In this hands-on activity, students will conduct a simulation of resource usage. How long the supply lasts depends on the ratio of renewable and non-renewable resources. 



  • Copies of worksheets (in attached lesson plan) - 1 per group of 2-3 students


  • 1-2 packages dry white baby lima beans
  • 1-2 packages dry kidney beans
  • Small snack size ziplock plastic baggies (30)
  • Photos of renewable energy sources
    • Solar panels
    • Wind turbines
    • Hydroelectric 
    • Geothermal
  • Photos of non-renewable energy sources
    • Coal
    • Natural gas
    • Oil
    • Nuclear 

Prep work

  • Print off examples of both renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Laminate or put in page protectors. 
  • Print off enough copies of the worksheets to give each group of 2-3 students a copy.
  • In 15 ziplock bags, add 80 red (non-renewable) and 20 white (renewable) beans. Shake to mix up the bag.
  • In the other 15 ziplock bags, add 70 red (non-renewable) and 30 (renewable) beans. Shake to mix up the bag.


What presenters do

  • Ask visitors the Thinking Questions
  • Demonstrate two-three rounds of taking the beans out of the bag, recording results on the worksheet, and replacing the renewable (white) beans
  • Group students into groups of 2-3
  • Before students move on to the second bag (70/30 ratio), have them record a prediction of the total number of beans that will be left in the bag after round 10

What visitors do

  • Without looking, draw out of the 80/20 ratio bag ten beans and separate the red (non-renewable) and white (renewable)
  • Record the number of red and white beans on the given worksheet
  • Set the red beans aside (since they are non-renewable) and return the white beans (since they are renewable) into the bag. 
  • Repeat for 10 rounds
  • Calculate totals 
  • Record a prediction of the total number of beans that will be left in the bag after round 10 for the 70/30 ratio bag
  • Repeat process of drawing and recording for the 70/30 ratio bag

Wrap up

    • How many decades did it take to "run out" of renewable energy?
    • When the non-renewable energy ran out, was there enough energy to meet the next decade's energy needs (10 beans)?
    • How can we as a society make our energy supply last longer?

Thinking questions

  • How do we use energy in our everyday lives?
  • What is our impact on both non-renewable and renewable resources?
  • How can you as an individual reduce your usage of non-renewable resources?
  • How can you help you home, school, or community reduce their usage of non-renewable resources?

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