The Great Energy Debate
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
This lesson plan explores the controversial issues surrounding the energy debate in the United States. Students will research recent initiatives being taken in this area and analyze their implications. They will then assume the roles of pivotal stakeholders in this debate and testify to a mock congressional committee responsible for making decisions about public lands and energy resources.
- Identify sources of energy used in the United States.
- Distinguish between fossil fuels and renewable energy.
- Describe how energy production and consumption can impact public lands.
- Learn about alternatives to fossil fuels.
- Participate in a debate over whether to use public lands as sources of energy.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
Teaching Notes and Tips
Most importantly, the instructor will need to narrow the topic. Will this be an open session proposing viable alternatives to Middle Eastern oil? Or will this be a discussion and vote on the Alaskan oil-drilling proposal? Or will this be a debate on how to allocate the budget for research on alternative energy?
The teacher will need to flesh out the roles provided. Although recommended for 9th-graders, the lesson plan will probably not need to be adapted for undergraduates, in part because he or she will need to design assessment criteria. The debate will be one for which the teacher will need to remind the students to take the role of their character fairly seriously, even if the student disagrees with the character's perspective.
The site proposes a fascinating assignment to follow up the debate: a paper countering the arguments they made during the debate. Before the debate, the instructor might ask students to work in teams each of which would create a table showing the current breakdown of U.S. energy sources: oil, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, other, including quantity consumed each year and sources. It would be interesting to see how numbers varied between the tables constructed by oil industry advocates and environmentalists.
Timothy Heaton's Energy and Mineral Resources ( This site may be offline. ) practice exam could be used in its online form as a warm-up exercise, or as a source of questions (and multiple choice answers) for a follow-up examination.
References and Resources
In addition to the links at the bottom of the lesson plan:
- The problematic short-term alternative to Middle-Eastern oil, Alaskan oil
- Fuel cells are a very promising technology, but still have some problems
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a lot of research on a great many alternative-energy topics.
- Debate Central has an entire section on Problems with Renewable Energy
Interactive role-playing exercises dealing with the complicated issue of humanity's dependence on fossil fuels and its consequences include:
- Mock Environmental Summit
At the end of a six-week class or unit on global warming, students role-play representatives from various countries and organizations at an international summit on global warming.
- The Great Energy Debate
This lesson plan explores the energy debate in the U.S. Students will hold a mock congressional committee meeting and make decisions about public lands and energy resources.
- What Should We Do About Global Warming?
This module contains an 8-lesson curriculum to study greenhouse gases and global warming using data and visualizations. The students will summarize the issue in a mock debate or a presentation.
- WorldWatcher Project: Global Warming Project
In this exercise, students role-play advisors to various heads of state on the subject of global warming. The web site also has free modeling and GIS software and lesson and lab plans.