Wednesday is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, celebrated with a week of service activities, festivities and environmental awareness events. So now is a good time to revive good habits and ignite discussion in the classroom about the state of our planet.
The first Earth Day dates back to 1970, when the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wisconsin, proposed a national demonstration to force the issue of environmental protection onto the national agenda. Earth Day was a catalyst for the contemporary environmental movement. Just months after that first nationwide demonstration, Congress authorized the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Today environmental awareness and sustainability are a part of the curriculum in many K-12 schools. After all, what school doesn’t have recycling bins these days? But Earth Day still offers many opportunities for teachers to reinforce the message. Here are some resources that teachers can use in the classroom this week.
- The Earth Day Network has proclaimed April 18-25 “Climate Education Week” and is offering a week’s worth of lesson plans that it says meet the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards. The goal of the lessons, according to the network’s web site, is to educate and engage students on climate change. That can be a dicey issue. As Education Week has reported, although 13 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards they remain a source of controversy and debate in a few of those states, particularly the language on climate change.
- The National Education Association also offers free Earth Day curriculum resources aimed to teach students “new and familiar ways to live responsibly.” Teachers can select resources for grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
- The Environmental Protection Association has a large offering of free teacher resources and lesson plans available on its web site, which cover topics ranging from ecosystems to recycling.
- Edutopia offers a list of free resources, including Earth Day lesson plans, reading suggestions and classroom activity ideas.
Interested in the history of Earth Day?
Check out the EPA’s Earth Day history page at to learn all about the day and its creator (the late Sen. Nelson, who died in 2005). You can even read a description of the movement that he wrote 10 years after his first Earth Day.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.