required to produce various foods.
  • This is a very engaging activity with multiple good extension suggestions and lots of hooks for interesting discussions personal energy use and the relevance of energy in our lives.
  • This activity develops students' reflective thinking skills and critical thinking via the use of concept maps.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity does not include student handouts.
  • The activity does include sample calculations.
  • The video that is optionally suggested as part of the activity is only available at cost.

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