Watch Your Step

Population Education
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



In Watch Your Step, students calculate their own ecological footprint as a measure of the impact of their lifestyle on Earth’s resources. The answers are provided in global hectares and acres and the number of Earths needed to support that lifestyle, developing awareness of the carrying capacity of the Earth. Students then measure the ecological footprint of students from other countries and answer questions about the impact of humans on Earth. In the discussion questions, the students discuss the impact of the American lifestyle on the environment and economy and sustainability issues in their community.

Resources for the lesson include teacher lesson plans, a worksheet for students, an answer key, and links to the on-line Personal Footprint Quiz. The quiz can be found at Click on the Tools & Resources link and select “Footprint Calculator.” Students will need to gather some information from the home, such as the monthly cost of electricity and heating/cooling before taking the quiz.

The lesson may take 1-2 class periods to complete.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 8
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence include grade-appropriate databases on human populations and the rates of consumption of food and natural resources (such as freshwater, mineral, and energy). Examples of impacts can include changes to the appearance, composition, and structure of Earth’s systems as well as the rates at which they change. The consequences of increases in human populations and consumption of natural resources are described by science, but science does not make the decisions for the actions society takes.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students examine evidence of how per-capita consumption of natural resources in the United States compares to Argentina, China, Italy, and South Africa using the Personal Footprint Quiz and stories written about students in these countries. They answer questions about American lifestyle, production of food, and changes they can make to reduce their footprint. To better meet the Performance Expectation, as an extension to the lesson, students could be asked to develop an argument supported by their evidence for changes that could be made to American lifestyles. These statements could be shared in a poster or presentation and debated in class. There isn't any discussion about specific Earth systems. Teachers might want to explore how much water is needed to sustain different food choices, comparing plant based and meat based diets using this site which has data for the amount of water needed to produce various food products: The impact of increases in human population is not addressed. The teacher may want to use a resource such as which graphs data by country or region or which includes growth by continent as well as global growth.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The activity provides questions that help students analyze their own carbon footprints. Since only one question involves the data from the other countries, teachers may want to design additional questions that will require students to compare and contrast consumption patterns between the US and other countries. The lesson does not explicitly address effects on any particular group of natural resources, so teachers may want to design a writing prompt that students use to construct their overall explanation of human impact on resources.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students investigate per-capita consumption of natural resources around the world and answer questions about the size of the various footprints. They are asked about changes they can make in their own lives including both activity changes and technology advances. Teachers should re-write Question 6 so that students are directed to include both behavioral changes as well as technological advances. As written, the question is so open ended that students may miss the concept of fuel efficient cars and appliances and only discuss personal habits. The teacher may decide to ask a question about the modernization of other countries and the impact that will have globally. For example, in the scenario about the family from China, they do not own a car, so the teacher could ask how the purchase of a vehicle would impact their footprint. The teacher may want to split the class into four groups, each working with one scenario and look at how different changes to the lifestyle would change the impact - that would make it more three-dimensional. See suggestions in the Performance Expectation section for addressing human population increase.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students investigate the relationship between lifestyle and their ecological footprint calculated in terms of how much land it takes to support their lifestyle. They compare their footprint with that of students in other countries and their varied economic and social systems. The lesson indirectly addresses the impact of lifestyle on ecosystems. The teacher will need to help students make connections between lifestyle elements in the quiz and the natural resources that make those lifestyle elements possible such as burning coal to generate electricity.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The problem of ecological footprints and the generation of possible solutions at a personal level drives the learning. Students make sense of the phenomena of ecological footprints and discuss solutions that require integration of the three dimensions in activities appropriate for the grade level. The dimensions are blended within the activity. Throughout the lesson, the Disciplinary Core Idea of per-capita consumption of natural resources and negative impacts on Earth are addressed. Students discuss activities and technologies that may reduce the impact. The Crosscutting Concept of cause and effect relationships is used to determine the impact of lifestyle on Earth’s natural systems. Students use the Science and Engineering Practice of constructing an explanation that includes quantitative relationships between lifestyles in various parts of the world to describe impact on Earth.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson engages students in an authentic and meaningful scenario that reflects the practice of science and engineering as experienced in the real world. The resource uses scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate information. Students compare ecological footprints from around the world and construct possible solutions at a personal family level. Students interpret the results of the footprint tool for themselves and four students from around the world. They answer discussion questions. They are not asked to respond to peer and teacher feedback. The lesson doesn’t identify prior student learning necessary to initiating the lesson. It doesn’t provide guidance for teachers to support differentiated instruction. Allowing students to work in groups to analyze the lifestyles of other students would assist those who are struggling to meet targeted expectations. Additional websites and sources are provided which may be used by students with high interest or who have already met the performance expectations to develop deeper understanding of the disciplinary core ideas.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Questions, with suitable answers, are provided to guide student discussion. An answer key with total footprints for the four example students is provided, although students’ answers may vary somewhat depending on their interpretation of lifestyle. No formative assessment, aligned rubrics, or scoring guidelines measures are provided to inform instruction or provide ongoing feedback to students. The examples and tools that are used are accessible and unbiased for all students.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: No technological interactivity is required, although students will need access to the Internet to use the Personal Footprint Quiz.