Systems and Scale | Community Connection: Combustion in our Community Activity

Students explore the role of combustion in their home or school and the sources of electricity in their state, and they design an infographic to inform their community of the useful role of combustion and its environmental impact.

Guiding Question

What role does natural gas combustion play in our community and what are its environmental impacts?

Combustion in our Community Activity

  • Activity 1: Gathering Information
  • Activity 2: Designing an Infographic


  1. Explain how matter and energy change when a fossil fuel like natural gas undergoes combustion.
  2. Describe the role of combustion of natural gas and other fossil fuels in the home or school.
  3. Describe the role of combustion in electricity production in the state.
  4. Associate the release of carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil fuels with climate change.

NGSS Performance Expectations

Middle School

  • Structures and Properties of Matter. MS-PS1-1. Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.
  • Chemical Reactions. MS-PS1-2. Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
  • Chemical Reactions. MS-PS1-5. Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved.

High School

  • Chemical Reactions. HS-PS1-4. Develop a model to illustrate that the release or absorption of energy from a chemical reaction system depends upon the changes in total bond energy.
  • Chemical Reactions. HS-PS1-7. Use mathematical representations to support the claim that atoms, and therefore mass, are conserved during a chemical reaction.

Background Information

The goal of this lesson is for students to connect what they learned in the Systems and Scale Unit to their own community. To accomplish this, students apply what they know about how matter and energy change during the combustion of ethanol to explain why combustion of natural gas (methane) and other fossil fuels is an energy source that can be used to heat buildings, water, and food. They use local information to determine how natural gas is used in their home or school. In addition, they use government information to determine how combustion is used in their state to produce electricity. They combine and connect this information into an infographic that explains that combustion of fossil fuels like natural gas is widely used to fuel our lifestyle because of the heat it produces. But it also has consequences including CO2 production that contributes to climate change

Key carbon-transforming processes: Combustion

Talk and Writing

At this stage in the unit, the students will be applying unit ideas that should be well-developed. This is an opportunity to practice those ideas an additional time. The table below shows specific talk and writing goals for this phase of the unit.

Talk and Writing Goals for the Application Phase

Teacher Talk Strategies That Support This Goal

Curriculum Components That Support This Goal

Treat this as an opportunity to practice unit ideas

We’ve learned a lot about combustion in this unit. Let’s see how these ideas apply here in our own community.


Listen for student ideas about matter and energy at different scales. Are they using unit ideas or informal reasoning?

How is this like or different from what we learned about burning ethanol?

What scale(s) do we need to consider answering this question?

Three Questions Poster from the unit

Help students practice using precise language to describe matter and energy at different scales.

Let’s think about what you just said: air molecules. What are air molecules?

Are you talking about matter or energy?

Remember: atoms can’t be destroyed. So, the atoms from the natural gas and oxygen must be going somewhere after they undergo combustion in the furnace. What molecules do those atoms end up in? Where are they going?

Let’s look at the molecule poster again… is carbon an atom or a molecule?

Molecule Poster

Three Questions Poster