Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Make Environmental Education Interesting

The middle grade years are a fascinating time of life, full of change. Adolescents are developing new interests, some of which will have a long-lasting impact on their lives. As with adults, most do not take an interest in something that they consider boring or of little relevance to them. Teachers are challenged to make seemingly mundane topics—like the environment—interesting and captivating for young minds. This is in many ways easier said than done. 

Here are three suggestions for making a lesson on the environment both educational and entertaining for middle grades students.   

 1. Use visual media.This includes news and videos available on the Internet or through other venues. The media offers a wealth of information about the environment for teachers and students. Some government websites have sections dedicated to teaching children about various environmental topics, including those related to health, energy, air, water, recycling, ecosystems, and climate change. 

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a Students for the Environment webpage where young people can learn about the environment by playing games find a wealth of ideas for science fair project ideas. This site also has teacher resources and lesson plans for teaching about the environment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a Fun for Kids webpage with weblinks containing teacher lesson plans and educational resources pertaining to the Earth’s oceans and climate. The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) has a Teach and Learn webpage with helpful teacher and student resources for teaching how the Department manages the land, water and wildlife in the United States. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Energy Kids webpage has fun games and facts for learning concepts about energy sources, consumption, and conservation. The EIA also has helpful teacher lesson plans. And finally, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Climate Resources and Climate Kids webpages have informative data concerning, the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change. The Climate Kids webpage is especially resourceful with hands-on activities for children learning about climate change and how it affects various species.

 2. Use hands-on demonstrations. For example, when teaching about consumer product safety, refer to the previously mentioned EPA site for ideas. In the Chemical Safety Resource for Middle School Teachers lesson, students do an inventory of the household chemicals and cleaners found around their homes with parental supervision. The students explain why chemical safety is important and propose ideas for preventing chemical pollution at home. The EPA’s Wastes – Educational Materials webpage has three units on waste, including facts and activities, such as composting and recycling activities. Other examples of hands-on demonstrations include the Washington Department of Ecology A-Way with Waste Resources webpage, which offers various lesson plans with demonstrations. 

3. Supplement textbooks with print books or ebooks. Most of the environmental concepts taught in classrooms are included in today’s science-based textbooks.However, few textbooks seem to introduce environmental topics in a fun and interesting way. Spark some interest by looking for supplemental reading material that is educational, thought-provoking and entertaining. Consider using a work of fiction tailored for upper elementary and middle school students to introduce environmental concepts.

These three tools can help make learning about the environment educational, engaging and fun. Accordingly, environmental education may be easily incorporated in a variety of subject curricula.

--- Contributed by Ashley Ivanov. Ms Ivanov is the author of From Pristine to Earth – an environmental fiction novel for upper elementary and middle grades students. The novel is available for purchase at or online at Barnes & Noble. The author may be reached at for questions or a lesson plan for her novel. 

Note:  This article was originally published in the October 2012 issue of INSIDER by AMLE and has since been edited. 

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