Watt Watchers of Texas: Texas is Too Good To Waste™

Activity: What’s Your Mode?

Grade Level:
, ,

Objective: Students will calculate fuel mileage of a family car and a school bus to determine which is a more efficient way to get to school.

Time: One to two class periods

Materials: One map of your area with a key per student, bus route maps showing number of students picked up, rulers, map pencils

Vocabulary: mpg, energy, efficiency 

Background Information:

More students today ride to school with an adult or on the bus than ever before. This leads to fuel usage that previously was saved, as students were able and willing to walk to school. By calculating exactly what it costs for each child to get to school, better decisions can be made.

Bus costs vary greatly depending on what kind of busses you have. Contact your school’s transportation department (bus barn) to find out what kind of busses your district uses, what type of fuel they use, the fuel cost (hopefully in gallons) and the mpg.

Setting the Stage:

Recruit a helper or two and greet each child upon entering the class with a sticker signifying how they got to school: green dots for walking/riding a bike, blue dots for a personal vehicle, yellow dots for a school bus. At the start of the class have the students group themselves by colored dot and discuss why they come to school the way they do. Have a few students share their thoughts with the class.

Activity 1: Mapping

Give each personal vehicle and walking/riding student a map of the area and have him or her trace his or her route to school. Give each bus riding student a map of the area and a bus route list (something with the addresses/ corners where a particular bus stops along with information on how many students ride that bus). Have the students plot the bus route and color it with a light colored map pencil. Then have each student examine the route they take and see if it is the most efficient route that could be taken. Color the route they choose with a darker color map pencil. Have the student determine the distance to school in miles using the key and a ruler. When finding miles driven for the bus, don’t forget the miles back to the bus barn, and when finding miles driven by personal vehicles, you have to double the trip—that person has to get home.

PERSONAL VEHICLE: Record this distance for a day/week (multiply by 5); /month (multiply by 20); and a school year (multiply by 180). Determine fuel used for each of those distances using some general statistics or the actual fuel mileage of the parent’s vehicle. Have students share their original distance information with others who do not get to school by personal vehicle.

BUS: Determine mileage for the day/week/month and school year using information from your bus barn. Then determine the gallons of fuel used for the same time frames. Have students share their original distance information with others who do not get to school by bus.

TOTALS: Divide the gallons of fuel used by the number of students riding that mode of transportation. For example, if there were two students in a personal vehicle we would divide the total fuel usage by 2. If there were 30 kids on the bus, we would divide the bus’s total fuel usage by 30. Now use the average daily price of gasoline in your area and the fuel costs you received from your transportation department, to determine how much it cost those students to get to school. Remember that this information is only for getting to school.


What is the most energy efficient way to get to school? How can you make riding the school bus to school more efficient? (Change of route, fewer stops, more kids, new busses, busses that run on alternative fuels, etc.) How can you make riding in a personal vehicle to school more efficient? (Change of route, more kids, etc)

How can we encourage more students to get to school without using a fuel-powered vehicle (riding bike, walking)?


Have your transportation department manager speak to the students on how routes are chosen. Have the students show him or her the routes they choose and have them explain the thinking behind them.




Math: 6.2 (A, B, C, D), 6.3 (A, B, C), 6.8 (A, B, D), 6.10 (D), 6.11 (A, B), 6.12 (A, B), 7.1 (B), 7.2 (A, B, D), 7.3 (A, B), 7.13 (A, B, D), 7.14 (A), 8.1 (A, B), 8.2 (A, B, C), 8.14 (A, B, D), 8.15 (A, B)
Science: 6.2 (A, B, C, D, E), 6.3 (A, C, D), 6.4 (A, B), 7.2 (A, B, C, D, E), 7.3 (A, C, D), 7.4 (A, B), 8.2 (A, B, C, D, E), 8.3 (A, C, D), 8.4 (A, B),
Social Studies: 6.3, 6.20 (C), 6.21 (A, B, C, D, F), 6.22 (A, B, C), 6.23 (A, B), 7.20 (C, D, E, F), 7.21 (A, B, C, E, H), 7.22 (A, B, C, D), 7.23 (A, B), 8.10 (B), 8.30 (A, B, C, E, H), 8.31 (A, B, C, D), 8.32 (A, B)
ELA: 6.1 (A), 6.4 (A), 6.15 (A), 6.18 (A), 7.1 (A), 7.4 (A), 7.15 (A), 7.18 (A), 8.1 (A), 8.4 (A), 8.15 (A), 8.18 (A)

Watt Watchers of Texas is a Partner Program of Smart Energy Education.
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