National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

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Grow it Now, Drive it Later?

Grade Level(s)

6 - 8

Estimated Time

45 Minutes

Purpose

Students will discover potential careers in agriculture with a focus on the growing field of biofuel development.

Materials

  • Ring stand or other type of can support, see Figure 1
  • Aluminum pop can
  • Pyrex pie plate or dish (optional)
  • Flamin’ Hot Cheetos® (soybean oil)
  • Peanuts, or dried algae
  • Modeling clay to hold paperclip
  • Large paperclip
  • Graduated cylinder or beaker
  • Celsius thermometer
  • Lighter or stick match
  • Water
  • Projected visual of “Calorie Calculation”

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Vocabulary

algaculture: farming a species of algae

algae: a simple nonflowering plant of a large group that includes the seaweeds and many single-celled forms; contain chlorophyll but lack true stems, roots, leaves, and vascular tissue

biodiesel: a fuel made from vegetable oils or animal fats

ethanol: also known as ethyl alcohol which is produced by the fermentation of sugars by yeasts

petroleum: a naturally occurring liquid found in geological formations beneath the earth's surface which is often refined into fuel

Background Agricultural Connections

Plants take in light energy from the sun and turn it into sugars. They store the sugars in their roots, leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds. The energy in the sugars makes them grow. When people or animals eat food made from plants like soybeans, corn, and wheat, the sugars (or carbohydrates) give them energy. In addition to sugars, the seeds of plants also contain protein and fats (or oils).

The sugars in plants may be distilled to make ethanol, a fuel source for combustion engines. The seeds of plants have long been used as an energy or fuel source for diesel engines. Peanuts and soybeans have commonly been used to make biodiesel, and several other seeds high in oil have been used as well.

Soybeans belong to the legume family—plants that produce beans in pods. Legumes also take in nitrogen from the air and release it into the soil. Nitrogen is important for good soil and healthy crops. One soybean plant produces about 70 soybean pods with two to four beans in each pod. The seeds are about the size of peas and may be yellow, green, brown, black, or speckled.

Soybeans were first domesticated in Asia, where farmers have grown them for more than 5,000 years. Today soybeans are still an important crop in China. They are used for food, fertilizer, animal feed, medicines, and oils.

Soybeans were first grown in the United States in the early 1800s. They were used as a source of food for humans and farm animals. During the Civil War, coffee beans were hard to get, so soybeans were roasted and used to make a coffee substitute. They were called coffee berries.

In 1904 George Washington Carver began studying soybeans. He discovered that soybeans are a valuable source of oil as well as protein. A 60-pound bushel of soybeans produces 48 pounds of soy protein, 11 pounds of soy oil, and 1 pound of hulls (the coatings of the beans). Henry Ford used soy oil to make plastic parts for his cars.

Farmers harvest the soybeans, which can be eaten fresh in their pods, dried and roasted, or broken down into different forms. Most soybeans are harvested and removed from their pods by a machine called a combine and then sent to a processing plant where they are crushed, rolled into flakes, and mixed with a solvent to separate the oil and protein. Soybean oil and protein can be made into many kinds of animal and human foods, as well as products such as crayons, paint, glue, and plastics.

Soybeans can be blended (mixed) with regular diesel, which is a petroleum fuel. Many cities and school districts use a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel in their buses. This is called a B20 blend. Using B20 reduces pollution from the buses, making the air cleaner.

Most trucks, buses, and tractors in the United States use diesel fuel. Regular diesel fuel is made from petroleum, a nonrenewable energy source. Petroleum is a fossil fuel; it takes millions of years to form under the ground, so we can’t make more in a short time. When petroleum fuels are burned in vehicle engines, they can pollute the air. If they spill onto the soil or into the water, they can damage the environment for a long time. Petroleum fuels are toxic and should be handled carefully. 

Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oils or animal fats. It is usually made from soybean oil, but it can also be made from corn oil or used restaurant grease and oil. If it is made from restaurant oil, it can smell like French fries. Since biodiesel is made from plant and animal oils, it is a renewable fuel. We can grow more plants in a short time to make more biodiesel. However, with the demand for food and land resources increasing, some scientists are looking at a “plant-like” organism—algae—as a possible fuel source. High oil prices and the competing demands between foods and other biofuel sources have ignited interest in algaculture (farming algae) for making vegetable oil, biodiesel, and other biofuels using land that is not suitable for agriculture.

Algae are not plants. They lack the structures that characterize land plants, such as leaves and roots. Nearly all algae have photosynthetic capability, and algae cells contain both sugars (carbohydrates) and oils (fats). Scientists are looking at efficient ways to grow algae for biofuels. Algae don’t need fertile soil and can grow or colonize in wastewater. Several types of algae grow well in salt water. Algae use sunlight and water and produce oil in their cells 50 times faster than regular crops. When this oil is extracted for biofuel, it can be used in a car and can be used to generate electricity. Among algal fuels’ attractive characteristics: they do not affect fresh water resources, they can be produced using ocean and wastewater, and they are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled.

How do you get oil out of soybeans? Soybeans are crushed and then a solvent called hexane is used to extract oil from the seed. If you crush soybeans in a mill and then boil the meal, the oil from the seeds will float on the surface of the water. How do you get the oil out of algae? It is similar to soybean oil extraction; you remove the oil from dried algae chemically with hexane or mechanically with an expeller press or ultrasound. How much energy is in oil? Conduct the following activity to measure the calories in vegetable oil. 

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Ask your students this series of questions to help them begin thinking about fuel:
    • "What is required to have in our cars, trucks, and other vehicles for them to run?" (Fuel)
    • "Where does most fuel come from?" (Most fuels have a petroleum base. It is pumped from deep within the ground and then refined)
    • "Are petroleum fuels a renewable or non-renewable resource?" (non-renewable)
    • "Are there any types of fuel that are renewable?" (Yes, biofuels. Ask further questions and discuss the topic of biofuels, ethanol, biodiesel, etc. to determine your student's prior knowledge on the topic.)

Procedures

  1. Use the ring stand to hold the aluminum can as pictured in Figure 1.
  2. Place a handful of modeling clay on the bottom of the ring stand or in a Pyrex dish at the bottom of the ring stand.
  3. Open one side of a large paperclip and place the bent portion into the clay as shown in Figure 2.
  4. Impale (spear) half a Cheeto onto the paper clip. (If you use more than half a Cheeto, you may set off a smoke detector.)
  5. Move the can to within two inches or five centimeters of the impaled Cheeto.
  6. Measure and add 100 milliliters of water to the can.
  7. Record the temperature of the water on the board. To find out how many calories are stored in the soybean oil in half a Cheeto, light the Cheeto and burn it to see how much energy is produced as noted by the rise in water temperature. See the attached "Calorie Calculation" activity sheet.
  8. Record the water temperature as soon as the flame burns out.
  9. Calculate the calories using the formula on the "Calorie Calculation" activity sheet.
  10. Repeat the procedure with a peanut or with algae.
  11. View algae oil videos from YouTube (search algae biofuel) or see the following:

How do you convert ml to grams?

One gram of water is always equal to 1 ml because that is its weight. For other substances, this is not necessarily true because different substances have different densities. For example, 1 ml of iron weighs about 7 grams; it is more dense than water.

1 ml of water = 1 gram

1 ml of iron = about 7 grams

Evaluation

  1. Based on the recorded measurements, ask the students to calculate the number of calories in half of a Cheeto. In addition to soybean oil energy, what other professional would need to know how to measure calories? (Nutritionists)
  2. Ask a pair of students to view an algae video from YouTube. New movies are added all the time, so go to YouTube and then search “algae biofuel.” Check the “Essential Links” section for more websites on algae biofuel movies. After the students have viewed the movies, ask each group to share something they have learned about algaculture (farming algae), a career associated with biofuels, and how this might affect what they drive later (biofuels can be used for cleaner electricity, electric cars?)

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Agricultural commodities such as corn or soybean oil can be used as a a source of fuel.
  • Algae can be a source of fuel.
  • Biofuels are considered a renewable energy source in comparison with fossil fuels which are a non-renewable energy source.

Important
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!

 

Suggested Companion Resources

Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Food, Health, and Lifestyle

  • Identify sources of agricultural products that provide food, fuel, clothing, shelter, medical, and other non-food products for their community, state, and/or nation (T3.6-8.i)
  • Identify the careers in food production, processing, and nutrition that are essential for a healthy food supply (T3.6-8.j)

Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy

  • Identify renewable and nonrenewable energy sources (T2.6-8.d)

Education Content Standards

Within CAREER

Career Ready Practices

  • CRP.10.1
    CRP.10.1
    Identify career opportunities within a career cluster that match personal interests, talents, goals and preferences.

Plant Science Systems Career Pathway

  • PS.02.03
    PS.02.03
    Apply knowledge of plant physiology and energy conversion to plant systems.

Within SCIENCE

MS-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity

  • MS-ESS3-4
    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.

MS-PS1: Matter and Its Interactions

  • MS-PS1-3
    MS-PS1-3
    Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.

Common Core Connections

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1
    Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2
    Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3
    Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4
    Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Language: Anchor Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1
    Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4
    Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

Mathematics: Practice Standards

  • CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP2
    CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP2
    Reason abstractly and quantitatively. Students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations. They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems involving quantitative relationships: the ability to decontextualize—to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved. Quantitative reasoning entails habits of creating a coherent representation of the problem at hand; considering the units involved; attending to the meaning of quantities, not just how to compute them; and knowing and flexibly using different properties of operations and objects.
  • CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP8
    CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP8
    Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. Students notice if calculations are repeated, and look both for general methods and for shortcuts. As they work to solve a problem, students maintain oversight of the process, while attending to the details. They continually evaluate the reasonableness of their intermediate results.

 

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