By Teachers, For Teachers
You may be wondering: when is Earth Day and what is it? Earth Day falls on April 22nd each year, and this year is extra special as it is the 50th anniversary of this special day. It began in 1970 as a response to our environment, which was facing many different challenges such as oil spills, smog, and pollution to the waterways. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges currently facing the environment, hence why climate action is the theme of Earth Day 2020. There are so many different ways that you can celebrate Earth Day. From planting trees or joining a cleanup to going to an event in your town or your state, there are many different ways you can recognize this day.
There are many different activities you can do in your classroom to celebrate Earth Day. One simple activity I use each year is I have the students create an acrostic poem using the words “Earth Day”. A cross-curricular connection is made with language arts as students are given a rubric and expected to use certain types of figurative language such as similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and personification. Students must relate each line of this acrostic poem to Earth Day, and for a higher-level challenge, you can have the students make this poem flow all the way to the end. This could work as an assignment for online learning, too.
Another simple activity is for students to find out their carbon footprint. It is always a shocking discovery! You can first have students research what a carbon footprint is, then have students visit a website to find their actual carbon footprint. There are some very complex sites to do this, but a very student-friendly site is Zerofootprint. This site will inform students of their carbon footprint compared to the average carbon footprint. It also informs students of how many “Earths” would be needed to support their own carbon footprint and also the average number of “Earths” needed for everyone. An extension of this activity would be to research different ways that students can reduce their carbon footprint. This could work as an assignment for remote learning, too!
An Earth Day scavenger hunt is also a fun activity which allows students to explore nature. The teacher can make up small teams in the class, either letting students choose or randomly generating them. Each group will be given a clipboard with a scavenger hunt sheet attached to it. Students will need to find items such as tree bark, certain types of flowers, rocks, three green items, three pink items, etc. (the teacher can put as much or as little on the list as they wish), and then the teachers/students can come into circle and discuss the role that each item has in nature. An extension of this activity could be having each team research one of the items and sharing with the class its importance to the Earth.
Organizing a school-wide, grade-level, or class cleanup is a great way to get students involved in celebrating Earth Day! Before starting this activity, you can have a brief lesson on the damage that garbage and pollution have on the environment. You can clean up the whole property the school sits on. This can be a fun, competitive event! If it is a school-wide event, you can have grade levels work together to try to collect the most bags of trash. If your school allows, you could try to organize a beach cleanup or a cleanup of a local park. Getting local community members involved would be a nice way to create stronger relationships between the schools and the community. The students and the environment benefit from this activity!
Creating a recycled materials bin can lead the way for a cool STEM project! Students can use all of the recycled materials to create different items and designs. You can introduce this activity by discussing items that you should recycle and why it is important to our environment to recycle. You can use recycled cardboard to create a three-dimensional marble maze such as the old game Labyrinth. Students can then try to get the marble through the maze without using their hands to move the marble. You can make simple designs or more complex designs even having holes in the maze to make it more difficult. Students can also use recycled cardboard and plastic to make a homemade kaleidoscope. Tubes work really well for this especially Pringles potato chip tubes. Students can use cardboard, plastic, and even old computer parts to create their own Droid. The possibilities for activities are endless, it is just important to tie it back to the main idea of Earth Day.
Another Earth Day activity is creating a graph with data collected on using lights at home. For one week, students will check at breakfast, dinnertime, and bedtime to determine how many lights are on in the house. Students will then graph the data and compare it with other students in the class. Students will then learn the value of turning lights off when they are not necessary.
A simple, easy, and traditional activity for Earth Day is to plant a tree. I remember growing up and being given a tree every year on Earth Day to plant. Even if students were given plants or bushes to plant, that is an easy and fun way to celebrate the day.
Earth Day is a day to celebrate our planet and focus on taking care of it and treating it better. There are so many simple, little things each person can do to help conserve our planet. As Scott Peters stated, “Earth Day should encourage us to reflect on what we are doing to make our planet a more sustainable and livable place.” As teachers, we need to continue to educate our students on how to do just that!
Jessica is a 5th grade teacher and holds an M.A. in Administration and Leadership from Georgian Court University, NJ.