Environmental Impact of Computers

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1 Environmental Impact of Computers to minute sessions ACTIVITY OVERVIEW I N V E S T I O N I G AT Students learn about the mateirals contained in a computer and the waste produced from manufacturing the selected components to help prepare to make a decision in the final activity about purchasing computers. KEY CONCEPTS AND PROCESS SKILLS (with correlation to NSE 5 8 Content Standards) 1. Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, other cannot. (Tech: 2) 2. Mathematics can be used to ask questions; to gather, organize, and present data; and to structure explanations. (Inquiry: 1) 4. Human activities, such as resource acquisition, manufacturing, and waste disposal, can cause hazards to people and the environment. (Perspectives: 3) KEY VOCABULARY hazardous waste recycle, recyclablility B-115

2 Activity 22 Environmental Impact of Computers MATERIALS AND ADVANCE PREPARATION For the teacher 1 Transparency 22.1, Components of a Desktop Computer transparency of Student Sheet 22.1, Pie-Chart Template (optional) * overhead projector * chart paper * markers 1 Scoring Guide: ORGANIZING DATA (OD) For each pair of students * 1 set of colored pencils For each student * graph paper OR Student Sheet 22.1, Pie-Chart Template 1 Science Skills Student Sheet 3a and 3b, Bar Graphing Checklist 1 copy of Scoring Guide: ORGANIZING DATA (OD) (optional) *Not supplied in kit Masters for Science Skills Student Sheets 3a and 3b, Bar Graphing Checklist are in Teacher Resources II: Diverse Learners. Masters for Scoring Guides are in Teacher Resources III: Assessment. If possible, have computer components, such as a monitor, circuit board, and memory chip, available to show to students in Teaching Suggestion 2. If you would like student groups to construct their pie charts and bar graphs on chart paper to display in the classroom, have chart paper and markers on hand. Collect colored pencils if you wish students to use them to construct their pie charts. TEACHING SUMMARY Getting Started 1. Introduce the computer-selection scenario. Doing the Activity 2. (OD ASSESSMENT) Students make a pie chart or graph to illustrate data about the composition of computer components and potential environmental harm from computer manufacturing. Follow-Up 3. The class discusses the composition and environmental effects of computer manufacturing. B-116

3 Environmental Impact of Computers Activity 22 REFERENCES Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) Electronics Industry Environmental Roadmap. Austin, TX: MCC. Retrieved December 2006 from Ryan, J.C. and A.T. Durning, A.T Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things. Seattle: Northwest Environment Watch. B-117

4 Activity 22 Environmental Impact of Computers TEACHING SUGGESTIONS GETTING STARTED 1. Introduce the computer-selection scenario. To probe students current understanding of the materials that compose a computer, ask them, What parts make up a desktop computer? List their responses on the board. The components include: a monitor that contains a cathode ray tube or a liquid crystal display; a motherboard holding a circuit board, silicon chips, and processors; and other peripherals, such as an internal modem, disk drive, keyboard, and mouse. If students are not familiar with these parts or the role they play in the workings of a computer, review with them Transparency 22.1, Components of a Desktop Computer. Identify the name and function of each part. In subsequent activities students will investigate the manufacture of a single component, the circuit board, and the waste produced as it is made. Pose the question, What materials are computers made of? Students are likely to identify glass, plastic, and metal, as these are the three types of materials they so far have considered in the unit. After pointing this out, ask, What parts of a computer do you think are made from glass? From metal? From plastic? Why do you think that this specific material was chosen for this part? Students may say that glass computer screens are made of glass and plastic because they are transparent. Plastic houses the computer because it is a cheap but strong material that can be formed into a specified shape. Metal is in wires and other parts that conduct electricity. Stress again that each of these materials has unique properties that make it ideal for its function in certain computer parts. Then ask, What material do you think is most abundant in a computer by weight? Students ideas might include glass, plastic, and metal. Point out the information in Table 1, Materials in a Typical Desktop Computer, in the Student Book, and read the introduction and Challenge with the class. Explain to students that they will be working for the remainder of the unit to increase their understanding of the materials in computers. This will give them the background knowledge they will need in the last activity when they will make an informed decision about which computers to buy for a school. Ask students, If you were going to buy a computer, what factors would you consider in making your decision? Have students first discuss this with their partners and then share their thoughts with the class. Consider listing students responses on chart paper and displaying them in the classroom, or on the chalkboard. Likely responses include the cost of the computer, processing speed, amount of memory, appearance, ease of use, and programs included in the computer package. If students do not mention considering the environmental impact of computers as a factor, suggest that this is something they might consider. Most likely they will not be accustomed to incorporating this information when making consumer choices, nor will they know how to obtain that information. Explain to students that in the final activity Activy 29, The Green Computer Decision, they will make a choice about computers that will incorporate a consideration of the environmental effects of the chemistry involved in the life cycle of the computer. To prepare for making this decision, they will increase their understanding of the materials used to produce a computer. DOING THE ACTIVITY 2. (OD ASSESSMENT) Students make a pie chart or graph to illustrate data about the composition of computer components and the potential environmental harm of computer manufacturing. Today s computers come in many shapes and sizes. The information in Table 1, Materials in a Desktop Computer, is based on a desktop computer weighing about 25 kg (60 lbs). Point out that these numbers would vary depending on the weight and model of the computer. In Procedure Step 3, students work either on constructing a pie chart of the data in Table 1 or graphing the data in Table 2, Waste Products from Manufacturing Selected Computer Components. B-118

5 Environmental Impact of Computers Activity 22 For those students constructing the pie chart of the data in Table 2, you may wish to hand out Student Sheet 22.1, Pie-Chart Template. The pie-chart template is divided into 10 equal wedges with solid lines. Each wedge would represent 1/10th or 10% of the whole computer. Each 10% wedge is divided in two by a dashed line forming 5% wedges. Provide students with Science Skills Student Sheet 3a and 3b, Bar Graphing Checklist, to help in the construction of their bar or line graphs. Note for students that there are a number of ways to represent the information. Encourage them to try sketching different ways. Students may come up with more than one way to represent the data; what is important is their reasoning for choosing the representation. Consider asking one or two pairs of students to construct an additional pie chart on chart paper to be displayed in the classroom for future reference. A sample pie chart and line graph are shown below. This activity provides an opportunity to apply the ORGANIZING DATA (OD) Scoring Guide to assess students ability to construct a graph or pie chart. Let students know that you will be assessing their work with this assessment tool, and that they should refer to the ORGANIZING DATA Scoring Guide to help them construct their bar graphs. If it is available on a school or home computer, you may choose to suggest that students use a graphing program, such as Microsoft Excel, to show the data. FOLLOW-UP 3. The class discusses the environmental effects of computer manufacturing. Hold a class discussion about how different kinds of graphs can elucidate specific pieces of data. Ask, What information do the graphs show about computer manufacturing? For Table 1, Materials in a Typical Desktop Computer, students will say that glass, iron compounds, and plastic are the top three materials in a computer by weight. For Table 2, Waste Products from Manufacturing Selected Computer Components, students are likely to respond that the computer chip weighs the least, but its production generates the most waste. The circuit board manufacturing process produces the most hazardous waste, a process students will investigate in more detail in later activities. Analysis Question 1 requires students to extract information directly from the data tables in the Student Book. Sample Student Graphs Materials in a Typical Computer Waste From Manufacturing Computer Components Other 2% Zinc 2% Lead 6% Copper 7% Iron compounds 20% Glass 24% Kilograms (kg) Key Product weight Non-hazardous waste Hazardous waste Aluminum 14% Plastic 25% Computer chip Circuit board Monitor Component B-119

6 Activity 22 Environmental Impact of Computers Analysis Question 2 takes students understanding of the data one step further by asking them to consider conclusions that can be drawn from the data. Analysis Question 2 encourages students to think about how the information shown might be viewed from the perspective of materials chemists who want to reduce the environmental impact of the computer manufacturing process. Be sure students understand that according to the information provided in Tables 1 and 2 in the Student Book, certain components have a lower environmental impact (in terms of less waste generated and low amounts of hazardous waste produced), while others clearly involve the production of more hazardous waste from materials that may, however, be recyclable. SUGGESTED ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS 1. What are the top three materials by weight in a computer? The top three materials by weight in a computer are plastic, iron compounds, and glass. 2. You are a materials scientist asked to present the information in Tables 1 and 2 to a group of computer manufacturers who want to reduce the effect of the computer life cycle on the environment. What information from your data would help them? Make a list of statements summarizing the information your graphs and charts show. Answers that summarize and synthesize the data include: Table 2, Waste From Manufacturing Computer Components Of the computer parts shown, the monitor weighs the most. The monitor weighs the most, but the manufacture of it produces the least amount of waste. By percentage, the circuit board produces the most waste compared to its overall weight, and also the highest percentage of hazardous waste. 3. Based on your answer to Analysis Question 2, what two statements do you think are the most important to discuss with the manufacturers? Explain why they are the most important. Students answers will vary. What is key here is that the answers they choose show that they considered their audience, a group of manufacturers who want to reduce the environmental impact of computer production. Correct answers should incorporate information from the two tables that highlights areas of computer manufacturing that are highly detrimental to the environment (i.e., the amount of hazardous waste produced when manufacturing a circuit board) and areas in which the environmental impact is low (i.e., the amount of hazardous waste generated per kg of waste produced for the computer chip). Table 1, Materials in a Typical Computer Plastic makes up the greatest percentage of all materials in a computer by weight. Iron compounds and aluminum can be recycled more than any other materials in a computer. The material that can be recycled the most is not the material that makes up the greatest percentage of the computer. The elements in the computer, iron, aluminum, copper, and zinc, can be recycled at higher percentages than the compounds glass and plastic. B-120

7 Components of a Desktop Computer 2007 The Regents of the University of California Random Access Memory RAM Circuit board Central processing unit (CPU) Motherboard Hard drive Video card Power source CD/DVD drive Monitor Keyboard Mouse Issues and Physical Science Transparency 22.1 B-121

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9 Name Date Pie-Chart Template Title: 2007 The Regents of the University of California Issues and Physical Science Student Sheet 22.1 B-123

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