Value of a tree image

One of the five NARA project goals is to increase bioenergy literacy among students, educators, professionals and the general public. For students and educators, NARA funds and participates in a number of programs targeted to K-12 and higher education students.

For a listing of the student education opportunities provided by NARA, view here.

Developing and distributing curricula that translates NARA research to middle and high school students is one activity NARA promotes and funds. In late 2013, NARA’s affiliate member Facing the Future, published a lesson plan entitled, “Fueling Our Future: Exploring Sustainable Energy Use”.  This publication encourages students to work through many of the issues that NARA is tasked to evaluate such as the potential environmental impacts and technological hurdles presented when using forest residuals to make bio-jet fuel. To date, over 200 copies have been distributed to educators.

For a review of “Fueling Our Future: Exploring Sustainable Energy Use”, read here.

In the March 2014 edition of Science Scope, NARA members Jennifer Schon, Justin Hougham, Karla Eitel and Steve Hollenhorst published a new lesson plan entitled “The Value of a Tree; Comparing Carbon Sequestration to Forest Products”.

To obtain a copy of “The Value of a Tree; Comparing Carbon Sequestration to Forest Products”, click here.

According to lead author Jennifer Schon, “This lesson incorporates STEM practices well and can be scaled up or down depending on available resources. The lessons offer teachers a unique opportunity to incorporate salient policy issues regarding biofuels with something they can likely access easily: trees.”

This lesson plan encourages students to explore the varied ecosystem services that a tree provides such as habitat, materials, carbon sequestration, oxygen and energy. Student activities include identifying a tree to calculate the following:

  • The height and circumference
  • The amount of carbon stored and amount of carbon sequestered annually
  • The amount of jet fuel that can be created from the tree carbon
  • The distance a Boeing 747 can fly per kilogram of carbon

In addition, knowledge assessments are provided to measure student understanding before and after the lessons. Responding to the assessment component, the authors stress:

“There is no right answer when deciding whether to harvest a tree for lumber and use its slash for biofuel or to leave the tree for carbon sequestering. The important concept for them to understand is that there needs to be a balance and the answer is complex, with many layers involved.”

NARA research impacts lesson content

Work led by NARA researcher Indroneil Ganguly found its way in the lessons. Dr. Ganguly’s preliminary life cycle assessment for converting forest residuals into bio-jet fuel suggests that using bio-jet fuel instead of fossil fuel reduces net carbon emissions by 60%, and the avoidance of burning slash piles negates the carbon dioxide emissions associated with harvesting, collecting, chipping, and transporting the biomass to a chipping facility. This inclusion demonstrates how NARA research is being communicated directly to educators and their students.

To learn more about the Dr. Ganguly’s work, view poster and video.

Entry into the classroom

Before publication, several hundred middle school students, in various classroom settings, have used this curriculum, and the lessons have been refined based on student’s and teacher’s experience. The lessons can be modified to accommodate various learning levels and goals, and versions are available for middle and high school students. These lessons do a great job to incorporate STEM learning goals and standards and showcase a current real-world opportunity while asking questions and seeking critical thinking related to transportation fuel options and the student’s natural environment.