Bring Earth Day to Your Classroom With Educational, Engaging and Fun Activities


In anticipation of this year’s sure-to-be-historic Earth Day, with a theme of environmental and climate literacy, here are some fun, educational activities perfect for the classroom. In particular, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite Marine Science Institute’s pre- and post-program activities we share with teachers. Earth Day is April 22.

But first, here’s a quick history lesson. In 1970, both Earth Day and the Marine Science Institute were founded in response to growing concern for the environment, and (for MSI) the issue of water resources in the San Francisco Bay Area. Today, Earth Day is observed in 192 countries. The Marine Science Institute educates over 56,000 people yearly about the wonders of the San Francisco Bay. This year’s Earth Day includes the first-ever March of Science – “a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economics, and government” according to the March’s website.

A “No Garbage” lunch

Students enjoy the spontaneity of this activity, because of its element of surprise. Plus it’s a great activity to show students’ their impact on the environment – perfect for an Earth Day. Within a day or two of a class participating in an MSI program, we ask the teacher to hold a surprise “lunch raid” by collecting all the garbage that would potentially be thrown out after lunch. Collect only man-made materials for this activity. Then do the following:

  • Students sort the garbage into piles such as plastics, paper, aluminum, etc. and count the number of items in each pile.

  • Make a colorful graph depicting the students’ findings.

  • Discuss the results and importance of recycling.

  • Discuss where the solid garbage goes. Much of it goes into landfills, which are actually “bay fills” in the San Francisco area. Ask “how long this can go on?”

  • Challenge your class to make “No Garbage” lunches. This means bringing a lunch box or bag that can be used again. Plus all the containers for sandwiches and snacks are reusable.

  • Talk about the drawbacks of snack food that comes in cute, little packages, but creates a lot of garbage. Discuss alternative ideas, such as buying in bulk.

  • Encourage the three R’s – Reduce (garbage), Reuse and Recycle.

Going deeper into garbage

You can take this activity a little deeper, like Maine school children did when they lugged around one week’s worth of garbage. Peaks Island Elementary challenged their students and staff to carry the garbage they generated in a week’s time around in a garbage bag. The activity’s goal was to educate students and staff about how much trash one person could generate in a week’s time. This activity was part of the school’s project called RRR-Evolution, in which the three R’s stand for (you guessed it) -- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

At the end of the week, the students weighed their garbage bags and then sorted the garbage. All the participants’ uneaten food was also included in the garbage bags. So, though sorting through a week’s worth of garbage was unpleasant, it drove home how wasteful a person can be in a week. To read more about this project-based learning activity click here.

More Earth Day classroom activities and ideas

Earth Day is a perfect time to delve deeper into human impact, caring for the environment, climate change, and other environmental topics. If you’re looking more Earth Day appropriate activities there are many available on the Internet. Below are some of my favorite sites offering free lessons, activities, and ideas for observing Earth Day in the classroom.

  • Education World offers many Earth Day articles and activities for classroom teachers including a jeopardy-like game covering amazing Earth facts. Click here to link to Education World’s Earth Day Lesson Plan.

  • Click here to access The Green Classroom’s link to 20 free and easy classroom activities from word challenges and mini Earth books for students to make to math-inspired activities. These activities are perfect if you’re behind in your planning or you need an activity that doesn’t take an entire class period.

  • Scholastic’s website offers a wide variety of ideas from books to read and books to make to STEAM lessons and making mini-garden keepsakes. My favorite is the “Host a Solar Cookout for Earth Day” activity. Students make solar ovens and then bake mini pizzas. Click here to learn more about hosting a solar cookout and all the unique ideas from Scholastic.

  • Edutopia has scoured the web compiling a plethora of interesting lesson plans, reading lists and classroom ideas. Go to this site (click here) for a history lesson about Earth Day, iPad Earth Day lessons, and more.

  • This teacher-written Huffington Post article by Ted Wells offers six Earth Day activities. Wells is a fourth grade teacher at The Park School in Brookline, MA. My favorite activities include combining recycling and building. Students run a recycling collection program at school. Then just prior to having a recycling company collect all the cardboard, plastic bottles, cans, and paper, let the students build something that fits into your curriculum. Ideas suggested by Wells includes mosaic maps of Colonial America made out of bottle caps and the Parthenon (as shown in the photo of Wells' students ) when studying Ancient Greece. Check out this article here.

Hope you and your students have a wonderful Earth Day!

Denise Mohsenin serves as the link between Marine Science Institute and the education community. She enjoys helping schools and teachers bring marine science and environmental literacy to their students. Her current favorite fish for teaching is the starry flounder. Ask her why at denise@sfbaymsi.org.

Sources:

Wells, Ted. 5-25-2011. Six Earth Day Activities for Your Classroom. The Huffington Post. 4-7-2017.

4-7-2017. Earth Day Lesson Plans. Education World. 4-7-2017.

Carro, Sra. 4-6-2013. 20 Easy and Free Classroom Activities for Earth Day. The Green Classroom. 4-7-2017.

Celebrate Earth Day. Scholastic.4-7-2017.

Davis, Matt. 3-28-2017. Earth Day: Lesson Plans, Reading Lists, and Classroom Ideas. Edutoia. 4-7-2017

Wright, Patty. 3-18-2016.To Learn About Waste, Maine Schoolkids Lug Around One Week’s Worth of Garbage. Maine Pubilc. 4-7-2017.

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