The Lifestyle Project

Karin Kirk
Montana State University
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Initial Publication Date: August 22, 2006 | Reviewed: October 22, 2012


This three-week project challenges students to learn about environmental alternatives by modifying their own lifestyles. Throughout the project, students reduce their impacts on the environment by changing the way in which they live from day to day.

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I have used this project in introductory courses in environmental geology, environmental science and physical geology. Although it could be used in almost any course with some modifications. For example, in an upper-level course the students could be asked to be more quantitative and provide more in-depth calculations of their energy and water use.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

There are no skill or conceptual prerequisites, but the project must be introduced in such a way that the students are poised to take on an unusual challenge. This can be accomplished by conducting an in-class discussion on the challenges of our energy consumption, and/or by giving a quiz about environmental habits or the students' ecological footprint (linked in the references section below).

How the activity is situated in the course

The project begins when we are discussing energy resources in class. Then there is usually one week of introduction, baseline calculations and time for everyone to decide which categories they will do. Then the project runs for three weeks. Some planning must be done to fit that into the course schedule. When the project runs into things like Thanksgiving or Spring Break, it can be a good thing, as students get to try out the project "on the road" and they gain more insights.

It is important that the project is not made strictly mandatory, because you can't force lifestyle changes on anyone. I make the project optional, with the other option being a 5+ page research paper. If the project is introduced in a way that sets up an interesting challenge for the students, I have found that the majority will opt to do the project.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

I expect the students to learn the following:
-which everyday tasks require large inputs of energy
-which everyday tasks do not require a lot of energy
-simple ways to reduce energy use
-the details of what is and is not recyclable in our community
-simple ways to reduce waste output
-simple ways to reduce water consumption
-the connection between food production and energy use

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will hopefully come to understand that they do indeed play a role in the big picture. While it is easy to blame others for environmental problems, I'd like to see students come away with an understanding that they are part of the problem and part of the solution. Students should also realize that taking on some changes to their lifestyles is not difficult and they can change their personal environmental impacts for the better.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students write journals for this project, so journal-writing may be a new skill for them.

Description of the activity/assignment

The Lifestyle Project is a way for students to learn about environmental alternatives by modifying their own lifestyles. It is a three-week exercise for students to reduce their impact on the environment by changing the way in which they live from day to day. The project has fairly rigid parameters, allowing students to achieve a gradual but definitive change in their everyday habits. Students choose three categories from a list of six: heat, garbage, electricity and water, driving, eating, and activism. For each category the rules are clearly defined, such as turning down the heat three degrees or eliminating the use of the car. Each week the project becomes more rigorous, because students will have to meet the requirements more frequently. They write about their experiences in journals, which are incredibly insightful, illustrating just how profoundly the project affects them.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The journals are the basis for grading the lifestyle project. For each week of the project the journals are graded out of 10 points. The weekly grade is based on the quality of the journal and the degree to which the student is adhering to the project. It is difficult to assign a letter grade for something so subjective, but some criteria include the effort the student puts forth, the depth to which the students describe the details of their project, their sincerity and the commitment they demonstrate.

If there is a homework assignment added to the project each week, such as calculating the BTUs for shower use or computer time, then that is graded separately.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs