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

Sixth Grade Activities

Heating and Cooling Degree-days

Climate control drives most energy use in the built environment in the United States. Humans like to be comfortable, and they use energy to cool or heat the interior of their homes if they can afford it. One method to estimate the amount of energy required for climate control is the total of heating degree-days and cooling degree-days.

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Water Heating Efficiency

This activity looks at calculating the end-to-end system efficiency of two different types of water heaters. The first uses electricity produced offsite, distributed to a home, and then converted into heat by an electric boiler. The second uses natural gas in a combustion-based boiler. Both experience losses through the energy life cycle but in different ways and with varying effects.

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Relative Humidity

Temperature is the weather metric most obviously associated with human comfort, but humidity is the real key. Humidity is the amount of moisture in the form of water vapor in the air all around us, and it really affects how we feel in the weather. Meteorologists use the term relative humidity, which refers to the ratio of water vapor actually in the air compared to how much water vapor air can hold.

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Plan Your Programmable Thermostat

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that individual homes can achieve a 10% reduction in heating and cooling costs by leveraging the power of the programmable thermostat to change the set temperature by 7°F to 10°F for 8 hours a day.¹ Working as a group or a class, use students' preferences on comfort and what they know about weather and temperature trends to create a schedule for a programmable thermostat.

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Transporting Bottled Water

Every step involved in producing bottled water—from treating the water, making the bottles, and shipping it to its final destination—requires energy, and both the water’s quality and its location affect the amount of energy embedded in the process.

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Comparing International Solar Capacity

Natural resources are not evenly distributed around the world. Geographic features, latitude, and time of year all affect the solar capacity of a region. Different organizations including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the World Bank Group have created an atlas of solar resource data, which anchors this activity.

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International Regulations for Refrigeration and the Environment

Most of the activities and explorations within the Watt Watchers of Texas portfolio look at individual actions focused on conservation and sustainable decision-making. This activity looks at some examples of international law, treaties, and regulation that affect refrigeration and air conditioning all around the world.

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Investigating Thermal Energy

Changes in states of matter from gas to liquid to solid and back are all achieved by cooling and heating. This activity focuses on the very smallest level of thermal energy rather than the macroscopic level of cooling and heating in the built environment.

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History of Air Conditioning

Humans have been seeking comfort since before recorded history. From the very earliest human dwellings to the mastery of fire, so many technologies are about keeping warm and cool. The advent of air conditioning is only the last line in a long story about humans taking control of their built environment.

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Planning Public Transportation

Before beginning this activity, you may want to consider moving through Modes of Transportation or Modeling Public Transportation in order to gain familiarity with the topic at hand. The purpose of this activity is to model geographically how a public transportation system works in your town, neighborhood, or region. This is a mapping activity appropriate for groups or individuals.

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Graphing Emissions

Whether light rail trains running on electricity or a private car running on unleaded gasoline, each mode of transportation has a different energy use and carbon intensity.

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Comparing Traffic Graphs

In 2017, the Washington Post pulled together a national analysis of driving distance limitations imposed by traffic during rush hour. Based on the hypothetical scenario of attempting to drive away from a downtown area in America's largest cities, contributor Sahil Chinoy produced a series of graphic representations of the distance achievable when leaving at three different times.

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Where are the Shale Plays?

Natural resources are not evenly distributed across the United States or even across the State of Texas. Looking at the horizon you can see if you are near the sea or surrounded by timber, but other resources crucial to our daily lives are less obvious.

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Finding Biomass Resources

Bioenergy is one of the most important forms of renewable energy and has been employed for thousands of years. Cumulatively, bioenergy represents a greater fraction of the U.S. energy mix than any other renewable fuel source. Biomass solids are typically used for heat and power.

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How Hot is it Underground?

Though geothermal resources lie beneath all of the United States, they are less difficult to reach near active faults. The Mountain West, populated with active faults and tectonic activity, has the highest underground temperatures near the surface. Thus, it shows most of the installed capacity for geothermal.

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Where Does the Sun Shine?

The potential for generating electricity from solar power in the United States far exceeds that of Europe. Deserts are particularly abundant with photons, and flat land lends itself to the physical area required for large-scale solar panel installations. As a result, analysts and producers expect the southwestern United States to continue to be a hotbed of solar activity.

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Where Does the Wind Blow?

The wind corridor of the United States extends from North Dakota south to Texas, where winds blow reasonably fast, and the land is flat and relatively affordable, a compelling combination for the construction of wind farms. In fact, the U.S. corridor ranks as one of the greatest landed wind resources in the world.

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Mining for Coal

The United States is a large country with many continental resources, and coal is one of those abundant resources. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the United States sits atop the world’s largest-known coal reserves, about 267 billion short tons. In global comparison, the United States holds more coal than Russia, China, Australia, India, and Germany.

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Locating Water Resources

Groundwater availability in the United States largely depends on aquifers, geologic formations which contain sufficient saturated permeable material to release water to wells and springs. Hydrologists generally group aquifers into aquifer systems, which can be classified based on their lithology, or the material which makes up the formation.

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Texas's Food Deserts

Students should be able to identify that irrespective of differences in tract size, the Desert Southwest has a higher percentage of food deserts than the Northeast. Similarly, the Deep South and Southeast has a higher proportion of food deserts than the Upper Midwest.

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Dams

Students can work individually or in groups to research one of the many dams in Texas. Students should use a variety of relevant print and digital resources to investigate their assigned dam. The investigation should include a brief history, including reason for construction, current status of the structure, and how the dam changed the surface water in the region.

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Energy Technologies: Change Over Time

Despite advances, today the global economy consumes most of its energy through only four technologies: the steam turbine, gas turbine, gasoline engine and diesel engine. The most popular conversion device is the steam turbine.

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Energy Resources: Primary vs. Secondary

Primary energy sources include petroleum, natural gas, coal, biomass, flowing water, wind, and solar radiation. Those are the fuels that can be mined, reaped, extracted, harvested, or harnessed directly. Secondary energy cannot be harnessed directly from nature; rather, secondary energy is energy that has already been converted.

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Energy Resources: Solar

Solar energy represents a very small fraction of today’s energy mix, but also holds the greatest potential as an energy supply for the future. Used to generate heat and electricity, solar power is inexhaustible, clean, and free.

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Energy Resources: Geothermal Energy

The word “geothermal” means “heat within the earth” or “the earth’s heat”. Vents of steam exist naturally around the world, where steam seeps or shoots out of the ground. Creative individuals have been harvesting these steam vents for years.

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Energy Resources: Hydropower

Hydroelectric power generation is the most prominent form of renewable energy. As water flows downhill, its potential energy becomes kinetic energy, which turbines can convert into electricity.

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Energy Resources: Wind

Modern uses of wind are almost exclusively for generating electrical power, though some iconic windmills exist to this day, pumping water on ranches for livestock.

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Energy Resources: Biomass

The market adoption of modern forms of bioenergy, including liquid biofuels such as ethanol from energy crops, municipal solid waste, and biogas from decomposing organic matter, are all on the rise. And, just like the other fuels, bioenergy has its own set of advantages and drawbacks.

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Energy Resources: Nuclear

While nuclear materials have been part of the earth’s crust for millions of years, the modern history of harnessing nuclear energy for power generation is relatively short. Nuclear fission was first discovered in 1939, and the first controlled nuclear chain reaction took place in Chicago in 1942.

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Energy Resources: Natural Gas

Natural gas takes several retail forms, has several end uses, and is the cleanest of the fossil fuels. Natural gas is used for cooking, heating, electricity production, and as a feedstock for different materials such as plastics, fertilizer, and other chemicals.

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Energy Resources: Oil

Starting in the twentieth century, petroleum has been the most important of the three fossil fuels and remains the most popular fuel worldwide. Since the popularization of the internal combustion engine in the early 1900s, petroleum consumption has grown primarily for use in the transportation sector, as consumers worldwide have acquired cars and driven trillions of miles.

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Energy Resources: Coal

Coal has historically been one of the most important fossil fuels. Because of its abundance, ease of use, and energy density, it kick-started the Second Industrial Revolution.

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Recycle Signage

Even in places where it is easy to recycle because of school-wide or community-wide initiatives, many people are confused about what and where to recycle. Students can help other students by creating instructive visual signage for waste collection areas.

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What’s in My Lunch?

Students bring their lunch to school for lots of reasons, dislike of school food, special diet, to fit in with other kids, etc. Many times at home, parents have the greatest of intentions when making or purchasing the food that goes into those lunches.

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Garbage, Waste, and Trash

Students will discuss the meaning of garbage, waste and trash. They will then investigate their classroom trash to learn about the variety and amount of trash they produce.

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Junk Art

This activity focuses on the “reuse” theme of reduce-reuse-recycle. Students collect waste materials (paper, bottles, cans, cardboard tubes, fabric, etc) and find other uses for them either practically, for a school project, or as art objects.

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How Many Years to Disappear?

Students may watch the garbage people come by and think that their waste magically disappears. Some may have been to the dump with a parent and some may have a compost pile or “dump” of their own on their land.

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How Much Water Do You Use?

In this activity, students will learn how much water modern homes use by learning how to read a home meter and ways to conserve water usage.

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Who’s Who in Electricity?

The student will connect the contributions of scientists in the field of electricity to the concepts learned in class.

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Auto Tire Pressure

Under-inflated tires lower gas mileage, wasting millions of dollars each year. Under-inflated tires are also a major safety hazard.

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What’s Your Mode?

By calculating exactly what it costs for each child to get to school, better decisions can be made.

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Utility Bill Organizer

We use energy for everything and could not make it through a single day without it. But we rarely even think about how much we use, what kinds of energy there are, the cost, or the pollution consequences.

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The Pay Me Game

Students have a hard time understanding how much energy they are using if it is not tied to dollar amounts.

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Texas Public Transit and You

Ridership is defined as the number of people that ride public transit in a day. Large cities spend lots of dollars and hours to determine ways to increase ridership.

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Meter Reading

Regardless of the type of meter you have, meter reading can be kind of tricky.

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How Much Energy Do You Use?

U.S. residents use more energy now than we ever have in the past. There are many reasons for this.

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Home Energy Survey

The Home Energy Survey and Energy Checklist are ways to make the students aware of how much energy they are using throughout the day.

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Energy Trip Ticket

This activity will help to make students aware of their energy usage by making them “pay” for each energy trip they make throughout the day.

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Energy Conservation vs. Energy Efficiency: What’s the Difference?

Some people think of energy conservation as having to be uncomfortable or suffer to save energy. The truth is: comfort and conservation are completely compatible!

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