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Nature of Science

Performance Benchmark N.8.B.1
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Nature of Science
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Science, Technology, and Society
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Nature of Science (NOS)
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Earth Science
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Students understand that consequences of technologies can cause resource depletion and environmental degradation, but technology can also increase resource availability, mitigate environmental degradation, and make new resources economical. E/S

New technologies have been a part of our life since the beginning of time.  Each new technology has an impact on our resources and environment.  In the beginning the impact was not as obvious. When the wheel was first invented it is doubtful that the inventor could have imagined the effect it would have on resources and the environment. Also doubtful is having that knowledge would have deterred him, or the many others who used his invention, in any way. 

There are many technological advances that have both costs and benefits to the environment and resources.  These costs and benefits are constantly changing as advances continue to be made.  Here are just a few examples that can be used in the classroom.

Communication technology is increasing at an unprecedented rate and with it, greater demands on adequately disposing of out-dated equipment. Communicating with each other is easier than ever before and available to more people than ever before.  These technologies can have an eventual harm on the environment but they can also allow the environment to be helped by using less of other resources and educating more of the public.

For a timeline on the history of communication go to

Advances in communication decrease the need for travel which decreases the use of fossil fuels.  With video conferencing, online classes, and email people can hold a meeting or conference without even leaving their home.  The new technology also allows scientists and environmentalists to educate the public about environmental issues.  Education and awareness are critical elements to protecting the environment.  Scientists also benefit from today’s instant communication.  The state of an environment can be communicated to countless professionals around the world almost instantaneously.  More timely solutions to environmental degradation issues can be assessed and implemented.

For greater detail on communication and the environment access the article “Can the Internet Help Slow Global Environmental Decline?” at

The production of communication devices also puts a toll on the environment.  The largest toll comes in the form of disposal. Old outdated equipment needs to be disposed of and packaging of new equipment needs to be disposed of. Another toll is energy usage. With more and more people using communication devices more and more energy is being used to power these devices.  Work is being done to mitigate these negative effects on the environment.  As described in the study below it is known that equipment needs to be made for the long haul and the consumer needs to be informed about the environmental effects of their purchase.

Studies are being done to determine impact of ICT. ICT stands for information and communication technologies.  This relates to technologies such as computers and mobile phones. This project assessed the way that these technologies can effect environmental sustainability. 
For more information on this go to

For more information on the effect of cell phones on the environment go to

Computers are another item that cause a problem with disposal.  For more information on computer disposal go to
Not only are they in one day and out the next, they are toxic to the environment.  They are also a large source of energy consumption.  Computers also allow us to analyze environmental data much more efficiently and to communicate this data to hopefully produce positive results.

Figure 1. Recyclable components of a computer

With the technology of computers come programs that allow scientists to analyze the environment. Scientists can use the computer to quickly see and analyze data presented.  These computers can give them access to information, such as satellites, or it may help them analyze the information, such as computer programs.  Scientists also use computers to model how the environment is being or may be affected.      

Computers themselves require large amounts of energy.  People add to this by leaving their PC's running for long periods of time when not in use.  Production of computers also requires large amounts of energy.  “My computer weighs 25 kilos. However, the factories that made my computer produced 63 kilos of waste. They also used 27,700 liters of water and 2,300 kilowatt hours of energy.” (taken from “what effects does my computer have on the environment” at

For more information from Microsoft on how to mitigate the environmental effects of computers on the environment go to

Transportation and Fuel
Transportation and fuel are two advances that cause ever changing cost and benefits.  As new fuels are produced the cost and benefits change.  Between greenhouse gas and fuel supplies the cost benefit analysis of each option is seemingly impossible.  In fact, not everyone even agrees on what the costs and benefits are of each fuel option.

For a timeline on the history of transportation go to

Transportation and fuel have the obvious benefit of making it possible to travel faster and send items faster.  Society has realized the effect of fossil fuels on the environment.  Because of this there has been a lot of work invested to invent an alternative to the traditional gasoline usage of automobiles.  There are pros and cons to each of these alternatives also.  While society has not yet come up with a universal solution, efforts continue to address this global concern.

For more information on how fossil fuels effect the environment go to

For more information on how scientists are making ethanol more environmentally friendly go to

For more information on how natural gas effects the environment go to

Figure 2. Environmental impact of transportation

One thing that is agreed on is that transportation and the fuel it uses causes resource depletion and environmental degradation.  The greenhouse effect is an ongoing challenge society faces. Greenhouse gases are changing our climate and causing great damage to our environment.  Using fossil fuels causes’ air and water pollution, and leaks in transporting this fuel has also caused detrimental effects to whole ecosystems.

This PowerPoint shows several graphics on the environmental impacts of transportation

Genetically Modified Food
Genetically modified food is a fairly new technology and controversy.  One of the goals behind genetically modified food is to provide more food faster to countries that need it therefore, increasing resource availability and making it more affordable.  There have been new studies conducted that state these crops are harming some insect population therefore, causing environmental degradation.

Most of the genetically modified crops are modified to be more tolerant of herbicide and resist to insects and viruses.  It is thought that because of this there would be a great reduction in the use of pesticides.  Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case. While some crops in some location show a major reduction in the use of pesticides, overall use has not decreased.  It is thought that because of pests adapting to pesticides the use of pesticides will not decrease. Most of the benefits seem to be to technology companies and to farmers.  The reduction in price that was predicted to happen has not yet been realized by the consumer. 

There have been many studies done that show harm to insect populations. It has been shown that some moth and bee populations have decreased in areas where genetically modified crops are being grown.  There has also been harm shown to predators of the “pests” that eat these genetically modified crops. 

To see more details about the harms and benefits of genetically modified foods and the studies that were done, visit

There are times when society uses a technology even though they know it has a negative overall impact on the environment.

  1. Society becomes dependent on the technology.  When a new technology comes out society may either not know the ramifications of it or be so focused on the benefits they feel they will always outweigh the negatives.
  2. The technology may have health and/or safety benefits that outweigh the negatives on the environment.
  3. The technology may make the lives of society so much easier that they feel it outweighs the negative effects. We know using fossil fuels in automobiles harms the environment but can you imagine just giving up transportation all together - it makes our lives so much easier that we feel it outweighs the harmful effects.

There are also many technologies invented to lessen the impact on the environment.  These technologies may have one or more of the following goals.

  1. To reduce the use of a natural resource
  2. To increase the efficiency of a technology
  3. To reduce waste

To see some research that is being done to lessen our impact on the environment, go to

Here is a list of technologies that are lessening the impact on the environment

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Performance Benchmark N.8.B.1

Students understand that consequences of technologies can cause resource depletion and environmental degradation, but technology can also increase resource availability, mitigate environmental degradation, and make new resources economical. E/S

Common misconceptions associated with this benchmark

1. Students mistakenly believe that each technological advance is either all positive or all negative.

Students need to see that most technologies have pros and cons. While some people may have strong feelings one way or the other there is usually another side of things. This is a website that describes, in a student friendly way, several of the technologies that we use today. It also lists the advantages and disadvantages of technology.  This website is an opinion of its author. At the end it asks the student to decide if they think technology is positive or negative. This would be a good example to the students of a project that you could have them do.

2. Students mistakenly believe that humans can fix any negative effect of technology.

With all the new technologies being developed and presented as better for the environment, students may believe that we can fix any negative effects.  Students may also have the perspective that humans can do anything.  Unfortunately, they may not see the permanent negative effects that humans have caused the environment.  There are times when humans cannot return an environment to its natural state or “fix” it. One example is the loss of biodiversity.  When a species becomes extinct (as a direct or indirect result of technology) it cannot be replaced. One way to counter this belief is to follow the lesson plan below.  This lesson allows students to study species from the past that are now extinct and modern species that have become extinct.  Students can compare what the causes were in the past compared to more recently.  This will allow the students to see that humans and technology have had an effect on biodiversity and come to the realization that these species cannot be replaced.

For more information on this lesson by National Geographic, go to

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Performance Benchmark N.8.B.1

Students understand that consequences of technologies can cause resource depletion and environmental degradation, but technology can also increase resource availability, mitigate environmental degradation, and make new resources economical. E/S

Sample Test Questions

1st Item Specification: Identify examples and explain costs and benefits of a given technological advance.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. Which of following is a benefit of a technological advance?
    1. Urban sprawl
    2. Air pollution
    3. Fuel efficient cars
    4. Global warming
  1. If there was a technological advance that allowed society to obtain oil from the ground faster and more efficiently, a negative impact to society would be that
    1. only wealthy people could get the extra oil.
    2. demand for oil would decrease while supply increased.
    3. there would be too much oil for society to handle.
    4. oil would be used faster than nature could replace it.

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. Use the chart to answer the question below.



Increase in Cost

Create Less Pollution

Increase in Repair Costs

Are More Fuel Efficient

Which of the following technological advances could be the reason for the cost/benefit chart above?
  1. Genetically modified food
  2. Computers and the internet
  3. Hybrid (gas/electric) cars
  4. High capacity airplanes
  1. Which of the following is a cost associated with the advances of modern health practices?
    1. Improved hygiene and water treatment practices.
    2. Development of vaccines to prevent disease.
    3. Decrease of infant and childhood death rates.
    4. Increase in the growth of the human population. 

2nd Item Specification: Recognize and identify examples of the effect of technologies on use of resources.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. Which of the following is NOT a benefit of the use of synthetic grass?
    1. Gardeners use less gas when taking care of it.
    2. It can be put in areas where grass cannot grow.
    3. Real grass filters rainwater and it does not.
    4. It requires less water to maintain it.
  1. What would be a positive effect of a technological advance that allows fishing companies to get larger amounts of fish in shorter amounts of time?
    1. There will be more fish available for world consumption.
    2. The fish population would decline at a faster rate.
    3. There will be larger fishing boats in the waters.
    4. Smaller fishermen would have less fish to catch.


Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. Use the graph below to answer the following question.


The Role of Renewable Energy Consumption in the Nation’s Energy Supply, 2007

(Source: Energy Information Administration, Office of Coal, Nuclear, Electric and
Alternative Fuels Energy Information Administration/Renewable Energy
Consumption and Electricity Preliminary Statistics 2007

In the United States, 93% of the energy supply comes from nonrenewable resources. As the supply of nonrenewable resources decreases and the demand for energy increases, how will the graph MOST LIKELY change as technology to use renewable resources advances?

  1. The graph will remain the same due to high energy demand.
  2. The consumption of renewable energy sources will increase.
  3. The consumption of nonrenewable energy sources will increase.
  4. The graph will include a new energy source not discovered yet.
  1. The graph below shows the number of fish caught and the fish population in one area over time. 
Number of Fish
    1. Large companies started using electric fishing boats.
    2. Technology allowed fishing boats to catch more fish in a short time.
    3. Genetic engineering changed the fish so that they lived longer.
    4. The internet made it possible for more people to visit the area.

3rd Item Specification: Describe the development of major technological advances and explain the changing balance of cost and benefits.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. Computers caused a large decline in paper usage when the internet made newspapers and magazines available online. How is the internet causing a cost to the environment?
    1. More paper products are being used to ship items directly to people ordering at home.
    2. The internet has changed what paper is made of which is harming the environment.
    3. People do not have to send letters on paper anymore they can just email it.
    4. The internet has made logging easier so more trees are being cut down.
  1. Which of the following is the best benefit-cost relationship associated with converting from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources?
    1. Decrease in air pollution, Increase in cost.
    2. Limit urban sprawl, Increase in cost.
    3. Less disruption of natural watersheds, Decrease in cost.
    4. Reduce the demand for oil, Decrease in cost.
  1. Which of the following technological advances does NOT provide a positive impact on the environment?
    1. Ability to build energy efficient homes.
    2. Capacity to produce large quantities of food.
    3. Reuse of recycled materials in new products.
    4. Development of lower emission vehicles.

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. Many coastal communities have a lack of fresh drinking water. Desalinization plants would allow communities to produce fresh drinking water from the sea/salt water. The problem is that the plants cost a lot of money, use a lot of energy, cause an increase in CO2 emissions, and create a byproduct that could be hazardous if dumped back in the ocean.

Which of the graphs show a scenario where the benefits would outweigh the costs of desalinization?

    1. Graph 1
    2. Graph 2
    3. Graph 3
    4. Graph 4
  1. In the past, diseases were confined to geographic regions and pandemics were rare. What is the primary method that diseases are spread to the general population in other countries?
    1. Birds transport the diseases as they migrate for the winter.
    2. Travelers board planes and transport the diseases to their destinations.
    3. Military personnel exchange diseases with other soldiers during battles.
    4. Infected meat is sold to other countries and carries the disease.

4th Item Specification: Explain when and why society utilizes technology even though it can have a negative effect.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. Plastic materials fill up our landfills and do not decompose quickly. Plastic is made from the non-renewable resource petroleum. What would NOT be a reason society would still choose to use plastics?
    1. Plastics are cheaper than other options such as wood or paper.
    2. Society does not care about the negative effects of plastic.
    3. Society can recycle and reuse plastic to reduce the waste.
    4. Many items that society uses daily are made with plastic.
  1. Which of the following is a NEGATIVE impact caused by mining for resources? The mining industry
    1. contributes to the economy and provides employment.
    2. practices reclamation procedures when a mine closes.
    3. uses leaching techniques that cause heavy metals to enter the water supply.
    4. provides the raw materials needed to make the items used daily by society.

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. Several people were asked to rate 2 different technologies that accomplished the same goal. The results are shown below.
Which technology would society most likely choose to use and why?
    1. Technology 1 because it is less harmful to the environment and resources.
    2. Technology 1 because it is more useful and made life easier.
    3. Technology 2 because it was more harmful to the environment.
    4. Technology 2 because it made life a little easier.
    1. The basic design of a nuclear power plant uses uranium to heat water in order to produce energy. Why are nuclear power plant considered a form of clean energy?
      1. The uranium does not produce emissions that affect air quality.
      2. The spent fuel from the reactors is harmless and can be easily disposed.
      3. The nuclear power plants are more efficient than coal-burning power plants.
      4. The uranium used in the nuclear reactors is a renewable resource.

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    Performance Benchmark N.8.B.1

    Students understand that consequences of technologies can cause resource depletion and environmental degradation, but technology can also increase resource availability, mitigate environmental degradation, and make new resources economical. E/S

    Answers to Sample Test Questions

    1. C, DOK Level 1
    2. D, DOK Level 1
    3. C, DOK Level 2
    4. D, DOK Level 2
    5. C, DOK Level 1
    6. A, DOK Level 1
    7. B, DOK Level 2
    8. B, DOK Level 2
    9. A, DOK Level 1
    10. A, DOK Level 1
    11. B, DOK Level 1
    12. C, DOK Level 2
    13. B, DOK Level 2
    14. B, DOK Level 1
    15. C, DOK Level 1
    16. C, DOK Level 2
    17. A, DOK Level 2

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    Performance Benchmark N.8.B.1

    Students understand that consequences of technologies can cause resource depletion and environmental degradation, but technology can also increase resource availability, mitigate environmental degradation, and make new resources economical. E/S

    Intervention Strategies and Resources

    The following is a list of intervention strategies and resources that will facilitate student understanding of this benchmark.

    1. What Do Light Bulbs Have to Do with Air Pollution?

    This lesson from the Clean Air Campaign focuses on air quality and electricity production. Students are charged with the task of calculating the amount of CO2 emitted when electrical energy is produced to power each type of light bulb. Also included is the environmental component of compact fluorescent bulb use and bulb recycling.

    To access this activity, go to

    2. Genetically Modified Food

    In this lesson students analyze the pros and cons of genetically modified foods. They also discuss the future implications of these foods.  There are several multimedia resources, provided as links in the lesson plan, which can be used with the students.  An extension of the lesson in the form of an art project that shows their feelings in response to what they learned about genetically engineered food is also offered.

    You must register (free) to access this activity

    3. Keystone Science Schools: Sustainable Automobiles

    These lesson plans focus on sustainable automobiles.  There are several different content areas that can be covered.  There are many graphics included on this page such as “how technology has changed travel”.  There are also links to several more pages giving information on alternative fuel sources for automobiles. To get to the lesson plans click on science module about half way down the page. The handouts for the lesson are also provided. In the lessons students will learn about and evaluate different fuel sources.  All of the necessary vocabulary and definitions are provided on the lesson plan page. There are actually 10 days of lesson plans provided which involve games and labs.

    To access this activity go to

    4. Benefits, Harmful Effects, and Challenges of Technology

    This is a lesson that has several assessments along the way.  There is a pretest to assess where a student’s knowledge of technology is currently.  There are several reading passages about the benefits, harmful effects, and challenges of technology.  There are self tests along the way to check for understanding.  This would be a good introductory activity as a whole class or in small groups to prepare students to learn about technology.

    To access this activity, go to

    5. Technology – Its Benefits and Negative Effects by Discovery School

    This lesson involves the students watching a technology video on video streaming.  The class will then create and discuss three column diagrams about the benefits and negative effects of technology.  Afterwards the students will debate about the issues and answer some discussion questions.  A rubric is also provided for the debate. 

    To access this activity, go to

    6. Nanotechnology Education Resources Funded by the National Science Foundation

    Nanotechnology is a relatively new concept. Most of the topics covered under this category are likely ones that the students have not heard about or discussed before.  This allows them to have unbiased analysis of the environmental effects of this technology.  

    In this first lesson there are three activities. The students will first research how technology has changed in the past and how it may alter people’s lives in the future. In activity 2, students research nanotechnology and some of its uses.  Lastly, students research how different groups may use this technology

    In this lesson “student groups representing different segments of society, environmentalists, local industry and business leaders, healthcare administrators, local residents, and nanocomposite manufacturers, will discuss the possible effects of nanotechnology on the interests of the people they represent. The class is asked to consider both pros and cons of using nanotechnology and to make a decision at the end.”

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Benchmark Related Vocabulary

Environmental risk factor
Non-renewable resource