Cradle to Grave Environmental Impact Study Lesson Plan
Differentiated and Adaptable Lesson Plan for Grades 6-12
This lesson plan was developed as a supplemental to many of the Entrepreneur/Business in the school programs that are available for grades 6-12 in BC. It was noticed that many of these programs do not consider Environmental Impact of the products the children create. This lesson plan is designed to be used with the Life Cycle Assessment Worksheet and will allow students to include a Cradle to Grave analysis of their product in their business plan. An Environmental Economics Unit Plan and marking rubric has been included as sample.
BC PROVINCIAL CURRICULUM
K-12 Applied Design, Skills and Technologies Draft Curriculum
- Thinking (creative, critical)
- Personal and Social (Positive Personal and Cultural Identity, Personal awareness and responsibility, Social Responsibility)
Business Education builds an understanding of business skills and concepts in the context of current technology, ethical standards, and in increasingly global economy, empowering students with economic, financial, consumer, and communication skills for lifelong participation in global events.
Using creative and critical thinking, students can work collaboratively to problem find and solve by exploring materials, using tools and equipment, designing and building, developing processes, and communicating the merits of their work. They can learn to critically evaluate the appropriateness of the products they develop and those developed by others. As they explore the role of culture, including local First Nations cultures, in the development of practical and innovative solutions to human needs, they can develop a sense of personal and social responsibility for the products they use and development and their effects on individuals, communities and the environment, now and and in the future.
What outcome(s) does this lesson develop?
The BC Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies curriculum contributes to students’ development as educated citizens through the achievement of the following goals. Students are expected to:
- Acquire practical skills and knowledge that they can use to bring their ideas from conception to fruition
- Develop a sense of efficacy and personal agency about their ability to participate as inventors, innovators, and agents of change to solve practical problems in a rapidly changing world
- explore how the values and beliefs of cultures, including local First Nations cultures, affect the development of products, services and processes.
- understand the environmental implications of the products they are designing and constructing
- Investigate and actively explore a variety of areas, including aspects of Business Education, Home Economics, Information Technology, and Technology Education ,and new and emerging fields, in order to develop practical hands on skills and make informed decisions about pursuing specialized interests for personal enjoyment or careers
- Develop a lifelong interest in designing, making, and evaluating products, services, and processes, and contributing through informed citizenship, volunteer work, or their careers, to finding and solving practical problems.
Background:As an introduction to engineering, you may choose to watch the What is Engineering? video below.
What is Engineering- Wouldn’t it be cool if…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU1vstn99mc
For example, butterflies pass through four stages during their life cycle: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. You can use the example of a butterfly and ask students the following questions to help them compare and contrast product life cycles with the life cycles of living things.
- What are some steps of the life cycle of a butterfly? (Answer: birth, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly, decompose.)
- What are some steps in the life cycle of a product? (Answer: materials acquisition, materials processing, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use and disposal.)
- How is the life cycle of an organism similar to the life cycle of an engineered product? (Possible answers: Both life cycles follow the object from birth to death, or beginning to end. Both cycles involve the flow of energy through the lifetime of the object.)
- How do the two cycles differ? (Answer: Often the life cycle of a product ends with disposal, where the life cycle of a natural organism is recycled into nutrients in the Earth. Looking at the life cycle of a product helps us understand the Earth's natural resources and energy and, particularly, how we produce waste.
Life cycle assessment is a process of scientific investigation that explores the whole-of-life environmental impacts of a product. It is conducted to get a better understanding or the products hidden environmental impacts.
- Material extraction: Where did the materials come from?
- Manufacturing: What was the process of construction- of creating the product from the raw materials?
- Packaging and transport: How is it packaged and transported from place of manufacturing to point of sale?
- Use: what is the life span and use of the product? Does it take energy to use?
- End of Life: How is the product handled at the end of life? Is it disposable? Is it Recyclable? is it reusable?
Inventory Analysis: In this step, the product's energy and materials that are used during the life cycle are calculated. A number value is assigned for energy and physical materials for all the phases of the life cycle (materials acquisition, materials processing, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use, and disposal of the product).
Impact Analysis: The next step is an impact analysis, where the number values from step one are added together. This final number represents the total impact on the environment. The lower the number, the less negative impact the product has on the environment.
Improvement Analysis: Lastly, an improvement analysis is performed to determine if there is any way to reduce the product's impact on the environment. For example, conserving energy or water during any of the phases of the life cycle or exchanging materials for less hazardous waste producing ones would help reduce the impact.
Engineers sometimes design products with durable parts that will have a long lifespan, and other times they design products that are designed to last a relatively short amount of time, but have easy to reuse or recycle parts. Then, the changes are inserted back into the inventory analysis to determine if the total environmental impact can be reduced.
- Any simple manufactured product to analyze (i.e. Paperclips, simple toy-- something age appropriate in complexity) with original packaging, if possible
- Screwdrivers, scissors, etc. for disassembling product if required
- Life Cycles Assessment Worksheet
“What is Engineering- Wouldn’t it be cool if…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU1vstn99mc and the “This is your Life Cycle” animation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01tF21O2iso
Before the Activity
- Gather several metal and plastic products for the students to re-engineer. Some example items might include a broken CD player (or old VCR player if you can find one!), a coffee pot, a stapler or a children's toy.
- Provide a selection of screwdrivers, etc. to have the students take apart the products.
- Lecture: 10 mins
- As an introduction, discuss Cradle to Grave and Life cycle assessment. (5 mins)
- Watch the “What is Engineering- Wouldn’t it be cool if…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU1vstn99mc and the “This is your Life Cycle” animation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01tF21O2iso
- Complete a Life Cycle assessment on a simple product at the front of the class. (I DO) (10 mins)
- Activity: 20 - 40 mins
- Divide the class into their Environmental Economics Teams.
- Give each student group a product with which to complete a sample life cycle assessment. (YA’LL DO) (20 mins)
- Have students complete the Life Cycles Assessment Worksheet in determining a hypothetical number value for the impact of the provided product on the environment. (Remind students that the number is fictional, and for comparison purposes only.)
- Give students time to complete the life cycle analysis of their product. (Note: more complex products will take longer to analyze than simple products, such as a hair brush. They are more interesting too! Choose your products wisely, noting that if one group has a hairbrush while another has a toaster, the groups may finish at different speeds.) During this time, students can take apart the product to get a better idea of the components and manufacturing process.
- Discussion: 10 mins
- Ask students to share the total impact analysis score with the rest of the class. Create a class list of products and their scores on the board. Discuss the range of impacts the products have on the environment.
- Have students think about modifications they could make to the life cycle of their product. Have them complete their improvement analysis on their worksheet and discuss any improvements with the class. Are there any recurring ideas for improvement in the class?
- Remind students that they will need to complete a Life Cycle Assessment Worksheet for their Environmental Economics Eco Fair product. Allow time to do this in a future period.
Be sure to read any safety warnings that came with the products to be sure that disassembling them will not put students at risk of injury or in contact with harmful substances.
Make sure students are careful when taking apart their products. If you don’t want students to take apart the product, you can disassemble the product first, and then show students.
- You can simplify this lesson for younger grades: consider discussing a 3 step process of Manufacturing, Use, and Disposal only.
- Have students look up the life cycles of some common products. A cell phone is a good example of a product that has changed significantly over time, from amount of materials, to packaging and accessories. Cell phone parts include the case, display, wiring, keypad, microphone, speaker, antennae, and battery. Have students create a life cycle assessment for the various parts of a cell phone. The life of a cell phone averages about 18 months in the United States. Have students compare the life cycle assessment of a cell phone to conventional landline phones.
- Have students research more about the development, use and disposal of plastic in products from toy dolls to cars. In fact, plastics account for 25% of all waste in landfills when buried. There are several online web sites that report the amount of plastics in different products and discuss the options for recycling plastics. Have students create a brochure for their school community about the use of plastics and where to dispose of them properly.
- Have students research electronic waste and again come up with a brochure or information campaign to inform their community about proper disposal. Some electronics contain hazardous materials and should not be thrown out with regular trash.
- Older Students: Have older students look up the raw materials (oil, natural gas) that go into making plastics and different metals (ore). Have the students create a scoring system to distinguish different ores and raw materials by their difficulty of extraction from the Earth and limited availability.
- Younger Students: Use easier products, such as a mechanical pencil or a tape dispenser. Less complicated products will help younger students understand the concepts behind the life cycle assessment.
Class Discussion: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses.
- Have the students think about the different parts and pieces that make up a product by holding up a common item, such as a stapler. Create a class list of all the parts of the stapler on the board.
- Show students several examples of products that they will be analyzing during this activity. Ask them to predict which products will prove to have the largest impact on the environment throughout their life cycle.
Worksheet: Have the students follow along with the activity on the worksheets. After students have finished their worksheet, have them compare answers with their peers.
Considering Design Trade-Offs: Have students think about their suggested product improvements from the worksheet. Tell them that engineers must sometimes consider trade-offs in their designs. For example, will reducing the impact on the environment by reducing the amount of materials in the product actually reduce the durability and effectiveness of the product? Have the students decide if there are any similar or possible product trade-offs that should be considered in their suggested product improvements.
Diagramming: Have the students draw the life cycle of their product. On their drawing, have them detail the materials, processes, and energy involved in each phase of the life cycle. The phases they should include are: materials acquisition, materials processing, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use and disposal of the product.
This material was adapted from the Life Cycles lesson.
The TeachEngineering Digital Library is a free, online collection of teacher-tested K-12 engineering activities, lessons and units aligned to educational STEM standards.
Environment Protection Authority Victoria: Additional life cycle activities for students