Classroom Materials

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Classroom Materials

The 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 Environmental Science, Physical Science, Agriculture
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

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

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 (9-16)
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.

Audience 6th Grade through Undergraduate (Grades 6-16)
Related Subject Areas Biology, Physical Science, Agriculture
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. Three 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 activity provides a way to improve understanding of a commonly published diagram of global carbon pools and fluxes. Students create a scaled 3-D visual of carbon pools and net fluxes between pools with anthropogenic influences.

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 Gigaton (Gt)
Time Required One 50-minute class period including discussion (activity itself takes approximatley 15-20 minutes)
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?

These curriculum materials use an inquiry approach to help students compare the effects on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of substituting biofuels for fossil fuels. Students explore the advantages and difficulties of making ethanol from plant fiber (cellulose) versus corn. They use the crosscutting concepts of matter and energy conservation (Framework for K12 Science Education) to compare fermentation, respiration, photosynthesis and combustion and they do a cost/benefit analysis of biofuel production and use. Download materials here.