Grades 6-8Grades 6-8

Unit 3, Lesson 2

Carpooling and the Environment

As we have seen, the automobile offers personal convenience and independence. But we have also seen some of the negative consequences that continue to threaten our health and our environment. Although carpooling won't eliminate these impacts, it provides a way for citizens to begin to address some of them as individuals.

In this lesson students will explore the concept of carpooling, and they will conduct a data-gathering study to learn how much carpooling occurs in their community. The survey conducted is of rush-hour vehicle occupancy in students' neighborhoods to estimate the percent of people carpooling. They compare this estimate with U.S. census data and calculate how much carpoolers reduce pollution in their town. This activity shows students how personal choices can have far-reaching effects on the entire community. Using a local map, students will design a carpool plan that most efficiently transports each classmate from their home to the school for a hypothetical event.


The students will:

  • collect and record data to determine the extent carpooling occurs in their community;
  • appraise how their data compare with national census data;
  • select appropriate data for analysis;
  • analyze data to estimate amount of pollution avoided by local people who carpool;
  • examine the environmental, economic, and social implications of carpooling; and
  • design a carpool system.


English, Language Arts, and Reading

  • Grade 6: 15A-C, 15F
  • Grade 7: 15A-C, 15F
  • Grade 8: 15A-C, 15F


  • Grade 6: 1A-C
  • Grade 7: 1A-C
  • Grade 8: 1A-C


  • Grade 6: 1B, 2A-E, 3A-D, 9C, 14C
  • Grade 7: 1B, 2A-E, 3A-D, 14C
  • Grade 8: 1B, 2A-E, 3A-D, 5A-C, 14C

Social Studies

  • Grade 6: 7A-C, 9A-B, 20A-C, 21A-F
  • Grade 7: 10A-B
  • Grade 8: 24A-D, 28B-D

Health Education

  • Grade 6: 6B
  • Grades 7-8: 6B, 7A


Three days


  • Student worksheets
  • Clipboard per group
  • Calculator per group
  • Large local map with scale
  • Copies of local map for students
  • Tracing paper or overhead transparencies
  • Colored markers
  • String to measure mileage
  • Overhead projector

Teacher Preparation:

  • Read "Carpooling: Challenges and Benefits" (see below).
  • Communicate with parents about student survey.
  • Review survey analysis worksheet and be prepared to give concrete examples that can help students understand the mathematical concepts they are working with in this activity.
  • Option A: Gather journey to work and population data from the Internet.
  • Option B: If you wish students to find their own information on the Internet, become familiar with the required web sites.
  • Find appropriate local map and reproduce as needed.

Background Information
Carpooling: Challenges and Benefits

When people get together and share rides, they are carpooling. It can be a social event, minimize automobile emissions, and save space on the roads and in parking lots. Carpooling can also reduce personal expenses from gasoline use, tolls, parking, and wear and tear on individual vehicles. If many people were to carpool, time spent in travel could be reduced since there would be fewer vehicles on the road.

Carpooling isn't necessarily easy to organize. People have busy lives and varied schedules. Unless people live near each other and travel to the same general location at the same time, carpooling can be logistically challenging. There can be social concerns as well. How much do you enjoy the other individual(s), and can you depend on them to be on time?

Points for Class Discussion
Carpooling can take effort to coordinate, but there are situations where it can be worth the effort.

For example, consider these scenarios:

  • When gasoline prices are significantly higher, as in Europe or Canada, the incentive to reduce gasoline use is greater.
  • Governments establish carpool lanes for vehicles with three or more people. Using the carpool lanes can save considerable time and reduce frustration in locations where congestion is significant.
  • Where air pollution is a highly noticeable problem, local school children might pressure their families and neighbors to share rides (much as they pressure their families to recycle).
  • The carpool can provide an enjoyable social experience.
  • A family can function with one fewer car, thereby saving money for other luxuries.



Neighborhood Carpool Survey

  1. Discuss the definition, challenges, and benefits of carpooling using the background information.

  2. Working with a map of your community, have students identify data collection locations and times to observe cars and gather carpooling data.

    Make sure to take into account:

    • personal safety,
    • visibility (ability to count passengers), and
    • minimizing counting the same cars twice.
  3. For homework, students will work in small groups to collect data on carpooling in their community. They will gather this information by observing passing cars, preferably during evening rush hour between 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and counting the numbers of passengers in each.

  4. Assign small groups of neighborhood kids to each location. Give students time in class to discuss their different roles: who will be counting passengers, who will be responsible for record keeping, etc. The students will use the Neighborhood Carpool Survey Worksheet to record their final tallies.

  5. Students should also survey the adults at home on whether they carpool and how far they travel to work.

NOTE: Caution students about safety. Be sure to communicate with parents about this activity. Student safety is of prime importance. In some communities at certain times of the year, it may be dark during rush hour. In this case it may be preferable to conduct the study earlier in the day. Students need to be visible to motorists, and students need to be able to count numbers of passengers.


Examining Your Community Patterns

  1. As a class, ask the students to compile their results on the board. Ask them to share information collected from their families. Have them report (1) the total distance adults in their families travel to work and (2) the total number of family adults surveyed. Ask the students to calculate the average distance to work for all adults surveyed.

    Each group should also share (1) the total number of people counted, (2) the total number of people sharing rides, and (3) the percent of people counted who shared rides. From these data have the class calculate the percent of people counted who shared rides for all groups.

  2. Have the class compare this number with U.S. census data for your area. They will need two pieces of information from the Internet, percent of carpoolers in your community and total community population. You may want to supply them with this information or ask students or groups of students to get the information.

    This information can be found on the Internet using the U.S. Census Bureau's Journey to Work and Place of Work web page. Here you can find 1990 data by state, by the 50 largest metropolitan areas, and by the 50 largest cities. Choose what data you wish to work with.

  3. Ask the students why the two values may be different. This can include discussions on such topics as sample size both in number and in time span, locations of data collection, year data were collected, and size and make-up of community sampled.

  4. Ask the students as a class or as teams to choose which value they believe represents their town best, theirs or the U.S. census. Have them use that value when completing the remainder of the worksheet. Note: you will need to supply students with your community's population or have them go onto the Internet to find the information. You can find this information using the U.S. Census Bureau's Geographic Comparison Table - Texas.

NOTE: Completing the Neighborhood Carpool Survey Analysis Worksheet requires a fair amount of mathematical thinking. You may want to pre-review the worksheet and be prepared to give concrete examples to help students understand the mathematical concepts they are working with.


Carpool Challenge

  1. Have each student locate where they live on a master class map and indicate the location with their initials. If there are issues of privacy, have the student(s) randomly mark a location within the school district.

  2. As individuals, each using a copy of the local map, have students find the shortest route from their house to school and measure this distance in miles. Have them record this route on their map along with the number of miles. In the meantime, establish groups of students by the proximity of classmates' homes.

  3. Divide the class into groups.

    NOTE: By doing this challenge, students may see the benefits or problems with carpooling more clearly. Issues may arise concerning friendships and cliques. It would be an opportunity to discuss these issues, before, during, or after the challenge. These are real concerns for students, and they are real for adults as well.

  4. Depending upon how much time you have available, select one of the following two options:

    Challenge Express
    Tell the students that they are to design a carpool plan that transports each classmate in the group from their home to the school using the least number of miles driven. Have them record this route on their map along with the number of miles it covers. Have each group calculate the number of miles they avoid driving by carpooling.

    Have each group share their results with the class. As a class, add up the total number of miles they could avoid by everyone carpooling.

    Challenge In-Depth (A Logistical Challenge)
    Tell the students that they are to design a carpool plan that transports all classmates from their homes to the school using the least number of miles driven by all cars involved. Have them record each route on their map along with the number of miles each route covers and the total number of miles of all carpool routes.

    Challenge Guidelines:

    • There can be no more that five students to a car.
    • Students must be picked up right outside their homes.
    • Each design should be clearly drawn on a map. Each carpool vehicle's route should be indicated by a different color.
    • Students should be prepared to present and defend their completed designs to the class. If time is short, share the designs with the least number of vehicle miles.
    • Classmates should be prepared to verify or challenge each other's designs and calculations.

    Carpool design routes can be traced using overhead transparencies or tracing paper placed over a map. Transparencies allow students to easily present their results to the class. An option would be to have the students transfer their plans to a final copy and have displayable maps.

    Have the whole class determine the amount of pollutants saved with the winning design. By calculating the number of vehicle miles necessary to drive each student to school individually, the worst-case scenario could be quantified. (To do this, have each student determine the distance they live from the school. Add these together for a class total.) Compare the class's total number of vehicle miles to the best-case scenario, (the winning design).

    NOTE: The average car emits almost one pound of CO2 per mile. A pound of CO2 at 1 atmosphere and 80 degrees Fahrenheit occupies approximately the volume of one 55 gallon oil barrel. The benefits of carpooling should be evident.


For or Against Carpooling
Have the students write an editorial (for the local paper) in which they argue the case for or against carpooling in their community or whether or not they believe that carpooling could play a significant role in reducing transportation-related air pollution in their neighborhood. Using their data as well as the knowledge gained thus far in this unit, students should be able to write an informative and persuasive piece.


Classroom Materials

Web Sites

Source: "Transportation and Air Quality," Chapter 3, Northeast Sustainable Energy Association

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