How You Can Teach About The Earth In Any Classroom All Year Long

Earth Day, celebrated on April 22 each year, began in the U.S. in 1970. In 1990 it became a global celebration with 141 countries around the world focused on the needs of our planet. Earth Day is a unifying day—everyone can participate and every action matters on Earth Day and beyond.

For educators, Earth Day is an interdisciplinary opportunity to illustrate for students how love for and protection of the Earth is relevant across contents and to inspire young people to take action for the planet each and every day beyond the scope of the classroom. For the 3 educators who follow, Earth Day inspires a creative approach to conservation, a love for nature, and a passion for change – regardless of content.

Leora Uribe, National Geographic Certified Educator

Middle School Social Studies, San Antonio, TX

Earth Day usually occurs when our district is conducting state assessments which means it is difficult to fit an Earth Day lesson into our regular class time. To ensure that it is still recognized, I celebrate it with my students by inviting them to my classroom after school for earth-friendly crafting. Recently we collected water bottles that we turned into dog toys. Students also explored information about how many water bottles are recycled or trashed each year. We discussed what we could do in our community to reduce our use of plastic and how to encourage recycling. Students became more mindful about the fact that things never truly go “away” when we throw things away. Students felt empowered because they were taking action and doing something good for our planet. Using water bottles and thrift store t-shirts, they practiced recycling and reusing discarded things. The students made dog toys for their family and friends and then extras that we donated to a local animal shelter. Everyone benefits from a healthy planet! Our actions affect each other.  We cannot rely on any single field of study or person to be a good steward for our planet. We all must play our part. 

We cannot rely on any single field of study or a person to a be a good steward for our planet. We all must play our part.

Leora Uribe

Skyla Sale, National Geographic Certified Educator

High School English, Charleston, SC

I work at a music charter school, so this year we are starting the “Civic Environmentalism” unit through Teach Rock. Kickstarting on Earth Day, we are going to look at the climate crisis, environmental racism, and real impacts teenagers can make starting now. We will research the importance of being an active voice in the advocacy of the planet. At the end of the unit, students will write songs for actionable change and demonstrate key components of their plans for a more sustainable community through their writing. I hope that by the end of this unit, students will see their music skills as one that can inspire communities to make a change. It is my hope that students will gain a deeper understanding of the world around them, and can think critically about the politics regarding climate and nature. Earth Day serves as a conscious reminder of how important it is to protect the land in which we live in more ways than one. It’s a moment to reflect on all that the Earth provides, and in return, ask, “How can I give back?” Matters of the Earth affect us in all ways, in all subjects, and in all areas. An interdisciplinary approach confirms for students that every action we take leads to a reaction. 

Skyla Sale leading her students.

Jesús Ramírez Grajales, National Geographic Certified Educator

Middle School English as a Foreign Language, Mérida, Mexico

Mi actividad favorita para realizar por el día de la tierra es hacer que los alumnos identifiquen la situación de su comunidad para reflexionar acerca de la problemática que enfrentan con relación al cuidado del planeta. Para lograr esto los estudiantes miran un video llamativo que ayuda a conectar con las problemáticas que enfrentamos en el mundo como lo puede ser desde el mal uso del agua, la falta de árboles en el contexto o la importancia del reciclaje. Posteriormente los estudiantes utilizando el sentido de responsabilidad y de empoderamiento organizan una campaña para hacer conciencia sobre lo que está ocurriendo en la comunidad, utilizando el vocabulario en inglés. En este ejemplo los educando detectaron que existía un mal uso del agua, había fugas en las llaves de la escuela y otras acciones perjudiciales, por lo que hicieron pequeños carteles para colocar en los alrededores para informar a la comunidad de lo que pueden hacer. Los estudiantes muchas veces desconocen cómo pueden ayudar al medio ambiente y así mismo se olvidan de que tienen una voz y el poder que tienen con ella. Por lo que con esta actividad espero que los alumnos se empoderen y sean ejemplos de liderazgo por medio de la campaña que realizan, donde sean el ejemplo tanto para estudiantes de menor grado o hasta para los adultos de la comunidad. El integrar el tema del día de la tierra en la clase, ayuda a que los estudiantes comiencen a pensar como ciudadanos del mundo, que mucho más allá de la escuela, ellos se den cuenta de que tienen el poder para cambiar el mundo. Su aprendizaje con este tipo de temas se enriquece y se vuelven capaces de desarrollar habilidades que con temas del currículo a veces no lograrían, como el sentido de la responsabilidad, la curiosidad, el liderazgo y el empoderarse para realizar acciones que puedan lograr un cambio en la comunidad. Es importante plantearnos cómo podemos integrar temas como el día de la tierra en diferentes asignaturas, por ejemplo en Inglés como lengua extranjera, muchos pensarían que no podemos aprender sobre el día de la tierra en esta asignatura porque no tiene que que ver con la gramática del idioma, sin embargo al momento de abarcarlo hacemos que el idioma Inglés se vuelva más significativo cuando las actividades tienen un propósito trascendental, ya que logran usarlo en acciones que van más allá del libro de texto.

Jesus also recommends this video from National Geographic.

Work from Jesus’ students.

Translated text:

My favorite activity to do for Earth Day is to have students identify the situation in their community to reflect on the problems they face in relation to caring for the planet. To achieve this, the students watch a striking video that helps to connect them with the problems that we face in the world, such as the misuse of water, the lack of trees, or the importance of recycling. Later the students organize a campaign to raise awareness about what is happening in the community, using the vocabulary in English that they are acquiring. In this example, the students detected that there was a misuse of water such as leaks in the school faucets and other harmful concerns, so they made small posters to inform the community of what they can do. Students often do not know how they can help the environment and also forget that they have a voice and the power they have with it. So with this activity I hope that the students will be empowered as leaders for both lower grade students or even for the adults of the community. Integrating the theme of Earth Day into the classroom helps students begin to think as citizens of the world, far beyond school, they realize that they have the power to change the world. Their learning is enriched and they become capable of developing skills such as a sense of responsibility, curiosity, leadership and feeling empowered to take action that can achieve a change in community. It is important to consider how we can integrate topics such as Earth Day in different subjects. For example, in English as a Foreign Language, many would think that we cannot learn about Earth Day because it has nothing to do with grammar. However, we make the English language more meaningful when the activities have a transcendental purpose, and students can apply it to actions that go beyond the textbook.

Check out the National Geographic Educator & Family Guide to Earth Day

To follow in the footsteps of these National Geographic Certified Educators, enroll in our new free, self paced course “Developing a National Geographic Explorer Mindset with Your Learners”.

Featured image of a flowing river in Alto Purús National Park, Peru (Charlie Hamilton James)

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