The Journey of Stuff

Essential Question

What is my favorite product's impact on the environment?

Lesson Objectives

  • SWBAT consider the impact of their choices on the Earth.
  • SWBAT create an interactive map detailing the journey of a favorite product.
  • SWBAT calculate the likely carbon emissions produced by the transportation of their favorite product.

Lesson Context / Summary

This lesson is appropriate for the end of a unit on Climate Change or Human Impacts on the Environment. Using Google maps, students will create an interactive map that describes the journey of a product of their choice, from raw materials to retailer and calculate the possible carbon emissions for that journey. Although many assumptions are made, the idea is for the students to realize the environmental benefits of purchasing locally sourced products whenever possible.


Lesson Opener

I start this lesson by asking the students, "How do goods get from a factory to you?", followed by "How is the transportation of goods related to climate change?", while showing the following infographic.

Black Carbon Infographic

We discuss the different ways that goods are shipped, and I ask, "Which mode of transportation do you think causes the most CO2 emissions?", and show the following image:

Direct Instruction

I tell students that over the next couple of days they will be exploring how a product of their choice is made in order to track its journey from raw materials to manufacture, shipping and finally to a store near us. I explain that they will create an interactive map with this information, figuring out and presenting the likely emissions of their product in order to answer the question "How much pollution is generated by the transportation of my favorite product?"

I show the students my own voyage of sneakers map, showing the different layers in order to help them visualize what I mean.


I tell students that first, they will need to decide on a product and gather the necessary information. I tell the students to gather their devices and create a copy of the Product Carbon Footprint - Handout 1. As students are working to record their information, I circulate the room helping students who may have difficulty finding some of the information.

Guided Practice

I expect students to be done with the information gathering at the beginning of day two. However, you may need to give more research time if you feel your students need it.

Once students are done with this first part, I share the following slide deck with them, which includes detailed instructions on how to create layers, markers, and lines within their map, as well as how to obtain information to complete the second portion of the Product Carbon Footprint - Handout 1. Because of this, I do not present the slide deck to the class as a whole, but rather share it with them so they can follow it themselves as they work to create their map.


As students are creating their maps, I circulate the room offering clarification and/or tips to help students create their maps.

In order to collect all maps for student share out/presentations I create an assignment on Edmodo and ask students to submit their work.

Assessment / Reflection

The last three questions on the Product Carbon Footprint - Handout 1 provide students with an opportunity for analysis and reflection of the data they generated.

Student maps are evaluated using this Interactive Map Rubric

Extension / Homework

As an extension, you could have students attempt to reduce the transportation carbon footprint of their product, "shipping" their "airplane" materials to the nearest port city, using cargo ship (0.04 g of CO2 /kg/mile), and finishing the journey by train or truck. This, of course, requires that each segment of this multistep journey be calculated separately. (Note: I tried this once with 5th graders but it was a bit too much).



NGSS MS-ESS3-3. Earth and Human Activity

Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

NGSS MS-ESS3-4. Earth and Human Activity

Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and percapita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.

NGSS MS-ESS3-5. Earth and Human Activity

Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.


Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.


Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).


Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

I love this lesson and can see using it for other concepts or topics.