Living With the Planet

Initial Publication Date: August 17, 2015

Time required to complete this unit:

This page is under development and may be edited at any time. Some resources have not been cataloged, pending project approval.
3 weeks, or 12.5 hours, or 750 minutes (estimated)

Earth Science Content:

Key Terms: population growth, groundwater, surface water, renewable, nonrenewable, resources, fossil fuels, carbon cycle, water cycle, recharge, discharge, evapotranspiration, storage, residence time, sustainability


The Earth is an intricate web of life, interconnecting processes and materials. If one small thing changes, there is a change in response elsewhere in the system. Humans are a part of this system. Our decisions on how we access and use our resources impact our lives, society and the health of our planet. Some of our activities are already changing our climate, causing soil erosion, reducing the availability of fresh water and precious metals, altering the air quality of our planet, and causing the loss of biodiversity. Earth's changing climate has become a particular concern. We worry about the fragility of the Earth's present climate and the consequences of climate change on life, including humans and their cultures. In this unit, we strive to understand the impact of our choices on the land, water, air and natural resources that we depend on to maintain viable conditions for humans to live on planet Earth.

Developed by the DIG Texas BlueprintsCentral Texas Blueprint Team

Quick Links

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Students will be able to (do)

  • Evaluate the impact of changes in Earth's subsystems via the use of energy, water, mineral, and rock resources.
  • Analyze the economics of resources from initial discovery to disposal.
  • Quantify the dynamics of surface and groundwater movement.

Students will know

  • The processes that form fossil fuels.
  • How carbon exists in different forms within the five subsystems of Earth in the global carbon cycle.
  • The geosphere continuously changes over a range of time scales involving dynamic and complex interactions.
  • Earth contains energy, water, mineral, and rock resources and that human use of these resources impacts Earth's subsystems.
  • The interactions among Earth's five subsystems influence resource availability, which affects Earth's habitability.
  • There are many careers that involve Earth's resources.


The activities we have selected are congruent with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and are arranged to build upon one another. Therefore, to follow the storyline we recommend that teachers complete the activities in the order provided. To open an activity in a new tab or window, right click the activity link and select the preferred option.

Learning about Fossil Fuels

View Activity

The Department of Energy produced this series of interactive energy lessons. Students can learn about the history of fossil fuels and their future potential.

Instructional Strategies: Reading

Resource Type: Scholarly article

Time Required: 120 minutes

The Formation of Fossil Fuels - Earth: The Operators' Manual

View Activity

This video segment from the Earth Operators Manual summarizes how fossil fuels are made, provides a comparison of how long it takes to store energy in coal, oil and natural gas, and discusses how fast we're using them.

Instructional Strategies: Lecture

Resource Type: Video

Time Required: 3 minutes

Texas Wind and Efficiency

View Activity

This engaging video from Earth The Operators Manual focuses on national and global wind energy potential by specifically highlighting Texas' role as wind energy leader and energy efficiency efforts in Houston, Texas.

Instructional Strategies: Lecture

Resource Type: Video

Time Required: 9 minutes

Selecting Sites for a Renewable Energy Project

View Activity

In this activity, from the "On The Cutting Edge" site, students use Google Earth to investigate a variety of renewable energy sources and select sites within the United States that would be appropriate for projects based on those sources.

Instructional Strategies: Challenge or problem-solving

Resource Type: Visualization (static visualization, animation, simulation)

Time Required: 150 minutes

James Balog: Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss

View Activity

Photographer James Balog shares his time-lapse photography skills as a way to help scientists and the public see the effects of climate change through receding glaciers.

Instructional Strategies: Lecture

Resource Type: Video

Time Required: 20 minutes

What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Responses to Climate Change

View Activity

The overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) launched the What We Know initiative to ensure that the three "R's" of climate change are communicated to the public: Reality, Risk and Response. The website offers five-minute video interviews with climate experts.

Instructional Strategies: Lecture , Reading

Resource Type: Interview with an expert , Video

Time Required: 20 minutes


View Activity

A series of six lessons presented in this EarthLabs module on Corals expose students to current scientific research, data, and visualizations in a way that allows them to become active participants in both learning about and conserving coral reefs.

Instructional Strategies: Inquiry

Resource Type: Classroom learning activity , Laboratory investigation, experiment or demonstration

Time Required: 750 minutes for all 6 labs in the module.

For this unit, we have selected three labs: Finding Coral's Ideal Environment (Lab 4), Trouble in Paradise: Factors that Impact Coral Health (Lab 5) and Using Data to Identify Hotspots and Predict Bleaching Events (Lab 6).

  • Finding Coral's Ideal Environment (Corals Lab 4)

Student's examine sea surface temperature, depth, salinity, and aragonite saturation data to discover coral reefs' favored environments.

Time Required: 90 minutes

  • Trouble in Paradise: Factors that Impact Coral Health (Corals Lab 5)

Students examine the three main factors that disrupt corals.

Time Required: 90 minutes

  • Using Data to Identify Hotspots and Predict Bleaching Events (Corals Lab 6)

Students will explore some of the tools used by scientists to identify areas around the world where corals are at risk for bleaching and they will also learn about what bleaching means for the long-term health of coral reefs and invent a way to model what happens in coral polyps during the process of coral bleaching.

Time Required: 90 minutes

NASA Computer Model Provides a New Portrait of Carbon Dioxide

View Activity

From NASA, the video "A Year in the Life of Earth's CO2," is an ultra-high resolution computer model giving scientists the ability to see how carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere makes its way around the Earth. Additional information is included in the accompanying article.

Instructional Strategies: Modeling

Resource Type: Visualization (static visualization, animation, simulation)

Time Required: 5 minutes

Field Trips

Studies that examine how geologists think and learn about the Earth point to the value of field experiences in helping students develop practices that constitute geologic reasoning. We encourage teachers to take students into the field as much as possible. To this end, we include ideas for virtual and actual field trips. The former recognizes the limitations of the K-12 classroom setting. Field learning provides a chance to encourage the ability to see features that are important to professional practice. Indeed, many geoscientists report that fieldwork was a key factor influencing their choice of geoscience as a career.


Scaffolding Notes

Teachers must develop their own individual plan for how they will teach the unit.The learning activities and educational resources in this unit are intended to complement other instructional activities led by the teacher. Many of the selected learning experiences provide links to excellent background preparatory materials, additional hands-on resources, teaching tips, and cross-curricular connections.

Teachers will need to create their own multimedia presentations, deliver lectures and assign ancillary work to their students in order to set the stage for effective use of the learning activities contained herein. Therefore, it is imperative to allocate time to review the activities and background material prior to using the learning experiences in this unit and to probe students for their prior knowledge before starting an activity.

In addition, although some activities may incorporate assessments, teachers may need to create their own assessments to ensure that are appropriate for the students they teach.

Asterisks (*) indicate teacher resource and background information recommendations for activity support.


Next Generation Science Standards

We anticipate that students should be able to achieve the NGSS Performance Expectation(s) listed after completing the activities in this unit. However, we have not carried out educational research to verify this.

Additional Resources

The recommended additional resources may be used to extend or augment the storyline.

SWITCH Energy Project

A film, video and education program to help people understand energy and promote energy efficiency.

Earth the Operators' Manual

This PBS show presents an objective, accessible assessment of the Earth's problems and possibilities that will leave viewers informed, energized and optimistic.

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