Lesson - Renew A Bean


Title: Renew A Bean
Grade: 6th Grade
Duration: 45 Minutes


Science – SC.6.E.7.5
Explain how energy provided by the sun influences global patterns of atmospheric movement and the temperature differences between air, water, and land.

Mathematics – MAFS.6.RP.1.2
Understand the concept of a unit rate a/b associated with a ratio a:b with b ≠ 0, and use rate language in the context of a ratio relationship.

Language Arts – LAFS.6.RL.1.2
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments


The student will…
• Increase their understanding of the eventual depletion of nonrenewable resources
• the effect of changing rates of use on the future
• the role of conservation and the need to develop renewable resources


Alternative Energy • Renewable Energy • Non-Renewable Energy • Geothermal • Biomass • Solar Energy • Wind Energy • Natural Gas • Fuel Cells • Hydropower

Background Information

A prediction of how long various energy resources will last in the future is risky at best. If we look back in the 1950’s, utilities predicted California would need a nuclear power plant every 10 miles along their coastline to meet their electrical energy needs. Then in the early 1970’s, it was predicted that we would run out of natural gas by the late 1980’s! It is important to know whether a prediction assumes a constant rate of use or a changing rate. It is also important to know whether a rate assumes that more resources will be found or if it assumes the use of only known reserves. In calculating both renewable and nonrenewable energy within the U.S. we must also think about foreign resources.

As the human population grows at 1.8%, just a mere 82 million a year; the United States and others around the globe are using more and more energy. We start facing the eventual depletion of non-renewable resources. But when? It all depends on how quickly and how much energy we use. If all our energy were renewable, we wouldn’t have a problem, there would always be energy; would we? This simulation will show the conditions that affect the depletion of nonrenewable resources
Students will experiment with these conditions to see how long they can extend the use of energy resources. The point of this activity is not so much to show the actual numbers, but rather that nonrenewable resources will be depleted and that conservation (reduction of use/waste) together with the development of renewable resources can extend the availability of nonrenewable.


  • 1 open container for every 2 students and/or groups.
  • Beans: Pinto and Garbanzo beans and/or peanuts and almonds; whatever combinations is available.
    • 92% one color; 8% another color- be sure to maintain the 92:8 ratio to represent the ratio of nonrenewable to renewable energy consumption in the U.S.


Will the beans used to represent both renewable and nonrenewable energy demonstrate how, over several years' time, nonrenewable resources will be depleted?


1. Prior to conducting this lab; it may helpful to review the definitions of renewable and nonrenewable with your students.

  • Renewable energy is energy produced from sources that do not deplete or can be replenished within a human’s lifetime. The most common examples include wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower. This is in contrast to non-renewable sources such as fossil fuels. Watch video
  • Non–renewable energy comes from sources that will run out or will not be replenished in our lifetimes—or even in many, many lifetimes. Most non–renewable energy sources are fossil fuels: coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Carbon is the main element in fossil fuels. More information

2. Divide students into groups and have them fill an open container with exactly 100 beans: 92% of one kind; 8% of another.

3. Hand out and discuss the Renewable Data Sheet. (Explain that more recent information tells us that the total renewable energy percentage has changed from 7% to 8%.)

4. Hand out and explain the Draw Chart. All students should do the first trial together to get the idea of the lab. Have one student in each pair/group put on the blindfold. This represents a population that is using energy without thinking about whether it is renewable or nonrenewable. When a student takes beans from the container, they won’t be making a conscious decision between renewable or nonrenewable.

5. Explain that the first trial will be based on a population that is using energy at a constant rate. In other words, there is no growth in population and they use the same units of energy from one year to the next. Have students predict how many “years” it will take to deplete the beans in the container. Record it on the Data Chart #1.

6. Begin the activity, reminding students that any renewable beans pulled from the container can be replaced and counted for that year. Continue until only renewable beans are left in the container. Calculate percentages of renewable and nonrenewable that remain after each drawing.

7. Record the number of years it took to deplete all nonrenewable beans. Compare to the predictions.

8. Remove blindfolds.

9. Discuss findings:

  • Refer students to Data Chart #2. The first two rows represent populations with varying degrees of energy consumption. These would-be populations much like ours in the U.S. and other “developed” nations. Countries with a high standard of living consume much more energy than developing, or third world nations. Look at the number of cars we drive, the plastic we use, and the fuel we use to heat and air condition our homes. All this energy consumption is primarily from nonrenewable resources. Remind students, however, that the “consumption” of beans and the years it takes to empty the container are only representative. It doesn’t mean we’ll run out of energy in 7 or 15 years. The simulation is designed to show how quickly a growing consumption level can deplete a resource. You may want to change the time units to reflect a more realistic picture, i.e. each box representing every 5 or 10 years.

10. Repeat the same procedure as above. Be sure they predict before start. Replace all the beans. Have students choose Data Chart #2 or #3.

11. After the second round, discuss again the time it takes to deplete a resource when consumption levels increase. This represents an increasing population. More people place more demands on fewer resources.

12. At this point, tell students to design a way to extend the use of energy resources for as long as possible. The rules remain the same, however. Students are blindfolded, and they must begin by removing 10 beans. They are to establish a rate of consumption that will last longer than either of their previous trials. Have them record their trials in the remaining data boxes. (They should run at least two trials.)

13. When finished, discuss methods used to extend the energy resources, both renewable and nonrenewable. Have students write a conclusion.

The “Draw Chart” on the following pages tells you how many beans to draw if you want to adapt for changes in rate of energy use.

For example, if use remains constant from year to year, each person draws 10 beans. If you want to simulate a 4% per year increase in energy use, you go to the column marked 4% per year. Students will predict how many years the energy supply will last, then fill in the number of beans left after each “year.” Be sure to look the chart over before you begin so you understand the procedure.

R.E.A.C.T. - Renewable Energy Activities - Choices for Tomorrow