Math Can Be Electrifying

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 21, 2006

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Green Design

Subject Area

  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute lesson plans


In this multi-disciplinary lesson, students will learn how math can be used to calculate and analyze how the use of electricity causes air pollution. Students will design a campaign to educate family members on ways they can save electricity. After they have initiated the energy-saving tips campaign at home, they will create a graph that compares two electric bills to determine how much energy was saved.

National Standards


Students will do the following:
  • collect, organize, represent and interpret data
  • design a campaign to help lower energy consumption
  • identify patterns (trends) in data sets


  • Internet websites
  • "Saving Energy Campaign" worksheet


Supplies to create materials for the "Tips for Saving Electricity" campaign:
  • plain and colored construction paper
  • markers or colored pencils
  • poster board


Building Background Real World Math

The purpose of this activity is to show students that math can be used to calculate the impact of energy use on the environment. 1. In preparation for this activity, bring in a copy of your own electric bill, or ask for student volunteers to bring in their families' electric bill. 2. Visit the Cleaner and Greener website at . This site contains a calculator that determines how much pollution is caused by a household's or business's electricity use. Enter the dollar amount of the electric bill you have selected into the calculator to determine how much pollution was caused by the energy consumption stated in the bill. 3. Discuss the role that math can play in determining the impact of energy consumption on the environment.

Steps for Learning Tips For Saving Energy Campaign

In this activity, students will design a campaign to educate family members on ways to save energy. They will use math to determine the effectiveness of their campaign by creating and plotting data on a graph.

Teacher Note: In preparation for this activity, tell students to ask their parents for the total dollar amount of their families' last month's electric bill. Ask students to write the amount on a piece of paper and bring it to school.

1. Divide the class into small groups. Have group members enter the dollar amount of each electric bill into the "Emissions Calculator" on the Cleaner and Greener Website . Ask students to create a graph that shows how many pounds of greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and particulates were generated by their energy consumption.

Teacher Note: It is not necessary for every student to bring in an electric bill to complete this activity. Students who don't have an electric bill may graph and compare changes in energy consumption using the information from someone in their group.

2. Tell students that they are going to design a campaign that will educate family members on ways to use less electricity in their households. Explain to students that they will use their math skills to evaluate the effectiveness of their campaign.

3. Pass out a copy of the "Saving Energy Campaign" worksheet to each group. Ask students to follow the directions on the worksheet.

4. After students have completed their second graph, provide time for students to share their campaign and the results with the class.

Teacher Note: Try to time this activity so that it begins just after the first electric bill is received. If you had unusually cold or hot weather during the second month, it could impact the kilowatt-hours for the month.


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.-How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to create your campaign. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate the quality of your campaign. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -How effective was your campaign? Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor Explain why graphs can be an important way to organize data. List three ways that math can be used to help solve or identify real-world problems.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Share the Knowledge
1. Meet with school officials to discuss ways the school could cut back its electrical use.2. Have a school assembly in which you input the school's electricity bill into the emissions calculator and share the results with the school. Share the ideas you generated with the school officials with the rest of the student body.3. Graph the results from the emissions calculator and hang it in an area of the school where all of the students can view it. 4. Plot the results of each month's electric bill on the graph.

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