Unit Overview

In the Renewable Resources unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on the comparison of renewable vs. nonrenewable resources, their uneven distribution, and human impact.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Fossil Fuel Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium makeMake: Compare Renewable vs. Nonrenewable Resources
Medium engineerEngineer: Engineer an Energy Solution

Students contextualize Renewable Resource in a vocabulary mind map before helping Mosa Mack solve the mystery of where our fossil fuels come from. By the end of The Solve, students discover that some resources we use are incredibly limited and human removal of these resources has a drastic effect on the environment. (75 mins)

After going through a planning process, students draw a visual model that compares the flow of a non-renewable resource with the flow of a renewable resource. (120 mins)

Students develop and design a proposal that mitigates either human impact on non-renewable resources, or the uneven distribution of those resources. (150 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment. [Clarification Statement: Examples of renewable energy resources could include wind energy, water behind dams, and sunlight; non renewable energy resources are fossil fuels and fissile materials. Examples of environmental effects could include loss of habitat due to dams, loss of habitat due to surface mining, and air pollution from burning of fossil fuels.]
Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distributions of Earth's mineral, energy, and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how these resources are limited and typically non renewable, and how their distributions are significantly changing as a result of removal by humans. Examples of uneven distributions of resources as a result of past processes include but are not limited to petroleum (locations of the burial of organic marine sediments and subsequent geologic traps), metal ores (locations of past volcanic and hydrothermal activity associated with subduction zones), and soil (locations of active weathering and/or deposition of rock).]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (Oral Presentation)

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Chemical Reactions
  • Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer
  • Defining Engineering Problems
  • Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life
  • Natural Resources
  • Structure and Properties of Matter

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science
  • Connections to Nature of Science
  • Energy and Matter
  • Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World
  • Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology
  • Science is a Human Endeavor
  • Structure and Function

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Learners initially think that there are two distinct categories of resources: renewable and nonrenewable. Emphasize to students that it is actually a spectrum of how quickly and readily resources can be renewed. Some resources are more renewable than others.
  • Relatedly, students initially think that fossil fuels are not cyclical. Emphasize that the fossil fuel cycle just takes an incredibly long time (hundreds of millions of years), so the reliance on it as a cycle for resources is not sustainable.
  • Students assume that resources are evenly distributed around the world. Emphasize that resources are natural (come from the Earth itself) and so they are distributed unevenly.
  • Students tend to believe that it is difficult to have an impact on resources as an individual. Spend time thinking about steps that students can take to utilize more renewable resources.


    • Renewable Resource
    • Nonrenewable Resource
    • Fossil Fuel
    • Cycle
    • Solar Energy
    • Wind Energy

Content Expert Title

  • Don Duggan-Haas, Ph.D.
    Director of Teacher Programming The Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth & Cayuga Nature Center


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

New: RocketLit Leveled Reading

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  • Things That Can and Can't be Recycled

    This article gives student background information on the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources. both terms and explicitly defined, as well as the terms "replenish" and "recycling," in the context of each category of resource.