Teaching Green: 100 Tips, Tools, & Resources for Every Kind of Classroom

Posted February 8, 2010

Incorporating ways to help the environment into your lessons is not only good for the planet, but offers plenty of hands-on activities, lessons, and projects for students. So whether you are teaching a kindergarten class or a college-level seminar, whether you are teaching science or language arts, you will find a wealth of tips, tools, and resources below to make your job easier.

Resources for K-12 Educators

Teachers will find these resources helpful for creating lessons and projects that are informative and fun.

  1. TeachingGreen. This site offers tons of resources, information, programs, and more to help you teaching about going green.
  2. Go Green in the Classroom: 5 Eco-Friendly Teaching Units. Find five projects here that can help your students learn about going green.
  3. Classroom Earth. High school teachers will want to check out this site that is designed to help them integrate environmental content in their lesson plans–no matter what subject they teach.
  4. ESA Educator Resources. The Ecological Society of America provides resources for K-12 teachers.
  5. Society for Conservation Biology. The education section of this resource offers tips on presenting conservation to K-12 students, resources for teaching conservation biology, textbook recommendations, additional links, and more.
  6. The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education. This company sells materials and services to help K-12 schools incorporate sustainability into their curriculum.
  7. Facing the Future. This site offers a mix of free and for-fee resources to help educators bring green teaching into the classroom.
  8. Roots and Shoots. This organization is a part of the Jane Goodall Institute, in Virginia, and facilitates young people getting involved in programs to help communities and the environment.
  9. The U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. The national listserv for K-12 educators is one of the many resources available from this organization that is dedicated to sustainability education.
  10. Ecological Footprint Teacher’s Manual. Download a copy of this manual as well as teachers’ lesson plans they developed around this manual.
  11. Project WILD. Project WILD provides wildlife conservation programs for K-12 teachers and students.
  12. Project WET. This group helps educators and parents teach children about water and the need for its conservation.

Resources for K-12 Students

Students can get in on the action on their own when they visit these informative sites.

  1. Kids Links Teaching Green. Go here for a listing of several sites that provide children of all ages a chance to learn about or participate in going green.
  2. AIRNow. Visit the learning center here to find resources teaching about air quality and pollution for both younger and older students as well as for teachers.
  3. A Walk in the Woods. Aimed at 3rd through 5th grade, this site takes kids on a virtual trip through the woods and also provides teacher’s guides.
  4. I Buy Different. This site helps educate students to make smart choices when it comes to making purchases and how these purchases affect the Earth.
  5. Adventures with Bobby Bigfoot. Students can take this quiz to learn how they can reduce their carbon footprint, and teachers have access to teacher’s guides.
  6. EcoKids. Kids and teachers each have a section on this site that focuses on environmental education for students.
  7. Ology. The American Museum of Natural History presents this site that guides students through biodiversity lessons in a number of different "ologies" such as anthropology and archaeology.
  8. Environmental Education for Kids. Also known as EEK!, this site provides 4th through 8th graders with lots of information about the Earth and the plants and animals that live on it.
  9. Environmental Kids Club. This comprehensive site offers games, information, activities, and much more for elementary-aged students.
  10. EPA Student Center. This is the sister site of Environmental Kids Club, but provides activities and information appropriate for middle school students.
  11. High School Environmental Center. The third of the EPA sites, this one is geared to high school students.
  12. Home Tour. This virtual home tour from the EPA educates on common chemicals found around the house and which ones are toxic.

College Resources

Both instructors and students will find plenty of resources here to learn about ways they can make a difference for the environment.

  1. National Teach-In. High school and college-level instructors and students are invited to participate in this nationwide discussion about global warming.
  2. Second Nature. This organization works to promote teaching and practicing sustainability in higher education. Find book recommendations, links to articles, papers, and speeches, fact sheets, and more.
  3. Society of Building Science Educators. This group of educators at the college level provide teaching resources, a newsletter, and more to help educators teach sustainable building and design practices.
  4. Greening Across the Chemistry Curriculum. While a bit dated, this site offers several college-level chemistry teaching modules that are designed to modify existing courses to make them more eco-friendly.
  5. Communicating Ecosystem Services. Use the toolkits here to help spread the word about the importance of healthy ecosystems.
  6. Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. This organization works to help higher education institutions to lead the way in sustainability. Get plenty of resources and information here.
  7. Assessing Energy’s Footprint and Carbon Emissions. Adapt this free module for teaching your class about energy use and carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
  8. Teaching Sustainable Product Design. Read through this study summary to discover how a class at Loughborough University in the UK was conducted.

Green Organizations

These organizations make it their mission to help educate others about ways to make a difference when it comes to sustainability efforts. You are sure to find tons of information and resources among these pages.

  1. World Wildlife Fund. Learn about endangered species, climate science, and much more from this well-regarded organization.
  2. New American Dream. This site educates people as to the impact their purchasing makes on both people around the world and the environment. Learn to make purchases that help rather than hinder.
  3. National Wildlife Federation. Learn about wildlife in America, how to protect the animals, and how climate changes affect wildlife. They also have a section just for kids.
  4. National Geographic Society. One of the first big proponents of conservation and a long-time supporter of education, National Geographic provides an incredible amount of resources for those wanting to teach about science, nature, and going green. They also have a section dedicated specifically to educators.
  5. Natural Resources Defense Council. This organization educates and promotes global changes in several areas, including clean energy, wildlife protection, global warming, and ocean protection.
  6. The Nature Conservancy. This site provides articles, maps, information, and a blog that all focus on ways to protect and preserve nature.
  7. Fuel Economy. Sponsored by the EPA, this site has everything from a fuel economy guide to comparisons between different vehicles to tips on ways to save gas. With cars being so vital to the transportation in America, this site has plenty to offer for those educators wanting to open students’ eyes.
  8. The Earth Organization. This South African group supports creative and responsible care of the Earth and offers lots of resources for adults and children.
  9. National Coalition for Marine Conservation. The conservation of ocean fish and their habitat is the focus of this group. Read news and publications or get in on the action to help make important changes.
  10. ClimateScienceWatch. This non-profit works to educate the public and oversee the government to ensure they use climate science research findings in the best possible way.
  11. Earth Day Network. It’s Earth Day everyday with this group. Visit this site to find tons of resources, programs, and material that you can use in the classroom.

Green Tips for K-12 Educators

Teachers can implement these tips to go green in the classroom and help students learn about going green themselves.

  1. PowerPoint projects. Instead of having students make posters for their projects, have them create PowerPoint presentations that can be shown in class. Even young students can make simple presentations.
  2. Field trips. Take field trips to places like a recycling center or a nature preserve to help students see first-hand how conservation works.
  3. Current events. Teach current events that include topics focusing on the environment. Encourage students to follow events on their own.
  4. Go outside. Take lessons outside any time you can use the real world as a teaching aid. Students respond to the hands-on approach with a better grasp of the lesson.
  5. Debate. Encourage students to choose green debate topics and host a debate.
  6. Read. Read books about the environment. This list is a great place to find books to share with your class.
  7. Community garden. Have students plant a community garden on your school grounds.
  8. Worm bin. Have the class make a worm bin. Throw scraps of food from snacks to feed the worms and get rich compost that can be used in your community garden.
  9. Recycled projects. Have students create fun recycled or upcycled projects.
  10. Cell phone and toner drive. Hold a drive to collect old cell phones and toner cartridges. These can be recycled rather than finding their way into landfills.

Green Tips for College Educators

Lead by example when you implement these methods for going green in your college classroom.

  1. Syllabus. Print your syllabus on the board or send it via email rather than printing it on paper.
  2. Electronic textbooks. Assign electronic textbooks to students rather than printed textbooks.
  3. No hardcopies. Require students to turn in electronic copies of all assignments rather than hard copies.
  4. Virtual guest speakers. When you invite a guest speaker to your class, have them join your class via videoconferencing rather than driving to campus.
  5. Encourage volunteering for the environment. Offer extra points to students who volunteer in green projects relevant to your subject matter.
  6. Take green challenges. Organize your campus so that it can participate in green challenges such as the Green Power Partnership, Environmental Challenge International, or the College and University Green Power Challenge for collegiate athletic conferences.
  7. Incorporate sustainability. Redesign your classes so that sustainability is a part of what you are teaching like this professor did.
  8. Assign sustainability. Have writing students design a teaching module that can be used by other instructors for teaching sustainability.

Online Games and Tools

Students and teachers alike can use these tools and play these serious games to enhance learning about the environment and ways to help.

  1. Ecological Footprint Quiz. This quiz shows how you compare when it comes to your carbon footprint and is designed so it can be used as a quiz in the classroom.
  2. EE Week Carbon Footprint Calculator. This carbon footprint calculator is designed especially for youth to be able to determine their carbon footprint.
  3. Travel Calculator. Start with your mode of transportation, then enter your starting point and destination or exact mileage of travel to determine how much carbon dioxide you are contributing to the environment for each trip you make.
  4. Event Calculator. Use this tool to measure the ecological impact of a specific special event.
  5. PowerUp. Students can play this game to save Planet Helios from ecological disaster. The game is adaptable for students with learning disabilities, visual impairments, and fine motor difficulties.
  6. WolfQuest. This science-based game helps students learn what it’s like to live life as a wolf in Yellowstone National Park, which is mostly located in Wyoming, with parts extending into Montana and Idaho, and is appropriate for 4th grade and up.
  7. ElectroCity. Middle-school aged students can mange cities and towns in this game that teaches about energy, sustainability, and more.
  8. Global Warming Interactive. This multi-user educational game teaches high school students about the political, economic, and scientific impact decisions have on climate change.
  9. LogiCity. Designed for people 25 and under, this 3D game has players working to reduce an average resident’s carbon footprint, even traveling to the future to see the impact of one person’s actions.

Green Lectures

Share these lectures with your students to discover what others are saying and doing to promote the green movement.

  1. Michael Pollen gives a plant’s-eye view. Michael Pollan lectures on seeing the world from a plant’s perspective as he discusses the relationship between agriculture and people.
  2. Sustaining Life: Biodiversity and Human Health. In this lecture given by Eric Chivian, find out why humans can no longer afford to view themselves as separate from the natural world and how it impacts health.
  3. Connecting Corals and Climate Change. This assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology talks about corals and what they indicate about climate change.
  4. Is Global Warming Impacting North Atlantic Right Whales?. The highly-endangered right whales are being impacted by global warming. Find out what implications this has on the rest of the world.
  5. Hopeful Future: Alternative Energy and Transportation. Roger Saillant shares his thoughts on why America should be hopeful about the future of alternative energy.
  6. Learning from the Past: Sustainable Life with Renewable Energy. See what the Shakers have to teach modern people about renewable energy and sustainability.
  7. Dr. Wangari Maathai’s Unabridged Lecture at Concordia University, Sep. 28, 2009. Skip the first 18 minutes if you want to jump straight to this lecture given by this world-renowned activist as she discusses her vision of change for environmental conservation.
  8. Sea Turtles as Sentinels of Ecological Health: Linking Sea to Shore. Using sea turtles as an example, Dr. Alonso Aguirre examines the the connection between the health of animals and the health of their ecosystem.
  9. Louise Fresco on feeding the whole world. Watch as Fresco explains how mass-produced bread can help feed the world while also leaving a role for traditionally made breads in the world diet.
  10. Dan Barber’s foie gras parable. Barber gives a lesson in sustainability in this speech about a farm in Spain that humanely raises geese for some of the most delicious foie gras in the world.
  11. Mark Bittman on what’s wrong with what we eat. Bittman takes a look at how Americans eat, what’s wrong with it, and how it puts the Earth at risk in this lecture.
  12. Janine Benyus: 12 sustainable design ideas from nature. Sustainable designs that are inspired by nature is the focus of this lecture given by Benyus.
  13. This Land: Development in America. Learn about the negative effects of urban sprawl on the environment in this lecture.
  14. Alex Steffen sees a sustainable future. Steffen warns of the risks to the environment with the Western lifestyle spreading around the world.
  15. Why We Can’t Leave the Planet to the Environmentalists. Michael Shellenberger, a political strategist, discusses current climate change policy how to make green energy both affordable and accessible.

Open Courseware Classes

High school and college classes can adapt the lessons and videos available through these free courses to supplement their own classes.

  1. Tropical Ecology and Conservation. Former students from Tufts University made a trip to Costa Rica to study tropical ecology and conservation and share their experience with this free course.
  2. Training Course on Mangroves and Biodiversity. Study the mangrove ecosystems and learn about threats to them and sustainability management options. in this class offered through United Nations University.
  3. Conservation and biodiversity. Listen to this podcast to find out about the ecological communities in Honduras and Indonesia as well as the concept of conservation bio-geography.
  4. Seminar in Environmental Science. Learn about current research going on in the field of environmental science when you take this free course from MIT.
  5. Strange Bedfellows: Science and Environmental Policy. Study the relationship between science and politics in reference to setting environmental policies.
  6. Environmental engineering. This class is designed for school children and their teachers to learn about the type of work done by environmental engineers.
  7. Ecologies of Construction. Learn how the choices are made for selecting materials and energy involved in new construction.
  8. Sustainable Design and Technology Research Workshop. This architecture class at MIT examines the issues of sustainability and asks students will propose their own solutions.
  9. Introduction to Environmental Policy and Planning. Learn the basics about environmental planning techniques and strategies.
  10. Introduction to Environmental History. From the time of Columbus to the present day, see how cultures have impacted the environment and learn about the biological consequences.
  11. Energy and Environment in American History: 1705 – 2005. This course teaches the history of how America became the largest consumer of energy in the world and takes a look at possible paths for the future.
  12. Environmental Conflict and Social Change. Look at real-world examples of the relationship between humans and natural environments against a backdrop of environmental conflicts.
  13. Environmental Philosophy. Take this course at Notre Dame to explore the current environmental crisis and potential solutions.
  14. Environmental Ethics. Contemporary environmental ethics is the topic of this course from Capilano University.
  15. How Risky is Breathing? Statistical Methods in Air Pollution Risk Estimation. This instructor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health leads students in a study of the health effects of air pollution by examining the results of national-level research.

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