Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Webquest

One of the favorite (and most challenging) units for my students was the cross-curricular environmental unit we would complete with some of the best science teachers in the state, Ola Nordkvist and Birgitta Meade. This included reading the philosophical novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. In spirit of Earth Day, I've shaken the dust off my teacher unit plans and included the webquest for the unit below. The cumulative projects (a persuasive essay and a debate) were items we did intensive process analysis throughout the course.


You are a member of the president's cabinet (one of a select group who advises the president on the actions he takes). The president doesn't know a thing about the environment, but knows he has to do something. He's worried he will make the wrong choice on policies, and not get re-elected to a second term!!! Oh Heaven's-to-Betsy. He is relying on you to give him some sound advice on the different topics.


You will be appointed as one of three roles--Economic advisor, Policy advisor, and Scientific advisor. You will be serving in that role as we explore environmental issues for the next six weeks. In that role, you will complete a series of tasks to help advise the president, including 1) blogs, 2) a persuasive essay, and 3) a debate.

Economic advisor Your role is to think about what is best for the American economy. Presidents are often judged on how well the economy is doing, so you need to make sure that unemployment is low. You also need to make sure the country is producing economic goods. This is measured by the Gross Domestic Product. You want to make sure whatever policies are put forward by the president, that they promote successful business.
Policy advisor Your role is to make sure the president is popular. This is done not only by approval ratings, but also by life expectancy. The higher the life expectancy, the higher the approval ratings. Of course, people also hate paying taxes. Nothing makes a president more unpopular than raising taxes. You need to make sure whatever policies the president supports are popular with the people.
Scientific advisor Your role is to make sure the nation's resources are maintained at healthy levels, and to make sure the president is making wise scientific decisions. You are concerned about how much fossil fuels are on hand, because if the country gets low, it ruins our way of life. You also want to make sure that the country does not become overpopulated.

It is important that you think about things from the viewpoint of either the economic, scientific, or policy advisor, even if you personally disagree with what they might say.


• First, we will take this likert-scale opinion survey. Then, we'll look at a few articles which introduce the current debate over global warming, both the environmental-activist side and the pro-business side. We will complete a blog over the articles on your initial thoughts on the environment.

• Next, you will be assigned one of the three roles in your groups.

• With that role in mind, we will look be looking at four related issues. For each issue, we will visit the SIRS website, study the overview of the issue, read the pros and cons of each side, and read one article for both the pro side and the con side. We then will complete a blog over how your role would view this issue. Be sure to mention the author of the articles that you read for each issue

Issue #1: Global Warming
Issue #2: Pollution
Issue #3: Endangered Species
Issue #4: Overpopulation

• Also with our role in mind, we will watch Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and complete a blog over how your role would view Mr. Gore's position. Be sure to take note of:

1. How does global warming take place?
2. How does Gore "know" that carbon dioxide is increasing (the "jagged line")? What images/photos support his claim?
3. Why isn't this a "cyclical phenomenon"?
4. What bad things does global warming bring about?
5. What is especially bad about the melting of the polar caps (there are several effects this will bring)?
6. What are the three chief causes of this rise in co2 emissions?

7. What are 3 misconceptions the world has about global warming that affect awareness?
8. What can be done about it?

• Next, in our groups, we will play the Global Warming policy game. Your group members will need to work together, as you are competing against other groups for the best statistics over the time period. When we are finished... you guessed it, a blog.

• After completing those items, we will conduct a debate on what should our president's environmental policy be. You will debate your group members during class time (the recording will be your May podcast). Mr. Abbey will be the moderator.

• Finally, you will write a persuasive essay to convince the president of the correct environmental policy. The topic for the essay is, "What should be America's environmental policy and why?"


Teacher-created Likert Scale on your opinions of the environment.
SIRS Researcher
Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth"
National Science Foundation's Global Warming Interactive Game


The debate (30 points) will be graded on the knowledge of the issues, the use of support for one's claims, the persuasiveness of the argument (and the rebutting of counter-arguments), and the delivery of presentation (see rubric).

The essay (40 points) will also be graded on the knowlege of issues, the support of one's claims, the persuasiveness of the argument, and will also include mechanics, variety of sentence structure, good essay/paragraph structure, and voice (see rubric).

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