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Environmental Sustainability (PLTW)

Course Description

In Environmental Sustainability, students investigate and design solutions in response to real-world challenges related to clean and abundant drinking water, food supply, and renewable energy. Applying their knowledge through hands-on activities and simulations, students research and design potential solutions to these true-to-life challenges.

Grade Level(s): 10th-12th Grades

Environmental Sustainability is a Project Lead the Way course taught by Kirkwood teachers with PLTW curriculum and resources.  Curriculum for each subject area is aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, which align closely with Missouri Learning Standards for Science.  The PLTW Environmental Sustainability Course Outline can be viewed HERE.

Course-Level Scope & Sequence (Units &/or Skills)

Unit 1: Environmental Sustainability for a Better Tomorrow

Unit 1 establishes a foundation for the course and introduces students to key aspects of the environment while identifying important global problems. In this course, students learn how the biological engineering of organisms can be used to provide environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions to produce clean, safe drinking water; nutritious food sufficient for a growing world population; and affordable renewable energy. This theme sets the stage for each unit within the course.

Unit 2: Ensuring Safe and Abundant Water

This unit begins by establishing context around the extent of the global drinking water challenge. Students build models of natural water systems, investigate how these systems become contaminated, explore how contamination can be prevented, and examine how polluted waters can be purified. Students practice laboratory methods for quantitatively measuring water quality. They investigate the role and effectiveness of biological organisms in cleaning up water polluted with crude oil. The physical, chemical, and biological technologies and processes utilized by waste water treatment plants are explored, with optional field trips to these facilities included. As a culmination project, students apply their knowledge of water issues, water treatment technologies, and the associated role of biological organisms, along with their engineering design experience, to the challenge of designing a small-scale water treatment system for rapid deployment within natural disaster zones.

Unit 3: Food Security

This unit focuses on the genetic modification of plants as a potential solution to food security issues around the globe. Students learn about the structure and function of DNA and the process of protein synthesis. They learn to determine whether familiar food items contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They investigate various molecular biology techniques while working through the steps necessary to create genetically modified plants. Through laboratory activities and simulations, students explore Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), DNA sequencing techniques, restriction enzyme action, ligation, gel electrophoresis, bacterial transformation, and plant transformation. They work through the beginning steps of the engineering design process and propose a genetic engineering solution to a global food security issue.

Unit 4: Renewable Fuels

This unit concentrates on the role of biological engineering and biomanufacturing of biofuels from algae and cellulosic plant materials in solving the challenges associated with producing biofuels in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. The unit begins by exploring current global energy consumption patterns and then examines futuristic energy consumption models that utilize types of energy other than fossil fuels. Students conduct a household energy audit to contextualize their energy consumption patterns. They investigate the process of photosynthesis and its role in the formation of both fossil fuels and biofuels. Applying an engineering design process, students are challenged to design, build, and operate bench-top-scale algae bioreactors. Students design monitoring systems and apply standard laboratory processes in quantifying the efficiency of their systems at producing algae and purifying the end products.