FROM THE ASHES presents compelling and often heartbreaking stories about what’s at stake for those working in the U.S. coal industry, as well as for the economy, people’s health, and the global climate. This feature documentary invites audiences to learn more about the biggest source of carbon pollution in the atmosphere today, an industry on the edge, and coal’s global implications.
Coal, one of humankind’s earliest fuel sources, powered the Industrial Revolution. While it is still used to generate electricity, coal is being outcompeted by cheaper and cleaner energy sources such as natural gas, solar power, and wind. Many who depend on the coal industry for jobs hope that new legislation will bring coal back as the energy superstar it was historically.
Help your students learn about coal and the other energy sources that power today's world with these activities, reference articles, and videos.
Watch the film From the Ashes and use this document to guide classroom discussions
Teach about the complex issues surrounding coal and powering our world
Students explore real-world data to learn about electricity consumption trends worldwide. They watch a video to discover how different energy sources are transformed into electricity. Then they use an interactive map with data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to investigate the sources of electricity in their state (and across the United States) from 2001 to 2011.
Students analyze various energy sources, comparing the costs and benefits of natural gas, coal, biomass, nuclear, wind, hydropower, and solar power for generating electricity. Students use real-world data to evaluate the relative costs and benefits of using different fuel sources to generate electricity.
Students investigate how different mixtures of energy resources are used to provide electricity in different parts of the country. They investigate the conversion efficiency and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for each energy resource and analyze how different mixtures of energy resources affect the overall efficiency and CO2 emissions for a region.
Students read an article about a community wind project in Kenya, analyze the article’s structure, and develop and categorize a list of factors to be considered when planning the wind project.
Students discuss what freshwater is and use maps to predict and identify places around the world where it is scarce. They read about the role of water use and consumption in the generation of electricity. Based on a scenario, they research and analyze the impact of a specific energy resource in a specific location on the availability of freshwater.
Students analyze a diagram showing how the energy obtained from a resource gets to homes to power a light bulb. They describe the process by which electricity gets from its source to its destination, track and graph how much energy is transferred out of the system at each step, and write a statement about energy based on what they have learned.
Students analyze the benefits and drawbacks of hydroelectric and geothermal energy and the environmental impacts on a specific geographic location. They create a multimedia presentation to share what they have learned.
Students analyze the benefits and drawbacks of solar energy by investigating a real-world conflict between farmers and environmentalists in California and a company that wants to build a solar farm nearby. Students read a case scenario, identify specific benefits and drawbacks of the solar farm in the scenario, and write a position statement.
Students research waste heat technology and on-site electricity generation using a set of research questions. They identify an example of waste heat capture and use it as a case study. Then they create a podcast to explain how waste heat capture works, using their case study as an example.
Students investigate conflicts over the use of wind energy in Nantucket Sound, take on the role of a stakeholder in the debate, and hold a town council meeting to decide whether or not a wind energy project should be implemented.
Students read a case study about the proposed removal of hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River in the western United States. They analyze the problem from the perspective of one of the stakeholders, generate questions, and conduct research. Then they analyze the complexities and balance of power in the case study and vote on a solution.
Students discuss relationships between energy use and pollution, sort energy sources into renewable and non-renewable, and create a pie chart of the estimated energy use of the class.
In this lesson, students explore the advantages and disadvantages of different energy sources for generating electricity. A particular focus is given to natural gas extracted from shale formations through the hydraulic fracturing process. At the end of the module, students will be able to compare the relative costs and benefits (abundance, ecological impacts, etc.) of different sources used for generating electricity.
Learn more about key topics with these informational texts
People have used biomass energy—energy from living things—since the earliest “cave men” first made wood fires for cooking or keeping warm. Today, biomass is used to fuel electric generators and other machinery.
Coal is a non-renewable fossil fuel that is combusted and used to generate electricity. Mining techniques and combustion are both dangerous to miners and hazardous to the environment; however, coal accounts for about half of the electricity generation in the United States.
Geothermal energy is heat that is generated within the Earth. It is a renewable resource that can be harvested for human use.
Hydroelectric energy is power made by moving water. “Hydro” comes from the Greek word for water.
Encyclopedic entry. Natural gas is a fossil fuel formed from the remains of plants and animals. Other fossil fuels include oil and coal.
Non-renewable energy comes from sources that will eventually run out, such as oil and coal.
Encyclopedic entry. Nuclear energy is the energy in the nucleus, or core, of an atom. Nuclear energy can be used to create electricity, but it must first be released from the atom.
Oil shale is a type of rock that can be burned for energy or fuel.
Petroleum, or crude oil, is a fossil fuel and non-renewable source of energy.
Renewable energy comes from sources that will not be used up in our lifetimes, such as the sun and wind.
Solar energy is created by nuclear fusion that takes place in the sun. It is necessary for life on Earth, and can be harvested for human uses such as electricity.
Tidal energy is power produced by the surge of ocean waters during the rise and fall of tides. Tidal energy is a renewable source of energy.
Wind energy is produced by the movement of air (wind) and converted into electricity.
Use these videos to teach about how we power the world
Sigourney Weaver speaks with Barbara Finamore, Asia Director and Senior Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and engineer C.T. Wan, managing director of the Hongkong Electric Company, about coal consumption in China and the transition toward renewable energy.
Wind energy is poised to become a major energy source. Recently, however, people have begun to report problems and complaints with wind turbines built close to houses.
California, a leading state in solar power, has found many ways to harness the Sun, the most powerful source of energy on the planet.
Explore the geography of coal and meet an engineer and energy advocate
Explore these images depicting different sources of energy the power our world today