Top 5 Ways to Go Green in the Classroom

Go green in your classroom with one of these five teacher-suggested lesson plans and other activities.

• Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Our “Go Green” winners this month showed that many teachers are thinking seriously about the environment and are aware of the consequences of not going green. When teachers help students understand the importance of saving our resources and protecting the environment, kids will carry those “green” values into adulthood. With a little help from teachers and other adults who care, these kids are going to change the world we live in for the better.

As always, we thank all who sent in their ideas, and we invite you to submit new ideas for the latest contest topic.

1. Water Conservation Unit
Susan Delago, Grade 4, Spring Creek Elementary School, Florida

Our region has been under one of the worst droughts we have had in many years. Therefore, we have spent considerable amounts of time studying the effects of water quality, water quantity and availability in our state, and water conservation.

When our county began instituting and enforcing water restrictions, I began demonstrations on statistics of fresh water availability throughout the world, using fractions in my demonstration. This led into discussions and demonstrations of aquifers and sources of fresh water in our state. We examined each step of the water cycle and learned about naturally purifying water as it percolates through the different layers of soil and rock on its way to the aquifers.

The unit continued with a simulation I found on the National Energy Foundation website about water usage and conservation. In the story, students became detectives who had to find out how many people were living in the landlady's apartment. The landlady had specified that four was the maximum number of occupants allowed, but the water bill for the particular month in question was very high. In order to determine what average water usage would be, students completed the math operations using scientific inquiry.

Math was integrated using measurement, including: frequency, tables for data, volume, fractions, customary measurement, and metric measurement. Students used a tally sheet to gather data about the water used in their households on a daily basis. Using this raw data, students calculated the total number of gallons of water used daily in their homes and the average number of gallons of water used per person, per day. We then compiled and compared all of the data and made specific connections between results, like mean and mode. These figures were used to "solve" the mystery and make hypotheses about the number of people living in the landlady's apartment.

Next, students planned how they, as individuals, would save water and created reports that were shared with the class. Finally, students designed illustrations and interactive questions for a bulletin board in a main school hallway to impact the learning of others about the importance of water conservation.

I think the crucial moment for student understanding happened when they were deciding what to feature on their bulletin board. Students had brought in gallon milk and water jugs to be used during instruction of volume as related to gallons of water. At one point during the compiling and synthesizing of the water usage data, I put ten, one-gallon jugs on the desks in front of the group that was in the middle of the classroom. The students were amazed that the ten jugs equated to approximately one sixth of our class' average daily water usage they had just calculated. They all realized then, that if this demonstration had made such a big impact on our class, it would affect the others in the school as well. This is how they decided to put the gallon jugs on the bulletin board: 65, for our class' average gallons of water used, per person, per day. In this way, students realized they could make an impact on the lives of others by sharing what they've learned. This indeed happened, as many adults and students expressed their surprise at this average, after seeing the students' bulletin board.

2. A School-Wide Initiative
Katherine Mundorf, 5th grade, Cathedral Elementary School, North Carolina

Our 5th grade class has taken the month of April for our service project month. We are focusing on encouraging our students and families to help the environment and protect what has been given to us. Below you will find all of our activities that will be implemented in our class as well as school wide.

1. Reading for the Rainforest (ClassroomsCare)
2. A speaker from the Wake County Department of Solid Waste will speak to us on recycling.
3. Our class will take the information from the speaker and create commercials to be presented at lunch to our other students in the school. They will talk about recycling, water conservation, Earth Day, GO GREEN, etc.
4. Our school will have a PAPER Recycling challenge in which each classroom will receive a recycling bin and the students will log the weight of paper collected on a bar chart.
5. During Earth Day week students will create creatures made out of trash and turn it into something useable such as a pencil holder, a letter holder, etc. This TWIST ON TRASH exhibit will be in our school hall for others to see and learn how they can GO GREEN at home with their trash.
6. Also, during Earth Day our school will collect flowers to use to beautify our school and classrooms while wearing green to accessorize our uniforms to celebrate. Students will be handing out stickers that were created for each student.
7. Finally, we will announce how much paper our school has collected and how that helps save our environment and our world.

Students will send home information for families via our Friday Newsletters in all grades. Student written work about the environment, GO GREEN, etc will be published.

We hope to encourage our school to GO GREEN for a lifetime.

3. Start a Recycling Program
Charlene Endicott, Flemingsburg Elementary School, Kentucky

Our school did not have a recycling program so our class decided to start one. We contacted the city to have recycled bins delivered. We placed the bins throughout our school. I emailed each teacher to let them know about our bins. We have juice and water sales on Friday afternoons and encouraged everyone to deposit their plastic bottles in the recycle bins. Paper and cardboard boxes are also recycled. My class is in charge of putting the bins out twice a week. They are all excited about it and have encouraged their parents to get recycling bins at home.

Our class also made a pledge with parents to replace any light bulb that goes out in their home with a new energy efficient bulb. The students are now thinking of other ways to go green.

4. Students Solve the Plastic Problem
Kara Fucci, 4th grade, Franklin Elementary School, Massachusetts

This is my first year of teaching and I am blessed to teach a very dedicated and enthusiastic group of 4th graders who are very interested in "going green" and preserving the environment. They inspired quite a movement in our classroom and in our school.

My class was discouraged that we were throwing away so much plastic during our snack and lunch times. Our school has a paper recycling program, but does not incorporate plastics. Time went on and we decided to take action. My students brainstormed ideas to decide how to best deal with our plastic problem. We decided to set up our own recycling center. We have a place to store cleaned out bottles and yogurt containers.

We also have a place for cardboard, books and miscellaneous paper. Every Friday we weigh the paper that we have collected. We also count the bottles and containers we recycle. We graph this information and keep track of our progress. Students volunteer to take the plastics home each week to recycle it with their home recycling.

More importantly, my class has headed a movement in our school. I have begun to take the steps to start a school-wide plastics recycling program that will begin in May. My students will be traveling to classrooms to educate the student population of the program and explain how they can help. My students will also help to collect the schools recycling and bring it to the curb.
I am so happy my students have helped (and motivated!) me to begin this project. Our classroom has become a place to share ideas and information about global issues.

5. Raise Monarch Butterflies
Sarah Mulhern, Pine Brook Elementary School, New Jersey

After participating in an amazing summer workshop called "Teaching with Monarch Butterflies," I begin each year with a study of Monarch butterflies. While I don't preach the ideals of "living green" to my students, it becomes second nature after this unit of study. My students become aware of the relationships between themselves and their surrounding environment and how small actions can affect these relationships negatively and positively.
We raise monarch caterpillars in our classroom, on milkweed plants that we find in our neighborhood. The caterpillars are also from eggs we find outside. (As a class, we discuss why buying caterpillar eggs is an unhealthy practice and how these lab-bred specimens can harm the wild population). Throughout the month of September we observe our cats and wrote about each stage of the metamorphosis from a microscopic egg, through the larval, pupal and finally butterfly stages of life. During the months of September and October we raised and released almost 30 monarchs. We also tagged a few in conjunction with the University of Kansas Etymology Department's Monarch tagging program. We follow the trans-continental migration via the web as the Monarchs leave their summer homes way up in the northern Provinces of Canada, migrate down along the east coast through New Jersey on their way to their final overwintering sites in the Monarch Sanctuaries of Sierra Chincua, El Rosario and Pelon, high up in the Trans-Volcanic range in the central Mexican State of Michoacan.

Why do we study the monarchs? Imagine this... these Monarchs have never been to Mexico. They are the great-great-great grandchildren of the Monarchs who overwintered in Mexico last year. Yet... somehow, something tells them to stop mating in late August and early September and their instinct tells them to begin flying south to a place they have never been before, but to where every 4th to 5th generation has gone for thousands of years, back to the earliest know settlers of central Mexico at Teotihuacan. It is truly an amazing mystery as to how the Monarchs are able to fly, in some cases, over 2,400 miles across a continent to a place they have never been.

As you see, Monarch butterflies are not only insects, they carry a long legacy of connecting 3 nations; Canada, the United States and Mexico. They also symbolize a re-birth to the Mexican people as well as are worldwide symbols of peace and understanding and beauty. Monarchs are also symbols of an indomitable spirit that allows them to migrate extremely long distances over very rough terrain to a place they have never been before. They are also an inspiration to writers throughout the world. We hope to be inspired by them as we continue to build our global community this year.

Finally, monarchs are an inspiration to "live green". Throughout the year, we learn about global warming, deforestation, and lawn practices/ gardening from our monarchs. Global warming is a serious threat to the monarch migration through its affect on weather and climate in the monarch winter sanctuaries in Mexico. In January 2002, close to 80% of the Mexico overwintering monarchs were killed by a severe winter storm. This storm was abnormal for the area and many scientists blame it on global warming. While monarchs themselves are not endangered, their miraculous migration is. Because of their hands-on experience with the monarchs, students are inspired to take care of their earth and want to convince the adults around them to do the same. In regards to deforestation, the monarchs migrate to a small area of oyamel fir forests in Mexico. Sadly, this area is under threat from illegal loggers. A study of monarchs inevitably leads to the topic of deforestation and what we can do to help. According to statistics, every American consumes approximately 700 pounds of paper per year; every 10% of recovered waste paper saves a million acres of forest from being cut. Statistics like this inspire my students to recycle throughout the year. Finally, our monarchs teach us a lot of lawn and gardening practices in the US. The United States produces more grass than almost any other crop- and lawn is useless! Lawns destroy natural diversity (due to chemicals) and diversity is necessary for nature's survival. Our study of monarchs produces heartfelt persuasive letters to newspapers and town officials, seeking the protection of fields and forests. Students are aware of overdevelopment and the effects on the environment.

Our monarch butterflies inspire not only our class, but our entire school. They are a tangible connection to the natural world and their miraculous migration begs to be preserved. We live green because we must if we want to save our butterflies!

• Subjects:
Arts and Creativity, Real-World Science, Science Experiments and Projects, Recycling, Earth Day, New Teacher Resources, Teacher Tips and Strategies