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22 Interactive Lessons to Bring Earth Day to Life

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By Almetria Vaba

Planning for Earth Day 2014 is well underway around the world. Bring environmental issues to your classroom with resources from PBS LearningMedia. Highlights include an animated video from Loop Scoop using orange juice consumption to teach about biodegradation, a lesson tracking waste in neighborhoods from America Revealed, and a QUEST video transporting viewers to the beginning of the environmental movement.

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1. Earth Day Special: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Headed | Video | Grades 6-13 +
In this video from QUEST produced by KQED, learn how the amazing accomplishments of a few Bay Area activists have shaped how we live, work, learn, and play in a more environmentally responsible way. Explore how young California students are becoming the next generation of environmental stewards and what new challenges are being faced today by the environment and the people who protect it.

2. Running on Grease, Driving to Algae | Video | Grades 5-12
Biofuel is becoming a viable resource for our future and New Mexico is becoming a front runner in research and development with much focus now on algae as an alternative fuel source. The Santa Fe Brewing Company has jumped on board by converting their delivery truck to bio-diesel and running it on recycled grease from restaurants.


3. Plastic in the Pacific | Video | Grades 6-13+
In this QUEST video produced by KQED, students examine the problem with the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Only about seven percent of the plastic used in the United States is recycled. Much of the rest ends up in landfills, or worse, oceans.

4. Climate Change | Video | Grades 6- 12
Weather is notoriously unpredictable. From one moment to the next, any of dozens of atmospheric variables can change to create a new weather event. In contrast, climate descriptions, which identify average and normal temperatures and precipitation levels, tend to be perceived as stable, at least over time scales that humans can easily relate to. However, that hasn’t always been the case. This video segment adapted from NOVA describes climate data that suggest the Earth has undergone dramatic climate shifts in relatively short spans of time.

5. An Unpredictable Environment | Video | Grades 6-13+
In this video segment adapted from the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Alaska Native peoples describe the importance of observing regular changes in the land and the weather. A female Inuit elder explains how it was traditionally the task of the women and girls to forecast the weather for hunting trips. Recent changes in climate have increased the uncertainty of using the traditional knowledge of Alaska Native science to predict the weather and associated animal behaviors, and this is having an impact on the subsistence lifestyle.

6. Earth Systems Science Collection
NOVA’s Earth system science collection highlights important Earth processes normally invisible to the human eye. The standards-based media resources below expose the intricate web of forces that sustain life on Earth, allowing educators to explore the astonishing beauty and complexity of our dynamic planet with their students.

7. Waste Deep | Video | Grades 7-13+
Enhance health, science, and environmental studies curriculum with this video which features a landfill in South Jersey and examines the state of food waste in America today. Then, use the accompanying lesson plan, “Making Mountains Out of Landfills: Telling a Visual Story of Waste,” to prepare students to visually track and document different kinds of trash in their community

8. Duckweed | Images | Grades 9-12
These images illustrate the above-surface of the water and under-surface anatomy of duckweed (Lemna spp.) as well as the typical environment in which these fast-growing plants — the smallest flowering plants in the world — are found.

9. Food Miles | Video | Grades 9-12
In this segment of “e2: Food” writer Michael Pollan explores the affect of agriculture on climate change. He says it takes ten calories of fossil fuel energy to grow one calorie of food energy. There are many things about the industrial food system that are unsustainable. Author James McWilliams says the increased focus on food can lead to an increase in environmental awareness. Nerve gases created during World War 2 led to the invention of many pesticides. The rise of organics has also increased in recent years.

10. Ethanol Biofuel | Video | Grades 6-12
This video segment adapted from NOVA examines ethanol, a cleaner-burning fuel alternative to gasoline, and the efforts to produce it more efficiently. Today, most ethanol in the United States is made from corn kernels. But converting corn into ethanol requires lots of energy as well as corn, which might otherwise be used to feed people and livestock. The video features research efforts to use less valuable plant matter, called cellulosic biomass, and microorganisms that may be able to accomplish the conversion from plant matter to fuel in a single step.

11. Disappearing Plants | Video and Lesson Plan | Grades 4-8
In this video slideshow and accompanying lesson from Clue into Climate, produced by KQED, students will learn that a slight change in average temperature in an area can result in different vegetation patterns. Students will also discover that climate models project widespread loss of habitat for about two-thirds of California’s plants, and that plants’ ability to withstand a rise in average temperatures is limited.

12. Energy Sources | Multi-Media | Grades 4-12
With this video, diagram, and accompanying lesson from Clue into Climate, produced by KQED, students learn how using renewable energy sources to create electricity helps reduce fossil fuel consumption. Students also investigate which form of renewable energy has the potential to have the largest impact on climate change.

13. A Sick Planet | Video | Grades K-12
Use this video to help students understand how rapid climate change is threatening Earth’s ecosystem and recognize the impact of individual action in making a difference.

14. Effects of Environmental Change | Lesson Plan | Grades 3-5
With this lesson and accompanying media students investigate what might happen to plants and animals if their environment changes. Student will understand the interrelationship between organisms and their environment; that when environmental conditions change, some plants and animals survive and reproduce, while others die or move to new locations; observe ways in which changes in environmental conditions affect the organisms living in that environment.

15. Nature Collection | Grades 4-12
This collection of science videos and media-enhanced lesson plans draws upon the powerful documentaries of public television’s award-winning natural history series, Nature. The video segments have been carefully selected to engage students with key curriculum concepts. The lesson plans incorporate hands-on activities, online resources, and video to interactively and creatively address topics and standards in Life Science/Living Environment and Earth Science.

16. Compost Office | Interactive Game | Grades 5-8
Yard and food wastes make up nearly one-third of the waste stream in the United States, most of which gets put in landfills or incinerated. This interactive activity from Keep America Beautiful, Inc. details what composting is and the roles that soil microbes, oxygen, and moisture play in this process. A game challenges users to start and maintain their own virtual compost pile.

17. Recycling | Multi-Media | Grades 6-13+
With these audio clips from QUEST produced by KQED, explore the importance of recycling, and learn about recycling initiatives and processes.

18. Adopting Sustainable Food Practices | Video | Grades 6-12
This video segment adapted from United Tribes Technical College looks at how the traditional subsistence practices of indigenous people were once sustainable, unlike today’s lifestyles. Most foods are now produced and transported using methods that can damage the environment and contribute to climate change.

19. Healing Mother Earth for Future Generations | Video | Grades 3-12
In this video segment adapted from United Tribes Technical College, listen as Native Americans share their concerns about climate change. See photographs from the past and hear one woman describe how tribal people were the first environmentalists. In addition, learn how people are noticing that they are losing sacred plants and are concerned for the future. Finally, hear about the importance of education to help future generations live in harmony with Mother Earth.

20. Turning Waste Into a Natural Resource | Video | Grades 7-13+
Johannes Lehmann sees ‘biochar’ — the substance that’s created when biomass is charred, rather than burned — as a way to improve local agricultural productivity and simultaneously preserve nearby ecosystem services and biodiversity.

21. Orange Juice | Video | Grades 1-4
In this animated video from LOOP SCOOPS, a boy named Ben is asked whether fresh squeezed orange juice or bottled juice is better for the environment. After initially choosing bottled juice, Ben learns the story behind it: oranges are grown in Florida and trucked to a plant in Kansas where they are squeezed, pasteurized, and filtered. The juice is bottled at another plant and then finally shipped to stores. The bottles, if not recycled, pile up in landfills. Ben then learns about the simpler life cycle of fresh squeezed orange juice, and recognizes that it generates less waste.


22. The Dirt on Dirt | Video | Grades Pre K-1
Using this resource group, students learn about what materials make up dirt. Sid and his friends discover that dirt is really important to the Earth because it helps things grow, and it’s also filled with tiny rocks, pieces of leaves, and even living things like bugs and worms! The resource group includes eight video segments, including a live action segment, as well as an associated activity.

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