This lesson plan features the film and book from the project, No Impact Man, which follows a family in New York City as they examine how they live, exchange old habits for more environmentally-friendly ones, and discover in the process that such changes actually make them happier and healthier. The lesson also incorporates Web site resources that build on themes that emerge from the family’s experiences. Educators can use this lesson to help students explore how they can reduce their daily energy consumption and speak out on the need to have long-term, sustainable energy solutions. This lesson plan was produced with assistance from our partner 1Sky.
By the end of this lesson, students will:
Civics, Geography, Current Events, Language Arts
One 50-minute class period
“Lights Out” (length 3:37): The clip begins at 43:16 with a shot of the Farmer’s Market and ends at 46:53 with Michelle reading a book in bed by candlelight.
“Solar Panel” (length 1:00): The clips starts at 1:02:01 with a shot of the city and ends at 1:03:01 when Colin says, “…in a way that doesn’t harm the planet.”
To access these video clips, please find the link to them in the e-mail you received when you registered.
1. Display the image of the Beavan family at: http://www.noimpactdoc.com/ Explain that for one year, this New York City family tried out different changes in their lifestyle habits that they hoped would minimize their negative impact on the environment. They called this year of experimentation the “No Impact” project. Colin came up with the idea for the project, and he blogged about it and took the lead on making each change. His wife Michelle and daughter Isabella were good sports and went along for the adventure. As part of the No Impact project, they ate only seasonally, locally-produced food, produced no trash, used primarily “active transportation” like walking and biking, didn’t buy anything new (besides food), conserved water, used natural cleaning products, and reduced their consumption of electricity. They found that these lifestyle changes and others actually made them healthier and happier. Then, they reached the phase where they wanted to try using no electricity at all. To kick off this phase of the project, they had some friends over for a party, dramatically shut off the electricity in their apartment, and then lived without power for the rest of the project.
2. Play the first clip for this lesson. Then, discuss:
3. Tell the class that Colin was able to figure out how he could use solar energy to power his laptop and Internet connection so he could work from home. Then, show the second clip.
4. Explain that the solar energy panel worked to power his computer in the summertime, but it provided less energy in the winter months. Colin’s trial and error to meet his and his family’s needs without electricity led to an interesting discovery. Then, read the book excerpt.
6. Point out that since our current energy system is dependent on using fossil fuels to produce electricity, the main ways we can make a difference in the environment on this issue are to:
7. Ask students to help the environment by either researching and creating a “Top 10” list of ways they will reduce their personal energy consumption, or by writing a letter to the editor explaining their views on needed changes to our energy system. Tips for writing a letter to the editor are provided in the high school organizing guide from 1Sky.org, an advocacy network striving to stop climate change and help the U.S. move to a clean energy economy.
Students can be assessed on:
This collection of fact sheets from the Pew Charitable Trusts describes the status of the clean energy economy in each state in the U.S.
This National Wildlife Federation resource measures personal carbon dioxide emissions and provides home energy conservation tips to help you reduce emissions and lower energy costs.
This glossary from the U.S. Department of Energy is written in simple, non-technical terms.
This Fox News report focuses on a recent poll from The Pew Research Center for People & the Press that says the number of Americans who believe there is strong scientific evidence of global warming is declining.
This site from the U.S. Department of Energy provides basics about energy and energy sources, conservation information, riddles, puzzles, and more.
This animation from the U.S. Department of Energy shows how the choices we make everyday can save energy and improve the environment.
Find out more about the “pot in the pot” device shown in the video that the Beavans tried to use as a refrigerator.
This alternate reality game from 2007 simulated what conditions would be like during a global oil shortage. Resources include blog entries, videos, and other messages that help drive the simulation, plus a large collection of related lesson plans.
These standards are drawn from “Content Knowledge,” a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning).
Behavioral Studies, Standard 1: Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior.
Civics, Standard 19: Understands what is meant by “the public agenda,” how it is set, and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media.
Geography, Standard 14: Understands how human actions modify the physical environment.
Geography, Standard 15: Understands how physical systems affect human systems.
Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
Language Arts, Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.
Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive’s Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource Web site (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.
This lesson is inspired by the work of Colin Beavan (aka “No Impact Man”), who got tired of listening to himself complain about the world without ever actually doing anything about it. So in November 2006, he launched his year-long “No Impact Man” experiment in which he, his wife, his two-year-old daughter and their dog attempted to live in the middle of New York City with as little environmental impact as possible. They tried to adopt new everyday habits that would be less harmful to the planet, and discovered in the process that such changes also make them happier and healthier. Along the way, Beavan blogged about his adventures and attracted broad public attention to environmental issues, including those related food, consumption, water, energy, and transportation. Beavan’s experiment in lifestyle redesign is the subject of his No Impact Man book and a Sundance-selected documentary by independent film producers Laura Gabbert and Eden Wurmfeld.
1Sky’s goal is to build a diverse, society-wide mobilization that will convince our federal government to take bold action by 2010. To identify the steps that our leaders need to take in order to shift our nation away from global warming and toward the prosperity of a green economy, we’ve engaged a network of leading scientists and economists to create the 1Sky Solutions.