A close-up of someone throwing an empty plastic bottle into an outdoor recycling receptacle.

Shrinking Our Footprints

How can we use data to reduce our families’ impact on the environment?

Project Description

In this project, students use measurement, data, and fraction concepts to develop, implement, and monitor an action plan for reducing their family’s impact on the environment. Each student team focuses on one resource: water, garbage, food waste, electricity, or car gas usage. Teams research information such as the amount of water per minute of shower or the number of miles per gallon used by a family car, and then they conduct home inventories of their family’s usage of these resources for one week (e.g., timing the length of showers, the mass and volume of garbage, or the number of watt-hours used by key household devices). Students graph their individual family data and collective team data on line plots.

After measuring their families’ current use of resources, students set goals for reducing resource use by a given fraction and identify strategies to help their families achieve these goals (e.g., “We will reduce our use of water by ¼ through taking shorter showers and making sure the dishwasher is full before running it.”) Students communicate these strategies and goals to their families in the form of an informative/explanatory letter, and then measure and graph changes in their families’ resource use as they implement their action plans.

As an alternative, if there are barriers to measuring data about resource usage at home, students might consider measuring the use of resources in the classroom or across the school.