Energy Consumption Rates Around the World

Science Education Research Center, Carleton College Science Education Research Center, Carleton College
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Case Study , Interactive Simulation , Map
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.



Energy issues are an important factor in the functioning of our economy and infrastructure. Therefore, students need to understand issues connected with increasing consumption of energy and differences in consumption rates between geographic regions. In this exercise, students use Google Earth and information from several web sites to investigate total and per capita rates of oil and total energy consumption in various parts of the world.

In this activity, students learn to use satellite and aerial imagery, maps, graphs, spreadsheets, descriptive information, and statistics to compare energy and oil consumption rates between states in the United States and among various countries. They also use this information to explain these differences, as well as differences in categories of consumption, such as domestic, transportation, industrial, and commercial use. They are also asked for opinions regarding what measures countries should take toward reducing oil consumption.

Students will need to be familiar with how to use Google Earth (a guide and tip sheet is included), basic understanding of how energy is measured, how oil supply is quantified, and how oil and energy serve human needs (like transportation and energy production). Suggested length of the activity is 80 minutes. A student guide as a word document is included so the teacher can alter as needed based on student needs. Teachers will need to make sure to download Google Earth on the computers used for this activity in order to open the map files. Teachers should download the KMZ files before the classroom lesson is presented to ensure they are easily accessible during the lesson. Teachers will also need to make sure computers are configured to open kmz files.

This activity was written for the university level, but would be appropriate for high school

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-3 Create a computational simulation to illustrate the relationships among management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of factors that affect the management of natural resources include costs of resource extraction and waste management, per-capita consumption, and the development of new technologies. Examples of factors that affect human sustainability include agricultural efficiency, levels of conservation, and urban planning.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment for computational simulations is limited to using provided multi-parameter programs or constructing simplified spreadsheet calculations.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students examine different views of oil consumption using Google Earth, both worldwide and USA by state. Students evaluate the different views they use with Google Earth and identify advantages and disadvantages. They try to determine why certain states use more oil than others by using data in an excel sheet. Students then try to account for any variations in their data.

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
Throughout the student worksheet, they are asked to analyze graphical data to determine rates of energy consumption. While they are not asked to make scientific claims for all questions requiring analysis, several data queries require students to make inferences as to why the rate of consumption is what it is for a given geographical area.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In order to fully address this Disciplinary Core Idea, students will need to do further investigation into what environmental impacts occur due to the amount of energy consumption and type of energy generation required to meet our needs. This could be stronger with potential changes in questioning and further investigations into what types of energy generation would be best, both economically and environmentally. This could be an introductory activity to get students thinking about how much energy we use and why it is greater in some parts of the globe versus others. Teachers could easily transition students into an investigation into energy types and best (least environmentally invasive) ways to produce energy. An example activity could be to have students design energy systems for an area ( .

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students are asked to compare the data generated from the model of energy consumption for New York and Connecticut. They then need to explain why they think there is a difference between the two. This would lead students to have to identify that there are different scales (in terms of population) that could account for the difference. To fully address the Crosscutting Concept, teachers will need to have students do additional explorations into energy consumption rates (US Energy Information Administration website - over various time scales within the same geographic area, look at how energy is generated using matter (coal, gas/oil, nuclear…), and examine differences worldwide.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: While there are many opportunities for students to use scientific practices, this activity needs to have stronger ties to the Disciplinary Core Idea and Crosscutting Concepts. This could be achieved by having students examine what types of energy production are most popular for a geographic area and analyze the impacts of that energy production. Students could then be tasked with trying to design a solution to help reduce impacts of energy production in the given area. There are several activities of this type already developed ( and could follow this activity to create a unit.

  • Instructional Supports: This activity is relevant to students, providing an opportunity for analyzing and interpreting real-world phenomena in an engaging manner. It lacks in giving purpose other than analyzing and interpreting graphical models. By giving students a purpose, to develop a design to lessen the environmental impacts of energy production, this activity would increase student engagement. Students could have more opportunities to represent their ideas if the worksheet was used as a discussion guide. Students could share out their interpretations of the data as part of a classroom discussion. The teaching notes and tips do give suggestions to help students struggling with use of Google Earth as well as possible extensions for students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The assessment portion of the activity provides some ideas on how to assess the activity, but provides no examples of possible rubrics. It would be up to the teacher to develop rubrics and formative assessments while the activity is taking place.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students will need to learn how to use Google Earth to do this activity, a series of step-by-step instructions are included. Teachers should expect to build in some time to have students become familiar with Google Earth and how to interpret the layers of data prior to beginning the activity.