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GLBRC's Education and Outreach Classroom Materials

Classroom Materials

Selected by CLEANThe materials below were developed by teachers and professional educators associated with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center with input from our scientists. Many of the techniques described are the same, or closely mimic those conducted by researchers within the Center, with adaptations made as necessary to work within the constraints of the K-16 classroom.

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This is one of our most popular and adaptable activities for use in outreach events and classrooms. It is a basic experiment that allows students to observe the process of fermentation and the challenge of producing ethanol from cellulosic sources.

Audience Elementary through High School (K-12)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Agriculture, Environmental Science
Prior Knowledge None
Time Required 30-60 minutes prep time, depending on event/group size. 10 minute set-up, observe for 15 minutes or up to 1.5 hours.
Tags/Keywords elementary school, middle school, high school, fermentation, microbe, ethanol, carbon dioxide, interactive
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In this flexible lab sequence, students convert cellulosic biomass sources, such as sawdust, straw, or cardboard into sugars and then ethanol. As biomass samples are pretreated, enzymatically digested, and fermented, students use glucose meters and ethanol probes to measure the key products of this chemical conversion. In the process, students can test predictions about which biomass sources and treatment methods will be most effective for producing ethanol.

Audience High School through Undergraduate (9-16)
Related Subject Areas Chemistry, Environmental Science, Biology Agriculture, Engineering
Prior Knowledge Energy and matter transformations, fermentation, enzyme action, relationship between monomers and polymers
Time Required Five to seven 50-minute class periods over 5-14 days (can be adapted to short times)
Tags/Keywords high school, undergraduate, cellulose, microbe, enzyme, cellulase, biomass, ethanol, interactive, fermentation, inquiry, engineering
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Slideshow  CB2E: High School Students Make Cellulosic Ethanol
Videos CB2E Lab Overview
CB2E Lab Tutorial

This high school-level lab demonstration and inquiry activity introduces students to the process of fermenting cellulosic biomass into ethanol, along with the challenges researchers face in this area.

Audience High School through Undergraduate (9-16)
Related Subject Areas Environmental Science, Physical Science, Agriculture, Engineering
Prior Knowledge Basic carbohydrate structures, brief introduction to photosynthesis, cellular respiration, fermentation, and enzyme structure and function
Time Required Variable: Three to Five 50-minute class periods
Tags/Keywords high school, undergraduate, feedstock, biomass, fermentation, microbe, ethanol, carbohydrate, interactive, experiment, pretreatment, enzyme, inquiry, cellulose
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This mini fermenter can be used to conduct small-scale fermentation investigations or demonstrations similar to research done by GLBRC scientists. The design allows for students to use simple techniques and classroom-grade probes to collect data during fermentation on a range of variables, such as ethanol concentration, CO2 production, temperature and pH. The complete mini fermenter can be built with readily-available supplies for approximately $20 (detailed supplies list included with instructions).

Audience High School through Undergraduate (Grades 9-16)
Related Subject Areas Environmental Science, Agriculture, Engineering
Materials Cost $20.00
Time Required Approximately 2 hours to construct.
Tags/Keywords undergraduate, fermentation, interactive, experiment
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Students collect samples that they predict will contain communities of cellulose-degrading microbes and test for the ability of microrganisms in their samples to break down pure cellulose (filter paper). In the process, groups collect evidence to test predictions about which environmental microbial samples will be the most effective for degrading cellulose. By comparing results across groups, students can begin to uncover patterns and develop explanations about the types of environments that support cellulose-degrading microbes. This lab method is nearly identical to that used by GLBRC researchers and student results could help scientists discover new enzymes for efficient biofuel production.

Audience                       High School through Undergraduate (9-16)
Related Subject Areas  Science, Agriculture, Engineering, Biotechnology, Biology, Environmental Science
Prior Knowledge Type of carbohydrates, basic cell wall structure, enzyme function, role of microorganisms in decomposition, matter and energy transformations
Time Required Five to seven 50-minute class periods over 12-18 days (can be adapted to shorter times)
Tags/Keywords high school, undergraduate, cellulose, microbe, enzyme, bioprospecting, ethanol, interactive, community
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Videos

Bioprospecting and Biofuels: Connecting Classrooms with Energy Research
Bioenergy in the High School Classroom: Bioprospecting Lab
GLBRC Bioprospecting Lab Introduction
Biofuels and Bioprospecting for Beginners TED-Ed Video

 

Students investigate locations they believe harbor cellulose-digesting microbes, collect samples, isolate them on selective media, and screen them for cellulase activity.

Audience                       High School through Undergraduate (9-16)
Related Subject Areas  Agriculture, Engineering
Prior Knowledge Symbiotic relationships, types of carbohydrates, basic cell wall structure, enzyme structure and function
Time Required Five to seven 50-minute class periods over 12-18 days (can be adapted to short times)
Tags/Keywords high school, undergraduate, cellulose, microbe, enzyme, bioprospecting, ethanol, interactive, community
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Video Biofuels and Bioprospecting for Beginners

The ability to explain the processes by which plants capture, store and use energy for growth and development is fundamental to understanding bioenergy. In this set of lessons, students investigate how plants harness and use different sources of energy during germination and growth. Students ask questions and make predictions about the sources of energy that plants use. They then plan and carry out investigations using Wisconsin Fast Plants® to collect evidence to test predictions and construct scientific arguments.

Audience Middle and High School (6-12 grade)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Environmental Science, Agriculture, Biochemistry
Prior Knowledge Introduction to the forms of energy used by plants for growth and development
Time Required 7-12 class periods (can be adapted to shorter times)
Tags/Keywords middle school, high school, plants, Wisconsin Fast Plants, photosynthesis, respiration, germination, growth, development, energy, modeling, investigation
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Fields of Fuel is a free, online, multiplayer game designed to allow players to explore the complex sustainability challenges associated with growing bioenergy crops. The game is primarily designed for use in high school and undergraduate environmental studies, ecology, economics and natural resources classes, but the game can be played in a variety of formal and informal settings.

Audience High School through Undergraduate (Grades 9-16)
Related Subject Areas Life Sciences-Environmental Science, Life Sciences-Biology, Agriculture, Social Science, Economics
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with basic farming practices, concept of sustainability, concept of bioenergy and biofuels, some experience interpreting graphs helpful
Time Required One or more 50-minute class periods
Tags/Keywords high school, undergraduate, sustainability, biodiversity, carbon cycle, biomass, feedstock, interactive, photosynthesis, inquiry, carbon sequestration, agriculture, crops, climate change, computer game, activity, game, economics
Play online

         Fields of Fuel game home page

 Play online at fieldsoffuel.org

In this board game, players take on the role of bioenergy crop farmers trying to earn a living while trying to be good environmental stewards.

Audience Middle School through Undergraduate (Grades 6-16)
Related Subject Areas Life Sciences-Environmental Science, Life Sciences-Biology, Agriculture, Social Science
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with basic farming practices, sustainability concepts, photosynthesis and the carbon cycle
Time Required Two to five 50-minute class periods
Tags/Keywords middle school, high school, undergraduate, sustainability, biodiversity, carbon cycle, biomass, feedstock, interactive, photosynthesis, inquiry, carbon sequestration, agriculture, crops, climate change, board game, activity, game, economics
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This activity asks students to begin to consider the life cycle energy and carbon dioxide emission costs of gasoline, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol.

Audience Middle School through Undergraduate (Grades 6-16)
Related Subject Areas Environmental Science, Agriculture, Engineering
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with the carbon cycle, types of energy, energy transformations
Time Required Two or three 50-minute class periods
Tags/Keywords middle school, high school, undergraduate, life cycle assessment, sustainability, ethanol, fossil fuel, carbon cycle
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This activity allows students to compare the net energy and/or net greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted during the life cycle production of ethanol from switchgrass, diverse prairie and corn stover.

Audience High School through Undergraduate (9-16)
Related Subject Areas Environmental Science, Engineering
Prior Knowledge Knowledge of basic forms or energy, energy transfer in biological and designed systems, carbon cycle, energy units (especially joule (J), kilojule (kJ), megajoule (mJ)), etc. Familiarity with area units, especially hectares (ha), familiarity with alternative fuels and role of greenhouse gas emissions in climate change
Time Required Variable: Five to six 50-minute class periods, fewer if only energy scenarios are completed
Tags/Keywords

high school, undergraduate, life cycle analysis, greenhouse gas, feedstock, biomass, modeling, energy

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In these field investigations, students explore the effects of biofuel crop production on invertebrate diversity and the effects those organisms have on pollination rates and weed seed predation.

Audience Kindergarten through Undergraduate (K-16)
Related Subject Areas Biology
Prior Knowledge Basic understanding of meanings and importance of biodiversity, the roles of invertebrates (insects) in ecosystems, plant-insect interactions (i.e. pollination, predation) and some experience conducting scientific investigations helpful
Time Required Three to five 50-minute class periods.
Tags/Keywords

kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate, biodiversity, invertebrates, insects, bugs, ecosystem services, field work, outdoors, interactive, investigation, pollination, experiment, experimental design

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Video

Claudio Gratton: Bugs, Beetles, Bees and Biofuels

This field investigation serves to strengthen student understanding of the ability of plants to sequester carbon above and below ground. Students will measure above ground biomass by harvesting small samples, and root growth using ingrown root-cores. These activities are adaptable to school-yard plots, existing agricultural plots or natural areas.

Audience 6th Grade through Undergraduate (6-16)
Related Subject Areas Environmental Science, Biology, Agriculture
Prior Knowledge Basic knowledge of greenhouse effect, carbon cycle, photosynthesis, and glucose transport in plants.
Time Required Three 50-minute classroom periods minimum plus wait time for plant growth.
Tags/Keywords middle school, high school, undergraduate, root, field work, carbon cycle, biomass, feedstock, interactive, photosynthesis, inquiry, carbon sequestration, agriculture, crops, climate change
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In this activity, raffia ribbon is used to create a visual representation of the differing root depths in biofuel crops and prairie plants. The wall hanging can be used to promote discussion about plants’ ability to sequester carbon and contribute to soil carbon.

Audience 6th Grade through Undergraduate (Grades 6-16)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Agriculture
Prior Knowledge Basic knowlege of plant anatomy and physiology, characteristics of annual vs. perennial crops, photosythesis, and carbon cycle
Time Required One or two 50-minute class periods
Tags/Keywords

root, biomass, feedstock, plants, interactive, carbon cycle, crops, prairie

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This activity examines how soil microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, are involved in carbon cycling. Students design experiments to explore the relationship between microbial respiration rates and soil variables such as temperature, habitat, soil type, and agricultural management choices. Four methods for measuring CO2 released from soil are provided, one in the field (CO2 probe), and three in the lab (CO2 probe, bromothymol blue (BTB) and acid-base titration).

Audience 6th Grade through Undergraduate (Grades 6-16)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Physical Science, Agriculture, Environmental Studies
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with the components of experimental design, data collection and data analysis. Basic understanding of cellular respiration, carbon cycle, role of soil microbes in ecosystems, and role of CO2 as a greehouse gas.
Time Required Varies by technique and experimental design. Two to seven 50-minute class periods spread out over a one to two week period.
Tags/Keywords high school, undergraduate, microbes, carbon dioxide, soil, interactive, carbon cycle, fungi, experiment feedstock, field work, inquiry, climate change
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This short (30-50 minute) activity helps students visualize and model a commonly published diagram of global carbon pools and fluxes. Students create a scaled 3-D visual of global carbon pools and net fluxes between pools with anthropogenic influences. The relative sizes of the pools can be modeled with stacks of poker chips, rolled columns of printer paper or similar. The fluxes can be represented by bingo chips, pennies or similar. Supplemental discussion questions guide students through considering the forms of carbon in pools, key carbon transforming processes associated with fluxes, and the implications for climate change.

Audience 6th Grade through Undergraduate (Grades 6-16)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Physical Science
Prior Knowledge Basic understanding of the global carbon cycle, forms of carbon in various pools, and types of fluxes. Familiarity with units of mass, especially the gigatonne (Gt)
Time Required One 50-minute class period including discussion
Tags/Keywords carbon cycle, anthropogenic, climate change, greenhouse effect, interactive
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Students analyze data detailing global energy sources and sinks (uses) and construct a diagram to show the relative scale and the connections between them. Discussions of scale, historical, socio-environmental and geographic variation in this data and implications for future energy use are included.

Audience High School through Undergraduate (9-16)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Physical Science, Engineering
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with renewable and non-renewable energy sources, basic physics concepts related to the transformation of energy and matter, and familiarity with the joule (J) as a unit of energy
Time Required One to two 50-minute class periods
Tags/Keywords middle school, high school, undergraduate, energy, data, sustainability
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A four page handout that discusses the difficulties in creating cellulosic ethanol. Appropriate for high school and college students.

Video: What is cellulose and how is it used to make ethanol?

PDF: Why is it so difficult to create cellulosic ethanol?

"Someone or something has been attacking the waxworm larvae in local corn and grass fields. GLBRC Entomology detectives want to find out who is responsible and thank them for their service..." This short reading and accompanying worksheet offers a window into how GLBRC scientists are investigating the insect populations in different crops and the services they provide to farmers. Research stories give students a window into the work of professional scientists and engineers.

Audience Middle through High School (6-12)
Related Subject Areas Environmental Science, Biology, Ecology, Agriculture
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with invertebrates, predator-prey relationships, habitats and the concept of biodiversity helpful.
Time Required 20-50 minutes depending on time spent in class discussion.
Tags/Keywords middle school, high school, insects, biodiversity, ecosystem services, reading, story, discussion
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Human energy use and biofuels and their role in managing global climate change are urgent current socio-scientific issues facing our society. The Next Generation Science Standards recommend that students learn about these about issues. However, the story is complex and students will need multiple opportunities to work through it. The materials provided here provide a way to launch a study of biofuels. We recommend that you tell the story of biofuels and post a story wall in your classroom. The included online Prezi presentation version can serve as an introduction and review of the story.

Audience Middle through High School (5-12)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Environmental Science, Earth Science, Chemistry, Agriculture
Prior Knowledge None
Time Required 15-50 minutes
Tags/Keywords high school, middle school, story, interactive, environment, carbon cycle, biofuel, fossil fuel, sustainability, photosynthesis, combustion, fermentation, respiration
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"Which came first—the engineer or the scientist? Scientists find out why things happen. Engineers solve problems to make particular things happen." In this story, students learn about the interplay between science and engineering in fermentation research—from the discovery of pasteurization in the 1800s to current efforts to produce efficient biofuels with biotechnology. Research stories give students a window into the work of professional scientists and engineers.

Audience High School (Grades 9-12)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Biotechnology, Agriculture, Environmental Science
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with yeast, microbes and the process of fermentation helpful.
Time Required 20-50 minutes depending on time spent in class discussion.
Tags/Keywords middle school, high school, yeast, fermentation, science, engineering, pasteurization, reading, story, discussion
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"In the middle of Wisconsin’s lush farmland, there is an experiment going on. Two hundred quarter-acre plots are neatly laid out, separated by grassy lanes. Poplar saplings grow in one plot. Corn in another. A patch of miscanthus grass, taller than a person, stands between a plot of switchgrass and a patch of 'weeds.' What is going on here?" In this story, students follow the investigations of GLBRC agronomists, who design large-scale biofuel crop experiments on farms. Students learn about the unique challenges and interesting discoveries that come from conducting experiments in the field.  Research stories give students a window into the work of professional scientists and engineers.

Audience High School (Grades 9-12)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Agriculture, Environmental Science, Ecology, Earth Science, and Soil Science
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with scientific method and basic experimental design helpful.
Time Required 20-50 minutes depending on time spent in class discussion.
Tags/Keywords high school, agronomy, experiment, corn, switchgrass, soil, reading, story, discussion
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The Biofuels vs Fossil Fuels unit has students explore the similarities and differences between fossil fuels and biofuels. In the process, students investigate the carbon-transforming processes of combustion, photosynthesis, fermentation and respiration. They apply their knowledge of these processes to the global carbon cycle to examine how use of fossil fuels and biofuels have different effects on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and consequently global climate change. Students use their understanding of the global carbon cycle to study the claim that biofuels, such as ethanol made from plant material, can help reduce the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In addition, students examine the environmental impact of biofuels agriculture.

Audience Grades 6-12
Related Subject Areas Biology, Environmental Science, Earth Science, Chemistry, Agriculture
Prior Knowledge None
Time Required Fifteen 50-minute class periods or about 3 weeks
Tags/Keywords high school, middle school, interactive, environment, carbon cycle, biofuel, fossil fuel, sustainability, photosynthesis, combustion, fermentation, respiration
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What is the difference between biofuels and fossil fuels? Why are researchers at GLBRC investigating making biofuels from corn stalks, grasses and other inedible plant material? This short interactive presentation introduces why GLBRC is researching making biofuels from non-food crops and traces the key steps in the production of biofuels from different plant materials. The presentation also explores the differences between biofuels and fossil fuels' role in the carbon cycle.

See the classroom version of this story for instructions on how to use this story to introduce students biofuels and launch further study of the topic.

Can perennial biomass crops compete with king corn? In this “data nugget” activity, students analyze and interpret data on the biomass production of different bioenergy crops grown on Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) experimental farms in Wisconsin and Michigan. Students read a brief summary of the GLBRC research questions and experimental design. They then are given the task of interpreting real GLBRC biomass data to answer the research questions about how perennial biomass crops, such as switchgrass and prairies, compare to corn.

Audience High School (9-12)
Related Subject Areas Environmental Science, Biology, Agriculture, Earth Science
Prior Knowledge Familiarity with scientific method, hypothesis testing, graphing, graph interpretation, and basic statistics helpful.
Time Required One or two 50-minute class periods.
Tags/Keywords high school, bioenergy, biomass, biofuels, graph analysis, crops, discussion, data analysis
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