Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Lesson Plans, Reading Lists, and Classroom Ideas


Earth Day 2014 is right around the corner, and this year the theme is "Green Cities." Are you planning on incorporating the annual event in your classroom?
There are many different learning opportunities on Earth Day, whether it's science-based investigations, thematic reading, or creative arts projects. To help teachers brainstorm some ways to incorporate Earth Day, we've compiled a list of resources that teachers can use to bring environmental education to students. There's a bit of everything, including lesson plans, tools and resources, and student reading lists.

Earth Day Lesson Plans:

  • K-5 Earth Day Curriculum Resources: The National Education Association produced this resource for teachers, which features seven in-depth lesson plans, Earth Day games, and a list of outside links for students in grades K-5. There are also three entire unit plans as well.
  • Environmental Education Resources from The Nature Conservancy: This resource created by scientists with The Nature Conservancy features lesson plans, reading materials, and interactive videos in a variety of environmental subject areas. For instance, students can browse lessons that look at soil science, food science, and energy, among others. The lessons are offered as part of the Conservancy's Nature Works Everywhere initiative.
  • Celebrate Earth Day! from ReadWriteThink: Here, teachers will find six lesson plans written by teachers for students in grades K-2, 6-8, and 7-9. Provided are resources for Earth Day-themed writing assignments, eco-reading activities, and environmental research projects. The page also features ideas for after-school and at-home learning.
  • Earth Day Lesson Collection from Science NetLinks: Although this collection was produced in 2012, it's still extremely useful for Earth Day 2014. Science NetLinks has produced a long list of lessons and learning tools on a variety of earth science subjects, and they're all easy to browse by grade-level.

Classroom Ideas for Earth Day Activities:

Earth Day Reading For Students:

  • 2014 Earth Day Recommended Reading: The Florida Department of Education produced this list of books and literature with options for every grade level.
  • Suggested Reading for Environmental Learning: Via the Environmental Education Foundation, this list highlights books for every grade. Note: The list is in no particular order, so elementary and high school books are intermixed.
  • Tips for Encouraging Readers on Earth Day: The Earth Day Network produced this list of ideas for encouraging students to read about environmental topics. In addition to the tips, though, you'll find PDF reading lists of environmental books for elementary, middle school, and high school students.


Earth Day has deep roots in education. The first one was in 1970, held as a "national teach-in on the environment." It was groundbreaking in that it brought together people with different beliefs and backgrounds to fight for a single cause. We celebrate on April 22nd, but you can teach your students about sustainability and environmental stewardship all year round. It doesn't take much for kids to feel like they can make a difference for our planet, mobilizing them to be life-long environmentalists! Here's a playlist of videos to get started.

Video Playlist: Earth Day

Watch the player below to see the whole playlist, or view it on YouTube.
  1. Mobilize The Earth (01:02) This year's Earth Day theme is "Green Cities." Visit Earth Day Network's website to take the pledge towards 2 billion acts of green.
  2. Get 'em Outside! (05:35) This great video shows how every subject ties in to environmental ed, and asks educators and parents to get the kids outside!
  3. The Earth Day Network's Education Department (02:10) Learn about about the history of Earth Day and the Earth Day Network's work in education.
  4. Natural Growth: Connecting Urban Youth with Nature (04:07) This moving video follows a group of kids from Brooklyn as they re-connect with nature through the LEAF program.
  5. Change the World in 5 Minutes - Everyday at School (04:33) Love this spunky Australian video where a team of exuberant kids explain how to change the world in just five minutes every day.
  6. How To Plan Earth Day Classroom Projects (01:14) A few basic Earth Day activities to get your creative juices flowing. Perfect if you only have a few moments to brainstorm.
  7. GOOD: Use Less Plastic (01:49) Short but powerful message from GOOD Magazine about how plastic impacts the environment. Remember your re-usable grocery bags!
  8. Earth Hour 2014 Video (01:53) Did you know there's an "Earth Hour" in addition to Earth Day? In late March every year, people around the world turn off the power.
  9. Wetland Watchers: Kids Care for Their Environment (08:09) Service learning in action in a middle school classroom in Louisiana -- sixth graders learn to restore the wetlands near their school.
  10. The World Is Just Awesome (01:01) This fun viral ad became a user-generated meme as people made their own "Boom De Ah Dah" videos about what they loved about the earth.
  11. Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots (04:29) Celebrated conservationist Jane Goodall enables young people to save the planet with her organization's message of hope.
  12. Earth Day (Friday Parody) (01:53) YouTube is chock full of Earth Day / Friday parodies. This one is to promote a school's Earth Day Film Festival of student-produced videos. Sorry!

Teaching Environmental Education Through Service Learning

So here's the question: how do you get from crafty commemorative activities for Earth Day to meaningful projects that have lasting value? Start by reading former Edutopia blogger Gaetan Pappalardo's blog post, Elementary Art and Service Learning Projects for Earth Day and Beyond, where he tackles that very topic. Visit the Earth Day Network's Green Schools Leadership Center to find lesson plans, grant information, and an online community. You can also get teaching resources at the National Environmental Education Foundation and the Go Green Initiative. Join Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots service learning organization, or get involved with the Nature Conservancy's Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. Start in your own room by reading How to Go Green: Teachers from Discovery's Treehugger website, or pursue whole-school change with the National Wildlife Federation's Eco-Schools movement. From small personal actions to large-scale reform, it's always a great time to teach the next generation about taking care of the planet.


During the first Earth Day in 1970, tens of thousands of Vietnam War protestors took to Central Park in New York and Fairmount Park in Philadelphia calling for peace on earth. Today, the movement has grown substantially and quietly, shifting attention toward the science documenting alarming global environmental degradation and offering young learners a platform for supporting the planet's physical health, ensuring a home for their future.
By definition, Earth Day is a global learning day. Earth, water, air quality, climate, chemistry, physics, physiology, plant life and animal habitats don't respect national boundaries, so they are inherently global in nature, inviting wider exploration and conversation. This fact in itself can serve as a launch for a global conversation. Vexing challenges that stump the best scientific minds are solved globally using collaborative teams located in different locales that experiment and study issues from diverse angles and approaches. The lives of environmental pioneers like Wangari Maathai can inspire learning throughout the curriculum.
Go ahead and wear flowers in your hair for Earth Day. Then, to engage in deeper learning, try some of these terrific resources.

Bucket Buddies

The Bucket Buddies Project calls for students around the world to collect water samples from local ponds to answer the question: "Are the organisms found in pond water the same all over the world?" The lesson plans allow students to identify microinvertebrates in their water sample, share their findings on the web site, and analyze the data.


The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program is NASA's hands-on science program that allows classrooms to connect with scientists and science students from around the world. Schools can join their Student Climate Research Campaign and connect with classrooms near and far. While conducting science investigations and sharing their climate science studies, students will be inspired to look at climate-related environmental issues and Earth as a system.

ProjectExplorer and STEM Learning

ProjectExplorer's library of two-to-four-minute videos was created to introduce students to the features that make diverse cultures and countries so fascinating. Start at the homepage by choosing your learning level (e.g., Upper Elementary), pick a spot on the globe that has a project marker, and take off. For example, in the Mauritius series, learn how the island was formed, about the science and the ancient origins of the helicopter, how mineral deposits created gorgeous multi-colored sand found only on that island, how fish breathe, and more. Supplement your "travels" in this series by tapping into National Geographic's new Geo-Educator Community.

The Daffodil and Tulip Project

The Daffodil and Tulip Project was started by iEARN, which works to connect schools and teachers across the planet, and has a bank of great collaborative project ideas. This project offers a science/math/writing/friendship experience that can be as simple or as complicated as a classroom is ready to take on. Classrooms around the world choose daffodil and/or tulip bulbs to plant during the same week in November. Students collect temperature data throughout the experiment, including when blooms appear, and report their results -- both to their classmates and to their partner classes in other locales. For Earth Day, you can compare the bulbs in your community to postings made by ongoing project participants.
This project's description page shows participation from Jamaica, Israel, Iran and the United States. iEARN reports:
Participants enjoy interacting together while "waiting" for the blooms. Students have opportunities to use math skills, such as graphing, converting metric to English or the reverse, temperature conversions F to C and the reverse. In addition, they strengthen and practice science skills, i.e. hypothesizing what effects bloom date, collecting data, comparing and analyzing data. Also, students learn the importance of establishing and following a scientific protocol. The ultimate goal of the project is to promote building connections between students and their teachers, considering what affects plant growth, and peace!

Incorporate Global Lessons

Challenge yourself to turn any elementary science unit you're studying into a vehicle for learning more about the wider world. For example, while teaching the water cycle and water conservation, see Teach UNICEF, or the Peace Corps' Passport blog for lesson plans.
Each of these examples offers one big lesson: start with a topic you love, and see where it might lead you. As the founders of Earth Day had hoped, it could even plant the seeds to peace.