This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. About 20 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970, and it has grown to over a billion worldwide citizens joining together to raise environmental awareness. Traditionally, civic organizations have hosted different events to remind us to take care of Planet Earth. Many celebrations involve planting trees, learning how to reduce pollution, cleaning up towns and roads, attending rallies and concerts that spread awareness about timely environmental issues.
The focus of Earth Day 2020 will be different: There will be an increased urgency to implore policymakers to make a change for a zero-carbon future. One of the central tenets of Earth Day is that everyone can make a difference. Here are some ideas to consider incorporating into your lesson plans for Earth Day:
Become an Advocate
If you want to have a major impact on our planet, you need to use your voice and take action.
- Become an informed citizen. Learn more about the science behind climate change. Visit NASA’s Global Climate Change website to review the facts. Check out their resources for educators to find listings of classroom resources related to climate change and be sure to check out PLT’s Carbon & Climate e-unit for grades 6-8.
- Sign up as an Earth Day School, and receive resources like lesson plans, activity ideas, and planning tools.
- Have students write letters, send videos or create artwork to influence policy at the local, state, and national level. Get inspired by these young environmentalists making a difference.
Download a free Carbon in Action worksheet.
Foodprints for the Future: “Fight climate change with a diet change”
One of the largest contributors to climate change is animal agriculture. A foodprint measures the environmental impacts of growing, producing, transporting and storing food. Foodprint calculators can help you understand how much your food choices impact the Earth.
- FoodPrint has a fun and easy quiz to help you understand the concept of a foodprint.
- How much water and carbon dioxide can you save by reducing your meat consumption? Find out with the Meat Calculator.
- The Food Carbon Emissions Calculator accounts for transport, waste and the amount of food purchased.
- Find out how your diet contributes to climate change with New York Times quiz that allows you to choose common meals and beverages to compare your carbon foodprint to others.
- The BBC Climate Change Food Calculator shows how food intake compares to emissions of driving, heating a home and consuming water.
- You can compare the carbon foodprint of different meals using the Eat Lower Carbon.
Be an Artist for the Earth
Artists for the Earth connects arts organizations and artists in order to engage with the public to bring about awareness of environmental issues. Students and schools can get involved in the following ways:
- Have your students create short films about Earth Day or an environmental issue relating to climate change.
- Host an Earth Day poster contest and exhibit the artwork at a library or community center.
- Invite students to compose an original song or dance to raise awareness of environmental issues.
- For online learning, students can create digital art using free tools such as Animoto, Canva, Paint, and Krita.
Learn How Trees Reduce Carbon Emissions
Planting trees is a popular Earth Day activity, however with many schools and parks across the country closed, it may not be possible to plant trees on Earth Day this year. However, this is still an opportunity to learn how trees (and other plants) reduce carbon emissions. By filtering the air, trees remove carbon dioxide and reduce the effects of climate change. Trees also provide food, energy and income, and they reduce the impacts of land degradation.
- One Tree Planted provides lesson plans and resources about the importance of trees for grades K-8.
- Canopy provides lesson plans to get kids interested and excited about planting trees in urban environments.
- Use these educational songs about trees in your lesson plans for younger students.
- Check out PLT’s e-unit Treemendous Science! for grades K-2.
Download a free sample activity from PLT’s e-unit for grades K-2: Treemendous Science!
Plant a Pollinator Garden with Native Plants
One out of every three foods you eat needs the help of pollinators. Unfortunately, pollinators face many threats such as increased pesticide use, loss of habitat, decreased plant diversity, and climate change. With so much at stake, it’s critical we teach students about this important part of our ecosystem.
Students of all ages can put their knowledge into practice by participating in building a pollinator habitat. Consider planting a pollinator garden with native plants. Native plants provide native insects and birds with food, shelter and proper habitat to reproduce.
You can find free pollinator-friendly planting guides for your region through the Pollinator Partnership.
Of course, creating a pollinator garden isn’t a one-day activity, and if your school has moved to online-only learning, it may not be possible this season. However, it’s never too late to start planning. Read more about why pollinators are important and how schools can help.
Examine Your Carbon Footprint
“All sustainable development goals come down to education.” (Malala Yousafzai, 2016) Help your students understand how their choices can impact the environment.
- Do you know your carbon footprint? You can take a personal inventory using Carbon Footprint’s Carbon Calculator. Use the results to consider ways of offsetting your carbon emissions. Ask students to make a prediction about their carbon footprint before they use the calculator. Then, have them work in groups to brainstorm ways to reduce their personal impact.
- With many cities, states, and countries shut down around the world, how has that impacted carbon emissions? Have students do some rough estimates to see what the impact may be for different areas.
- Visit the Green Schools Alliance to learn about sustainable schools. The alliance connects over 9,000 sustainable schools, districts and organizations from 48 states and 91 countries. Green Schools Alliance gives students engagement tools, programs and training to become more sustainable citizens. They also support schools and communities through communication, collaboration and leadership development.
- Join the School Cafeteria Discards Assessment Project (SCrAP). SCrAP was developed by the Environmental Research and Education Foundation to quantify food waste and its related wastes generated in K-12 schools. Schools can choose three levels of participation, ranging from answering questions to collecting data. Schools that participate receive classroom educational materials and a results report tailored to their school.
What types of activities will you do to participate in Earth Day this year? If you’re doing online learning, how will you adapt your lesson plans?