How Much Space Do We Need?

Population Connection
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.




“Through research and analysis of their consumption of renewable resources, students will measure the amount of land that they would need to support themselves.” Students will use mathematical calculations to estimate liveable space. Features such as acres of arable land, oxygen use, energy use and water use will all be calculated based on human use as a part of the estimated livable space. The three worksheets are set up to examine the needs of an “Average American”  which is already given on the worksheets. The materials needed are calculators, the three student worksheets, and utility bills. An estimated time for this activity would be 120 minutes: if the follow-up activities are included, another 60-120 minutes will be needed.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • 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 their own consumption of natural resources; oxygen, food, energy, and water, and how much “space”/ land area they will need to meet their basic resource needs. To better meet the Performance Expectation students could be asked to develop an argument supported by their evidence for changes that could be made to their lifestyle. These statements could be shared in a poster or presentation and debated in class. The impact of increases in human population is not addressed. Students might want to explore how much space is needed to sustain densely populated areas such as Tokyo, Japan and what is being done to counteract this problem. The teacher may want to use a resource such as

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In this activity students gather empirical evidence; ratio, percent, basic operations and simple algebra of their own personal consumption. Engineering applications can be applied in the first follow-up activity where students measure out the land they would need for survival in the school gym or athletic field. They can identify the need, design a plan, test it out and redesign if needed. The second follow up-activity looks at that comparison of student data to other similar and different countries. Further applications of this lesson could be to study the consumption of natural resources on a global scale using these suggested websites and Students can find solutions to the problems of non-renewable energy issues and to continue the study of human impacts on the environment or to help solve a need in their own neighborhood.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students investigate their consumption of natural resources water, energy, food and oxygen and calculate the consumption per capita. Based on the calculations the students will answer questions such as, “ As our population increases, does the amount of space each individual needs change?” They are also asked about other spatial needs they have other than the four basic needs they calculated, including shelter, roads, buildings, and schools. The teacher may decide to ask a question about technologies that have a more efficient use of space; hydroponics, wind turbines and ocean fish farming. Each student could work with one technology improvement scenario and how it would change the impact on their calculations.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students investigate the relationship between their own personal needs for space based on how they use oxygen, food, energy and water and calculated in terms of how much land it takes to sustain them. They compare their own consumption with that of classmates and two other economically different countries. The lesson indirectly addresses the impact of lifestyle on populations. The teacher will need to help students make connections between the calculations of their consumption of basic natural resources and looking globally at the effect using these resources will have on everyone else in the world.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: How Much Space Do We Need? is driven by the students calculating their own personal needs for “space” based on how they use natural resources. The Disciplinary Core Idea of per-capita consumption of natural resources and negative impacts on Earth are uncovered during the questions and as the students are calculating their individual needs for space. The students use their own personal data from electricity bills to calculate the percentages of resource usage and then turn them into ratios (Science and Engineering Practice). The Crosscutting Concept of cause and effect relationships is used to determine the impact of their personal use of the space they need. To fully address cause and effect an additional activity in the NGSS@NSTA Hub, Watch Your Step, will have students calculate their own ecological footprint as a causation and the effect is to measure the impact of their lifestyle on Earth’s natural resources.

  • Instructional Supports: Students will make authentic connections by using calculations to uncover their own consumption of natural resources. Students can work together to research and present findings. The discussion questions are an excellent recap of the activity. This activity does not provide supporting information. This activity requires math applications and the formulas are given as examples. Students may need additional help with the calculations at the 6th and 7th grade level, and possibly this activity could be done in conjunction with the math teacher. All of the information is grade appropriate. The activity has no directions for differentiated instruction.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The creators do not provide the means to assess student progress; however, the final product, the written and oral argument can be a summative assessment. The discussion questions and the worksheets themselves can be used as a formative assessment. Aligned rubrics and scoring guidance are not included.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students will need the internet to research information for a written argument. They may want to research solutions on the suggested websites.