Energy and the Poor: Black Carbon in Developing Countries

Anne Larson Hall
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Article , 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 this activity, students are introduced to black carbon as a major source for global climate change. Students read through an article and identify several topics, through discussion, for further study about issues concerning black carbon production. Students work in focused groups and then in mixed groups to develop a concept map and two page summary paper about the problems and solutions associated with black carbon generating fuels in developing nations.


Students should find the videos and readings interesting and easy to understand. Some of the links for suggested articles, and the initial video in the instructor’s notes are not up-to-date. Below are corrected links for some of the resources.

Video Link:

Black Carbon Factsheet Link:

Health Effects Resource 1:

Environmental Impacts Resource 2:

Environmental Impacts Resource 3:

Environmental Impacts Resource 8:

Environmental Impacts Resource 10:

Solution Resource 9:


The suggested time allowed for the activity is three days in an undergraduate college course, but high school students may need more time to fully develop their understandings of their chosen topic and to generate the concept map and summary paper.  This activity is literacy-heavy and may require additional supports for struggling readers. Teachers may also choose to allow students time to investigate alternative cooking and heating methods with hands-on activities.

Intended Audience

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-ESS3-4 Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

Clarification Statement: Examples of data on the impacts of human activities could include the quantities and types of pollutants released, changes to biomass and species diversity, or areal changes in land surface use (such as for urban development, agriculture and livestock, or surface mining). Examples for limiting future impacts could range from local efforts (such as reducing, reusing, and recycling resources) to large-scale geoengineering design solutions (such as altering global temperatures by making large changes to the atmosphere or ocean).

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this activity, students must evaluate ways to reduce production of black carbon. They are introduced to the impacts of black carbon through articles and a video. After this initial introduction, students develop a list of topics for further study. These topics should include different ways to reduce black carbon emissions. Students must also keep in mind social and economic concerns when discussing possible solutions. To fully address the performance expectation, students should refine one of the possible solutions while taking into consideration social and economic concerns.

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
Students generate a concept map and corresponding paper illustrating the wide-ranging problems and solutions associated with the use of black carbon in developing countries. Students are exposed to scientific principles regarding global climate change, empirical evidence of arctic ice melting rates and atmospheric pollution amounts, and logical arguments on why tackling black carbon production should be a primary focus to combat global climate change. Students must take into consideration relevant factors when discussing possible solutions to the problem. The assigned article includes some of those considerations such as cost, reliability of the alternative technology, and traditional cooking methods (societal).

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students must consider the cost, safety, and reliability of possible solutions they choose to mitigate black carbon effects. They must also consider societal and cultural differences of developing countries and the availability and willingness to use alternative means of cooking and heat generation in homes. Some of these considerations are addressed in the article, “Third-World Soot is Target in Climate Fight.” Students must also consider if the environmental impact of these alternatives is less than the traditional method. To fully address the Disciplinary Core Idea, students may also need to compare the aesthetics of the alternative methods of cooking and heat generation to traditional methods.

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students examine the work of several scientists with respect to environmental impacts and possible mitigation of black carbon. They then must explore several alternative technologies that people in developing countries can use to heat and cook with in their homes. To fully address the Disciplinary Core Idea, students must also investigate other waste products, such as ashes and gases, associated with black carbon generating fuels.

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 look at how black carbon generation creates a positive feedback system on global climate by increasing ice melting, thus lowering albedo, and increasing air temperature. Students look at possible solutions that would help stop this positive feedback system, by reducing the amount of black carbon being generated by developing countries. This could be more explicit based on how much students choose to focus on environmental impacts of global climate change. Students may not be familiar with feedback systems, so the teacher may have to explicitly explain how feedback systems work.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are engaged in all three dimensions of NGSS in this activity. They are engaged in the science and engineering practices while developing their concept map and corresponding paper. They must evaluate different alternative technologies people in developing countries can use for heating and cooking in their homes. Students are engaged in two different disciplinary core ideas to make sense of how to mitigate black carbon production in order to impact global warming trends. Students explore technologies that produce less pollution and lessen environmental degradation as well as analyze constraints of those technologies. Students are engaged in the crosscutting concept when they identify how changes to a system can alter the system but, teachers will need to make sure students explicitly do this as it is not explicitly covered by the activity. They should identify how reduction of black carbon production will impact global climate change.

  • Instructional Supports: Students should be motivated by the problem they are presented with as generation of black carbon will impact global climate change. While an authentic experience, students may not be able to connect the problem to their own experiences. Teachers could connect the issue to students’ by discussing similar cooking techniques, like grilling or heating their homes with wood, that they use at home. Students could explore some of the alternative technologies presented to them in the activity. For example, they could build and use a solar cooker. Students are actively engaged in an engineering disciplinary core idea of evaluating design solutions to make sense of an Earth and space sciences disciplinary core idea of human impacts on earth systems. While not stated in the instructor’s notes, students should have some prior knowledge about albedo. They will gain deeper understanding into how changing albedo affects global climate change. The information is scientifically accurate. Some of the recommended articles may not be grade appropriate as they are from scientific journals. Teachers may want to show students the SQ3R ( method, or other similar method, to help make sense of the references or highlight certain paragraphs. There are multiple opportunities for peer and teacher feedback through discussions and small group work. No suggestions of alternatives, extra supports, or extensions are provided. It would be up to the teacher to develop any reading guides for student use or possible extension activities.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teachers should be able to see students engaged in all three dimensions of NGSS in the creation of their small group concept map and summary paper. Formative assessments are in the form of discussions. Teachers would need to develop a list of key points students should bring up during those discussions and in topic group work. No aligned rubrics or scoring guides are included. Teachers could work with students to develop a checklist of criteria that need to be addressed in their concept maps and summary paper. Students may not have had much exposure to different cultures discussed in this activity. Students that have had experience with different cultures may have a deeper understanding of cultural considerations that need to be taken into account when developing their concept maps and summary papers.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students will need computer with internet access to research their topics and generate their concept map and summary papers.