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Classroom Activities for Earth Day

Jacqui Murray

April 22 is Earth Day, a day when (historically) more than 1 billion people in 192 countries put the Earth's health ahead of convenience, habits, and cultural norms. It's a day when teachers of all kinds use classroom activities to encourage an understanding of how mankind's actions affect the planet we call home. This is a time to learn how the ingrained habits of a throw-away society imperil our future. On Earth Day, we as cohabitants of this great planet evaluate how changes in our actions can improve the environment. There are a wide variety of websites to help you with classroom activities in this endeavor, from analyzing what you're doing that threatens the Earth to finding alternatives. Here are some of my favorites:

Classroom Activites: Earth Day Webquest

Online; Grades 5-12

In this Earth Day webquest, student teams vie for $1 million in funding from the fictional nonprofit, Help Our World (HOW) Foundation. Each team builds a case to address the particular environmental concern they consider to be the most critical by researching, building a convincing argument, and then presenting it to their audience. Presentations are voted on my fellow students to determine who will be awarded the grant.

The webquest includes everything you need for this activity, including a list of materials required, student assignments, step-by-step and day-to-day instructions, worksheets, lots of Earth Day resources, reflections, and national standards addressed. This is a deep dive into a particular environmental concern, encouraging students to investigate, support their opinions with evidence, and then share their passion with classmates.

Earth Now

App; Grades 2-8

Created by the California Institute of Technology, the Earth Now app provides a visual picture of recent global climate data from Earth Science satellites including surface air temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, water vapor, as well as gravity and sea level variations. Data sets are pictorially described using "False color" maps and color-coded legends that indicate relative strength or weakness of an environmental condition. The resulting 3D model of the Earth may be rotated by a single finger stroke and zoomed in or out by pinching two fingers.

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Developed by the Earth Science Communications and Visualization Technology Applications and Development Teams at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with support from NASA Headquarters, the app is free but available only for iOS.

Electrocity

Online; Grades 5-8

ElectroCity is an online computer game that asks players to visualize, plan, manage, and troubleshoot their own virtual towns and cities while balancing the residents' energy needs, sustainability, and environmental stewardship. It uses create-your-own-adventure-type of decision-making to show students the results of their choices in allowing the city and the environment to mutually thrive.

This is a challenging-but-fun simulation that students will want to play over and over until they achieve the correct balance between population growth and a healthy ecosystem.

The Four Seasons

App (iOS only), Grades K-2

This is an Earth Day-themed interactive children’s storybook designed to raise awareness and teach children about clean air, refreshing water, green environment, and the many other gifts offered by Mother Nature. It is presented as a highly visual and colorful interactive storybook set to the theme of changing seasons. It includes seasonal activities like Nurture and Grow a Tree in the spring, Drink water with the Bunnies in summer, Collect the Falling Leaves in autumn, and Dress up the Snowman in winter. Additionally, it includes year-round activities such as Help the Gardner Clean the Park, Play the Eggs Xylophone, Learn Vocabulary at the Park Shop, a sing-along (Happy Earth Day Dear Planet), and a variety of puzzle activities.

The free version includes ads. These can be eliminated with the paid version.

My Garbology

Online; All grades

My Garbology is an interactive online game where users participate in what we as humans do with the vast quantities of waste created annually. With clever images and appealing sounds, students play games that delve into questions like "Where do all the things we throw away each day end up?" and "Why is it important to reduce the waste we put in landfills?" Included are resources for teachers like lesson plans and activities (like conducting a waste assessment).

This website is free with no ads or add-ons.

Recycling Truck

App; youngers

In this interactive app, Recycling Truck, children drive the recycling truck, pick up recyclables, and then see what happens next. Children help the driver pick up materials using the automatic arm, unload the truck at the recycling center, and then sort paper, glass, metal, and plastic. Players can honk the truck's horn and interact with people, animals, or objects along the truck's route.

There is a fee and upgrades require a new fee.

Starfall

Online or app; K-2

From the iconic young reader website, Starfall, this user-friendly intuitive game (Every Day is Earth Day) teaches students about the trash that spoils the environment while they help to clean everything up. As with all Starfall webpages, the game is colorful, appealing, with relatable characters children can identify with.

Once you're there, be sure to visit Starfall's other holiday, reading, and math webpages. You won't be disappointed.

Storyboard That! Earth Day Lesson Plans

Online or app; grades 3-8

Using Storyboard That!'s comic book format, students create a story or a public service announcement designed to educate themselves and friends about climate change, fossil fuels, industrial pollution, littering, endangered animals, how they affect future generations, and what steps students can take to solve resulting problems. Templates are provided and in some versions, students can upload their own images to make their story more relatable.

Parts of this versatile, robust online program can be run for free, but to fully appreciate its resources requires a fee or an education account.

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Some of these choices take minutes, others several days. Pick the option that suits your students' age and your plans for supporting Earth Day. Whichever you select, it will leave a lasting impression with students of how to take care of the planet we call home.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 25 years. She is the editor/author of more than 100 ed-tech resources, including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in ed-tech, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on ed-tech topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. Read Jacqui’s tech thriller series, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days.