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Sustainability for Science. By Ben Gambler. What Is Sustainability?. Sustainability is defined as “the capacity to endure.”[1] It contains environmental, economic, and social dimensions. I decided to focus on the environmental dimensions, as they are more science-related.

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what is sustainability
What Is Sustainability?
  • Sustainability is defined as “the capacity to endure.”[1]
  • It contains environmental, economic, and social dimensions.
    • I decided to focus on the environmental dimensions, as they are more science-related.
  • Many people will think of recycling when they think of sustainability, which I decided to go with, as it is related to chemistry.
teaching sustainability
Teaching Sustainability
  • I plan to teach chemistry, or “general science” if the district is strapped for science teachers.
  • Chemistry is used to manufacture products used by humans.
  • The materials for disposable products can often be recycled and made into another ready-to-use product, yet humans discard many of these materials.
  • Polymers and batteries are among the most often discarded products.
classroom curriculum logistics
Classroom/Curriculum Logistics
  • Students will most likely be high-school level with little background experience in chemistry; mine will be the first chemistry class for most of them.
  • Ideally, I will have completed units on oxidation-reduction reactions (which are used to generate energy in batteries) and on polymers (which are used to make plastic items).
  • The purpose of the lesson is to teach students how chemistry is used to make products for consumers and that the materials can be re-used.
science technology standards
Science/Technology Standards
  • PA Science Standard 3.4.10B: Analyze energy sources and transfer of heat. Use knowledge of chemical reactions to generate an electrical current.
    • The battery phase of the lesson is about electrical currents and energy generation.
  • ISTE Standard 2: Communication and Collaboration   Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:
  •   a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media. b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats. c. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures. d. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.
    • Students will work in groups to collect and perform analysis of data. They will also make presentations using digital media of their choice.
introducing the concepts
Introducing the Concepts
  • I would have short clips of discarded recyclable materials to show the problem to students.
    • The clips would be minimal as I do not want to spend too much time watching vids in class. There is science to be done!
  • I would ask them what they noticed about the clips and what they would perhaps do to alleviate the problem.
  • We would discuss what the students have learned about recyclable consumer products and how much of it is actually true.
  • Also I could present the following few slides as an introductory presentation.
chemistry surrounds us everywhere
Chemistry surrounds us everywhere.
  • Source:
use of chemistry helps us to improve our lives
Use of chemistry helps us to improve our lives.
  • Source:
however what happens when we are done using chemistry generated products
However, what happens when we are done using chemistry-generated products?
  • Source:
we must keep materials in the circle
We must keep materials in the circle…
  • Source:
welcome to sustainability for science
Welcome to Sustainability for Science!
  • Source:
intro to polymers
Intro to Polymers
  • Poly=many, mer=units.
  • Polymers are long chains up to several thousands of units long.
  • A unit is one molecule of the base chemical; these can either be all the same in a homopolymer or two or more alternating units in a copolymer.
  • Synthetic polymers are often formed from naturally-occurring organic molecules, yet the temperatures and pressures required for polymerisation reactions must be regulated in an artificial setting.
plastics and recycling
Plastics and Recycling
  • “Plastic” refers to polymers formed by human devices. Not all polymers are plastics, as many polymers exist in nature.
  • Recycled plastics are most often classified as thermoplastics, meaning they can be heated and returned to their original compositions.
  • The most common recycled plastics are polyethylene terephthalate, high-density polyethylene, PVC, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. These are recycling codes 1-6, respectively.
issues with recycling
Issues with Recycling
  • Recycled plastic containers are often made into new plastic products.
  • Energy input to make new plastic bottles from old materials is very high.
  • One bottle in the wrong recycling batch can ruin up to 10,000 other bottle materials in the re-casting process. These materials become useless and are discarded.
  • Polymers often have to be hand-sorted at the recycling plants. This is obviously very time-consuming.
  • Some plants use machines that separate materials by optical properties.
  • A few companies, such as Bristol Polymer Group, are working to develop biodegradable polymers.
activity exploring polymer properties
Activity: Exploring Polymer Properties
  • The students will form the polymer “Gluep” from sodium tetraborate (borax), ployvinyl acetate and polyvinyl alcohol.
  • They will perform physical and chemical tests on the polymer to better understand its properties.
  • The purpose of this activity is for students to have firsthand experience in working with polymers and determining their properties.
  • This activity should be able to be done within one class period.
possible long term activity
Possible Long-Term Activity
  • This activity would span several months.
  • Students would make mini-ecosystems, with soil and grass, and would supply light and water.
  • Into the ecosystems they would introduce various biodegradable materials as well as polymers.
  • Over time students would observe the ecosystems and record changes, using cameras to take digital pictures and store them in digital photo albums.
  • The purpose of this activity is to show the lack of change of polymers in nature.
what are batteries
What Are Batteries?
  • I would begin this phase by discussing with students what they have learned about batteries and determine what is true and false.
  • Batteries generate energy through oxidation-reduction reactions that occur when current flow is enabled.
  • Some types of batteries can be recharged by applying current to the battery.
recycling batteries
Recycling Batteries
  • Rechargeable batteries can obviously be re-used many times by consumers, yet some side reactions often occur that will render the materials useless after a long period.
  • Primary batteries cannot be restored by electrical means, so they are processed by recycling plants. [3]
  • Battery metals are physically or chemically separated and collected for use in industrial applications.
  • Acidic or basic electrolytes are reacted with new chemicals and formed into different products.
laboratory activity who is older
Laboratory Activity: Who Is Older?
  • In this experiment the students will determine the relative ages of batteries through qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Each group will be provided with several batteries, both primary and rechargeable, and with light bulb circuits that must be powered by batteries.
  • Students will qualitatively guess relative ages by brightness of the bulbs and then quantitatively measure the battery voltages.
  • Some of the batteries will be served cold to throw off the students. They will be expected to allow the batteries to reach room temperature to run tests on the batteries.
  • The purpose of this experiment is to use technology and knowledge of chemical and electrical properties and to show students that they can determine how effective a battery is before they decide to cast it out.
technology for use
Technology for Use
  • Digital multimeters and their software applications will be used for measurements.
  • One example of such software is National Instruments Digital Multimeter Software, which can take measurements such as resistance, voltage, and current, using either direct or alternating current.
more technology
More Technology
  • The students will be able to use Excel (or other data-storing applications, but probably Excel) to record their data, make charts, and share their results with other students.
  • The presentation project in this mini-unit will also include some form of technology, to be chosen by the students.
  • The purpose of the presentation is for the students to apply their new knowledge in a form other than traditional classroom assessments.
assessment presentations
Assessment Presentations
  • The Scenario: YOU are put in charge of sending a message to the people that is designed to help them improve their recycling habits.
  • The following should be considered:
    • What form of media will you use? (This can be anything, including videos, posters, comics, only limited by the imaginations of the people involved. Obviously these will see the use of technology for creating media.)
    • Who is your target audience?
    • What facts are more important to include? What can be omitted?
    • What level of vocabulary should be used?
    • Is the presentation catchy/memorable? Will it stick with people and help them change their behaviours?
  • At least one class period will probably needed for students to present their work.
outside expert
Outside Expert
  • I would have a worker in a recycling plant talk to the students, either via electronic communication such as Skype or live within the classroom, whichever happens to work better at the time.
  • Either a plastic or battery materials recycling expert would be fine, but if both could be contacted and found to be available during the mini-unit, that would be even better.
  • The expert would tell the students about the inner workings of the plant (excluding company secrets, of course) and provide information as to what happens to materials when people decide to toss them into the recycling bin rather than a landfill or, even worse, on the road.
  • I will try to set up the time so that the students can ask questions at the end to the speaker.
  • Ideally this will happen fairly early in the unit, after the students have enough knowledge about the chemistry behind the materials but before I have much of a chance to potentially spoil some of the content that the speaker might cover.
resources for students
Resources for Students
  • For resources, I would give students the locations of databases on polymers and battery materials.
    • I would make handouts of the most pertinent information for them, but I would try to keep these short in order to minimise paper clutter. Also I would have a course site on which I would post these sheets as well as links to websites on polymers and batteries.
  • Example sites include:
continuing sustainability lessons
Continuing Sustainability Lessons
  • One possible extension is to do lessons on energy sources.
  • While many materials can be repurposed, a significant amount of energy goes into the process.
  • This lesson would explore energy sources and the resources that go into producing energy.
works cited
Works Cited
  • [1] Sustainability. Wikipedia. 2011.
  • [2] Lofti, Ahmad. Plastic Recycling. 2009.
  • [3] End Sites Recycling Processes. Battery Solutions. 2006-2011.