In honor of Earth Day, Education World offers two dozen classroom activities for use across the grades. Help keep Earth Day alive for another generation with these cross-curriculum activities.
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" was a hit song, Apollo 13 blasted off into space, and anti-war protests at Kent State University led to the deaths of four students in Kent, Ohio. Those were some of the events of 1970, when Americans first celebrated Earth Day.
"The objective was to organize a national demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda," recalled Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a United States senator from Wisconsin. "It was a gamble, but it worked."
"At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans," states the Earth Day Network. "Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or even bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Environment was a word that appeared much more often in spelling bees than on the evening news."
Earth Day 1970 turned all that around, and this year's Earth Day celebrates the event that gave birth to the modern environmental movement. The day will be marked by events staged around the globe.
Education World offers classroom activities for use across the grades. Help keep Earth Day alive for another generation with these cross-curriculum activities.
Water, water, everywhere -- geography, critical thinking, and language arts.
(Grades 4 and up.) Have your students check today's conditions across the United States by using the Streamflow Conditions Map. Ask them to find out which states are experiencing especially wet or dry conditions and to recheck the site each week for a month to see how conditions change. Then they should write a brief summary of the conditions each week and a month-end summary.
Trees clear the air -- math.
(Grades 6 and up.) Scientists estimate that a hectare of trees (about 1,000 trees) is able to use about 20,000 kg (4,375 pounds) of carbon dioxide.
Use the Planting Trees activity from the ARM Education Site (Department of Energy): Lesson Plans to help students calculate how many trees it takes to suck up the pollutants their family car produces.
See what you can sea -- geography and history.
(Grades 6 and up.) Assign each student a body of water somewhere in the world. Students can use library and Internet resources to learn as much as possible about the body of water's geography, history, science, and environmental condition. Find a student work sheet for this activity in the Navigating a Sea of Research activity from the Discovery Channel.
Play it again -- drama and science.
(Grades 6 and up.) Have students perform the play The Awful 8 to learn about different air pollutants and their effects. The play is from the Air Quality Lesson Plans page of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The script includes parts for 27 students as well as production tips.
Earth sun catcher -- art, geography.
(Grades 3 and up.) Have each student add five drops of blue food coloring to 1/3 cup of white glue and mix. Help children fill margarine-tub lids with the glue. Let the glue dry completely. Students should carefully peel the blue circles out of the lids and use brown permanent markers to draw landforms on the circles. Stick the sun catchers to a window! This and other great Earth Day activities can be found on the For the Love of Earth page of the Mrs. Bee's Busy Classroom Web site.
Cleaning up our air -- science.
(Grades 6 through 8.) Many manufacturers use electrostatic precipitators to capture particulate matter (small particles of dirt) before it is released into the air. Invite students to perform a simple experiment using a balloon and black pepper to see how electrostatic precipitators work.
This Air Pollution Control Lesson from the Air Quality Lesson Plans Web page provides two hands-on experiments.
Tracking trash -- math and graphing.
(Grades K through 8.) Students can use a chart from the Reducing Cafeteria Waste activity to track the amount of trash people throw away each day in the cafeteria. Help them turn the stats into a bar graph that shows the number of items -- plastic, bottles, milk cartons, and so on -- people throw out each day.
Sun cooking -- science.
(Grades K through 8.) Help students learn about the potential of solar energy as they bake Solar S'Mores in the sun in this activity from the Southeastern Michigan Math-Science Learning Coalition.
Friendly packaging -- science and critical thinking.
(Grades 3 and up.) Invite your students to study a variety of product packaging and discuss which packages are most "Earth friendly." Then have them work in small groups to redesign a product whose package they deem "unfriendly." This Environmental Features activity is one of many you'll find at Earth Care: A Unit on the Environment created by Minnetonka (Minnesota) public school teachers.
Be an artist -- art.
(Grades 3 through 8.) Students can practice drawing to the same size or to scale with the animal illustration grid of a kangaroo rat or one of the other animals at Games from Waterford Press (requires a quick and easy registration).
Flying frogs -- language arts.
(Grades 3 through 8.) Share The Legend of the Meeps Island Flying Frog on the American Museum of Natural History Web site. Then ask students to use the ready-to-color illustrations that accompany the story to create their own retellings of the story. Students can add dialogue and other characters to their versions.
Give Earth a hand -- bulletin board.
(Grades K through 8.) Have each student trace a hand and cut it out. On each finger, the student can write one way in which he or she can help Earth. Display the colorful hands around a map of the world or an art rendering of planet Earth.
Biodiversity -- science.
(Grades K through 6.) Ask students to record their observations of the ecosystem surrounding their school. Organize students into five groups -- the sound group, the plant group, the animal group, the mineral group, and the smell group. Each group will gather evidence (material, drawings, or descriptions) appropriate to the group's theme.
Posters to color -- art.
(Grades K through 3.) The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency provides nine environment-themed posters for students to color. Just click on a thumbnail at Coloring Sheets for a large, printable version of the poster.
Endangered species database -- science, technology, and critical thinking.
(Grades 3 and up.) Your students can create a database to classify endangered species by species name; scientific name; classification (for example, mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian); location; habitat (for example, forest, ocean, grassland); and causes of endangerment in this Bagheera: In the Wild: Classroom: Activities.
Crossword puzzle -- language.
(Grades 6 and up.) Challenge students with a Biodiversity crossword puzzle from the New York Times Learning Network.
Safe water -- graphing, history.
(Grades 6 and up.) Help students learn about the relationship between the safety of a community's water supply and the life expectancy of people in the community in this Access to Safe Water activity from the World Bank. A graph that tracks the improving life expectancy in three French cities between the years of 1820 and 1900 helps make the case.
Acid rain -- cross-curriculum.
(Grades 3 and up.) Organize students into groups to research information about acid rain. In this Acid Rain research project, each group takes on the role of a specialist -- a chemist, an economist, a historian, an environmentalist, a health practitioner, or a government employee. Each group is assigned a list of questions and provided with support materials.
Unwrapping packaging -- math.
(Grades 6 and up.) Ask students whether the packaging on products is excessive. This Unwrapping Packaging activity from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection invites students to identify the weight of a product container and to calculate what percentage of the product is packaging. Which packaging materials offer the smallest percentage of package weight? What advantages do different kinds of packages offer? What implications are there between package weights and the cost of a product or the cost of shipping that product? Those and many other questions help students identify ways in which people might package products and create less waste.
What do you know? -- science, technology, study skills.
(Grades K through 8.) Have your students help Handy protect the planet at Handy's Kids.
Create a poster -- art, technology.
(Grades 3 and up.) Have your students use the computer to create their own Earth Day posters, PowerPoint presentations, or HyperStudio stacks. Share their projects at your school's Earth Day events.
Is your school energy-efficient? -- conservation, diagramming, surveying, critical thinking.
(Grades 3 and up.) Conserving Energy at School is designed to help students recognize how their school conserves or wastes energy and determine what they can do to conserve more energy. Students diagram the school, locate areas where energy is wasted, and decide what to do to solve the problem.
Article by Linda Starr and Gary Hopkins
Copyright © 2010 Education World
Additional Earth Day Resources Don't miss additional lessons, projects, resources, and more in Education World's Earth Day Archive.