earth day activities for teachers
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6 activities to do with your students leading up to Earth Day

Article by Jasmine Williams March 31, 2021

For Educators

In this guide, you'll find six activities you can do with your students leading up to Earth Day designed to help you teach your students about sustainability, show them why it’s essential, and provide them with activities and resources that they can use to take action year-round.

With Earth Day just around the corner, now is a great time to bring sustainability learning into your classroom. To that end, we’ve put together this collection of six activities you can use to teach your students about sustainability, show them why it’s essential, and provide them with activities and resources that they can use to take action year-round.

But first: Why teach sustainability at all?

Sustainability requires all of us to do our part to make sure that the resources we need to survive—like clean water, healthy food, electricity, shelter—will be available for generations to come. When you explore sustainability with your students, you’re asking them to think collaboratively and critically about big, real-world problems.

 

Teaching sustainability can also facilitate better learning outcomes for your students. Studies show that hands-on civic engagement projects can boost student achievement in reading and science.

 

Lastly, by teaching sustainability, you’re practicing sustainability too. Maybe that looks like using less plastic in your classrooms or coming up with creative ways to reduce energy use. Teaching sustainability equips your students with knowledge, skills, and values that they can apply to their personal lives and future academic or professional career paths.

 

To help you get started, here are six sustainability activities you can do with your students leading up to Earth Day.

1. Create nature-inspired designs

During these challenging times, we need innovative solutions more than ever. Participating in the Biomimicry Institute’s Youth Design Challenge (YDC) is a fun way to get your students to flex their creative muscles while learning about sustainability. For this project-based learning experience, your students will design nature-inspired solutions for the climate crisis.

 

This activity will introduce your students to design thinking, a process for creative problem solving that they can use in any role or industry. It also allows them to apply the skills they’re learning to a real-world problem, helping them feel more connected and engaged in the assignment.

 

Grade: 9-12
Duration: 55 minutes per lesson
Learning objective: Students will use design thinking and apply the principles of biomimicry to address critical real-world problems related to important social or environmental issues.
Link: Get activity details here.

2. Develop an e-waste collection and disposal campaign

Did you know that e-waste represents 2% of America’s trash in landfills but equals 70% of overall toxic waste? Or that 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste are disposed of worldwide every year?

 

In this lesson, your students will learn about the realities of e-waste, how it fits into waste management, and the dangers it poses to the environment. Then, your students will use the knowledge they’ve learned to develop and implement an e-waste collection and disposal campaign.

 

Your students will walk away with practical sustainability knowledge that they can apply to their everyday lives and stronger soft skills, as the lesson involves a lot of collaboration, communication, creative problem solving, and critical thinking.

 

Grade: 9-12
Duration: 130 minutes
Learning objective: Students will learn about e-waste and waste management.
Link: Get activity details here.

3. Learn about candy supply chains

Most of us purchase goods and products without really thinking about how they get to us. However, buying something as simple as a chocolate bar at your local grocery store results from a relatively complex logistical network called a supply chain.

 

Companies rely on supply chains to deliver consumer goods every day, but sustainability is often a big pain point. Consumer company operations typically account for 80 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, and supply chains are a significant contributor to this pollution.

 

In this lesson, your students will learn about supply chains by using the real-world example of a candy bar, showing them the various activities involved that would transform the different raw materials into the final tasty product we all know and love. There is also an option to have your students watch the documentary Illicit: The Dark Trade, which explores the black market.

 

Grade: 9-12+
Duration: 40 minutes
Learning objective: Students will describe and sketch a real-world supply chain example, and explain how supply chains can grow in complexity.
Link: Get activity details here.

4. Estimate your class’s energy use

It’s easy to flick a light switch and not think about where that power comes from until one day that light doesn’t turn on. Understanding how we produce and consume power can help us see how we can reduce energy use in our everyday lives, and this learning can start in the classroom.

 

In this lesson, your students will explore and discuss relationships between energy use and pollution and learn the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Then, your students will create a pie chart estimating the class’s energy use, helping them see how their actions connect to broader social and environmental issues like pollution and climate change.

 

Grade: 9-12+
Duration: 25 minutes
Learning objective: Students will describe personal and family energy use, explain the relationship between energy use and pollution, and estimate the energy use of the class.
Link: Get activity details here.

5. Host a virtual career fair

STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are full of incredible career opportunities for students interested in sustainability. By hosting a virtual career fair, you can show your students how to turn their passion into a future career.

 

For this activity, your students will watch videos featuring a diverse panel of STEM professionals, from a scientist studying American black bears in the Western Great Basin to a test engineer for airplane engines. Your students will get to learn about their career journey, what they love about their work, and get advice on how to pursue a sustainable career in STEM.

 

Grade: 9-12+
Duration: 48 minutes
Learning objective: Students will hear from people working in STEM fields and reflect on career paths in sustainability.
Link: Get activity details here. Note: You’ll need to register for Open P-TECH to access all of the teacher resources for this activity.

6. Calculate your plastic footprint

Eight million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year, killing and harming marine life. Help your students better understand critical sustainability issues like overconsumption, recycling, and littering by exploring plastic’s role in our economy and environment.

 

In this activity, your students will learn about the ocean plastic crisis and Plastic Bank. This organization sets up recycling ecosystems in countries that don’t have sufficient disposal infrastructure and have high pollution and poverty rates. Afterward, they will use Plastic Bank’s Plastic Footprint Calculator to estimate their individual plastic use and learn how to reduce their plastic consumption and pollution.

 

Grade: 9-12+
Duration: 1-3 hours
Learning objective: Students will learn about their plastic footprint and how blockchain technology and design thinking principles can help solve environmental and social issues.
Link: Get activity details here. Note: You’ll need to register for Open P-TECH to access all of the teacher resources for this activity.

Sustainability isn't just for science class

We often think of “sustainability” as a topic for science class. But it’s a topic that presents real-world problems and requires critical thinking and problem-solving. The activities above are designed to help you explore sustainability with your students no matter what subject you teach.

 

Plus, with Open P-TECH’s sustainability resource kit, you can access tons of free teacher resources to help you integrate sustainability into your classroom and help boost environmental education in your classroom, any time of year.

 

>> For more activities and learning on sustainability, technology, and other essential topics, as well as teacher-specific resources, make sure to register for Open P-TECH and start exploring today.

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