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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teach Green: Lesson Plans on Recycling

Tap into the Web and learn how to preserve our planet -- and help others learn how, too.
By Brian Libby

Today's students live in a world where environmental issues -- global warming, organic farming, and recycling, to name a few -- exist all around us. Although some ecological issues come with a degree of politics and thus the extra need for sensitivity in the classroom, teaching kids how to help clean up the planet and live responsibly is not just an opportunity, but a necessity. Numerous nonprofit and government organizations provide lesson plans and other resources for educators designed to make teaching ecology as easy as dropping your plastic milk jug into the recycling bin.

Teachnology.com offers thirty-seven environmental lesson plans. There are four about acid rain alone, chronicling the effects with real-time experiments. Numerous other plans address the ozone layer, pesticides, garbage, pollution, wildlife-habitat protection, and, of course, recycling.

Part of the idea is to help kids understand how their own lives impact the planet -- recyclable items not only include cardboard and cans but food and computers, too. There's even a skit called "The Garbage Diet," in which students act out a story about methods for reducing the waste they generate. Many lessons and activities explore ways kids can make their own schools more green and less wasteful.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's online Teaching Center provides numerous internal links related to the agency's own efforts, including education about Superfund sites and cleanup efforts, to Paper University, an "all-about-paper" site designed for middle school students, with information on forestry, the familiar reduce-reuse-recycle mantra, and how to conduct a science fair. External links include information on clean air, composting in schools, and yearlong environmental curricula. There is also a lesson plan devoted to volunteerism, in which students learn to seek out opportunities in their own communities.

It may not have the flashiest name, but SolidWasteDistrict.com provides numerous lesson plans for educating kids about recycling and the environment. For middle school students, there is an extensive project devoted to the water cycle, while high school students can learn about the process of biodegrading. Preschoolers can also get involved by learning how to make their own paper out of scraps. Students even have the opportunity to create an "edible landfill" made from sweets and snack-food items.

Brian Libby is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for the New York Times, the Oregonian, and Salon.com.

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