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Zoo Poo and CO2

LESSON OVERVIEW: Carbon dioxide emission is a drawback of power production. In this lesson, students will inves-tigate the carbon dioxide emitted from different types of power plants, to determine whether burning biomass (“zoo poo”) can significantly decrease carbon dioxide emissions.

This lesson was developed for high-school chemistry and environmental science courses by a collaboration of scientists, teachers, and educational researchers in the Making the Global Local workshops at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Driving Question

Does burning zoo poo reduce CO2?

Grade Level


Learning Objectives

  • To determine whether the amount of CO2 produced in a coal fired plant is more or less than the CO2 produced in a Biomass Gasification plant.
  • To use common statistical measurements of mean, median, and standard deviation to answer the question
  • To formulate questions about what the data can actually tell them data.
  • To decide what information they would need in order to answer their questions about the data. (The initial data does not really allow us to answer whether there is a difference in CO2 emissions).

Lesson Time Requirement

Three to five 50-minute class periods

Climate Literacy Principles Addressed

  • 3.  Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate
  • 7.  Earth's climate system is influenced by compjlex human decisions involving economic costs and social values

Colorado State Standards Addressed

  • High School: PS3, PS5, PS6, LS1, ES4, ES5
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About the Authors

These Making the Global Local teachers teamed up to share their expertise and collaborate in developing and piloting a reform-oriented lesson about zoo poop for 10th - 12th grade students.

  • Kiersten Helgeson, Biology and Environmental Sciences, Horizon High School
  • Julie Andrew, Chemistry, Monarch High School

These problem-based lessons were developed through an innovative process that brought together teachers, scientists and science education faculty for "Making the Global Local (MGL)," a teacher professional development workshop hosted by CU-Boulder in July 2009.

Developing and teaching of the lessons is centered around a single driving question that students explore, discuss and answer. While addressing a variety of Colorado content standards, the lessons also seek to localize climate change for Colorado middle and high school students. MGL teachers then took their newly developed lessons to test and refine them in their own classrooms during the Fall 2009 semester.

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Teachers can either conduct the lesson as originally done, or simply take the data that the first class collected to formulate questions. They can then extend the lessons to include the following topics:

  • Process of gasification.
  • How electricity is produced in a coal burning power plant vs Biomass plant.
  • What are all of the factors involved in running the Zoo that might produce CO2 and extend that to daily life at school.
  • Why is there so much variance in the emissions of CO2 in biomass electricity plant?
  • How are emission data taken?

Other possibilities - a field trip to a coal plant or visit the Denver Zoo's biomass unit.

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