Sunday, January 18, 2015

Making students aware of their "Life on Earth"

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Your Life on Earth is an interactive feature on the BBC website. Enter data about your birth date, gender and height and you can see how various aspects of the world have changed since you were born.

The link:

From the website:

"Find out how, since the date of your birth, your life has progressed, including how many times your heart has beaten, and how far you have travelled through space.

Investigate how the world around you has changed since you've been alive; from the amount the sea has risen, and the tectonic plates have moved, to the number of earthquakes and volcanoes that have erupted.

Grasp the impact we've had on the planet in your lifetime; from how much fuel and food we've used to the species we've discovered and endangered."

The material comes from the archive of BBC shows and documentaries - many of which have example clips in the area below the display. The 3 areas focused on are "How you have changed," "How the world has changed," and "How we have changed the world."

As an example, a female student of mine who was born in 1988 and is 173 cm. tall (5`8") found out that:
  • she has had 1 billion heartbeats in her lifetime so far (in comparison with a blue whale, whose heart would have beaten 83 million times or a hummingbird with 18 billion heartbeats);
  • she would be 107 years old on Mercury, and her next birthday there would be in 17 Earth days from today - while on Jupiter she would be only 2 years old (with a birthday in 3,339 Earth days);
  • she has been around the sun more than 25,037,712,000 km (constantly updating as you watch);
  • a penguin her age would have had 5 generations by now, a rabbit 52 generations, a killer whale 1 generation, etc.;
  • and that life expectancy has increased 5.7 years since she was born.
There are also data for other changes in the world and -- perhaps more importantly for our students -- how humans have changed the world.

These changes include:
  • sea level and ocean pH levels;
  • animals, fish and plants under threat of extinction;
  • food and drink supplies per person;
  • power supply;
  • emission control;
  • etc.
The area that most interested my students, and caused the most discussion, was Fuel Gauge: How old will you be when resources run out? For this student - and for many in this particular group - the answers were:
  • oil - 79 years old
  • coal - 81 years old
  • gas - 139 years old
The reality that it will be a particular year in their lifetimes if nothing changes in the way we use resources - and the resources we use - was quite eye-opening for them. Although many felt that "something" would change before they reached that age, it still gave them a certain deadline to think about.

With other, younger, groups it could be even more revealing. This made the statistics and information about sustainability really have a personal meaning for my students.

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