Greening STEM Activities, Lessons, and Curricula

Patterns and the Plant World: STEM Road Map for Elementary School

Grade 1: Patterns and the Plant World

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What if you could challenge your first graders to relate changes in seasonal weather patterns to changes in the plant world using a container garden? Patterns and the Plant World outlines a journey that will steer your students toward authentic problem solving while grounding them in integrated STEM disciplines. As are the other volumes in the series, this book is designed to meet the growing need to infuse real-world learning into K–12 classrooms.

The book is an interdisciplinary module that uses project- and problem-based learning to help young children make discoveries about a range of natural phenomena. Students draw on earth and environmental science, mathematics, engineering, English language arts, and social studies.

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Smithsonian Science for Makerspaces: Channel Challenge!

Grade K-2: Channel Challenge

Student teams will be introduced to the phenomenon of how water can rapidly change the environment. They will observe how engineers reduce the impact of flooding events with materials that can absorb and channel water. At the end of this challenge students will be able to assess the ability of classroom materials to stop the movement of water.

The design stage is separated into two sections: In the first students will assess each of the four materials, and in the second, students will plan a flood prevention system using the four materials and share it with their student group. In the testing stage student groups discuss and build one flood prevention system, test it, then based on the data attempt to improve their design with other materials. Connections to real world solutions are then explored.

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A Slick Solution: Cleaning an Oil Spill

Grades 1-5: A Slick Solution: Cleaning an Oil Spill

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An oil spill can be deadly for fish, plants, and other organisms in a river ecosystem. Through the storybook Tehya’s Pollution Solution, students learn about a spill. Applying their knowledge of ecosystems and food webs, students test water quality and oil-absorbing properties of different materials as they engineer a process for cleaning up an oil spill. This unit introduces students to the field of environmental engineering.

The teacher guide includes four detailed lesson plans, one context-setting storybook, background content, teacher tips, suggestions for English Learner differentiation and grade level adaptation, and duplication masters for student handouts and assessments. Additional unit-specific resources include Spanish translations, content area connections, standards alignment, extension lessons, classroom videos, and more!

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Why is Our Corn Changing?

Grade 2: Why is Our Corn Changing? (Version 1.0)

This second-grade unit on plant growth starts off with students exploring the mystery of their harvest corn, something they initially saw as decoration, beginning to sprout what look like leaves and roots. Disagreements about how the corn is growing spark a series of questions and ideas for investigations related to what is causing this growth.

NOTE: Unit submitted by Next Generation Science Storylines. As indicated by the version number, this Grade 2 unit is in ongoing review and revision and the version posted online at the submitter’s website may differ from the one that was reviewed and is posted.

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How Can We Ensure Health for all From Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Grades 3-5: How Can We Ensure for All from Mosquito-Borne Diseases

This curriculum in the form of a community research guide contains seven parts, each with a series of tasks to complete. A checklist of tasks contained in each section allows students to track their progress. Sections include tasks related to defining the problem, mapping impacts, life cycle investigation, disease transmission research, habitat surveys, management plans, and creating and communicating an action plan.

Developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center in partnership with the InterAcademy Partnership as part of the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project. These community research guides use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to focus on sustainable actions that are defined and implemented by students.

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Harnessing Solar Energy

Grade 4: Harnessing Solar Energy

What if you could challenge your fourth graders to use solar energy to provide the world with clean water? Harnessing Solar Energy outlines a journey that will steer your students toward authentic problem solving while grounding them in integrated STEM disciplines. The series is designed to meet the growing need to infuse real-world learning into K–12 classrooms.

This book is an interdisciplinary module that uses project- and problem-based learning to investigate energy and energy sources, with a focus on solar energy and water scarcity.

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Rainwater Analysis

Grade 5: Rainwater Analysis

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What if you could challenge your fifth graders to design rainwater recycling systems to provide water for a fictional community garden?  Rainwater Analysis outlines a journey that will steer your students toward authentic problem solving while grounding them in integrated STEM disciplines. The series is designed to meet the growing need to infuse real-world learning into K–12 classrooms.

An interdisciplinary module that uses project- and problem-based learning. Using their own school building and grounds as a design lab, student teams will be challenged to develop rainwater collection and delivery systems. They will draw on Earth and environmental science, mathematics, the engineering design process, and English language arts.

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MySci: From Sun to Food

Grade 5: MySci: From Sun to Food

In this unit, students consider the question: if we eat pizza, why don't we look like pizza? To try to explain this phenomenon, students will develop and refine a farm model throughout each lesson. Students will see how matter is cycled through ecosystems and how energy flows from the sun to the consumers in a food chain. As students engage in the activities in this unit, the Crosscutting Concepts of Energy and Matter and Systems and System Models are emphasized.

This unit was developed by Washington University- St. Louis Institute for School Partnership.

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Wind Energy

Grade 5: Wind Energy

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What if you could challenge your fifth graders to develop an economical, eco-friendly wind farm? Wind Energy outlines a journey that will steer your students toward authentic problem solving while grounding them in integrated STEM disciplines. The series is designed to meet the growing need to infuse real-world learning into K–12 classrooms.

This book is an interdisciplinary module that uses project- and problem-based learning to investigate the interactions of Earth’s systems, including geography, weather, and wind.

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Disruptions in Ecosystems

Middle School: Disruptions in Ecosystems

This middle school unit was designed to support the middle school NGSS related to Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics integrated with elements of related Earth science NGSS (Human Impact). The unit includes five chapters, each focused on a specific phenomenon related to ecosystem disruption, including questions around the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone and the invasion of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and the Hudson River.

The unit has undergone two rounds of classroom field-testing and expert review. It underwent a third field-test during the 2017–2018 school year. Based on this field-test and feedback from the EQuIP review, the unit will be revised and resubmitted to the Science PRP for a final review.

© Regents of the University of California

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An Ocean of Plastics

Middle School: An Ocean of Plastics

An Ocean of Plastics was designed to help students raise public awareness and take action against the global crisis of plastic pollution by reducing their individual impact, educating their family and communities, and proposing possible solutions to help monitor and minimize the effects of plastic pollution in our oceans.  Students gain a deeper understanding of  how the water cycle and ocean circulations allow plastics to collect in ocean gyres as well as the effects of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems.

This unit is in a draft stage written in collaboration with Aspire Public Schools and The 5 Gyres Institute. Future versions will be resubmitted to the Science PRP and will also be posted on the 5 Gyres website.

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Thinking Outside the (Nest) Box

Middle School: Thinking Outside the (Nest) Box

The activities in Thinking Outside of the (Nest) Box will introduce youth to the life cycle of nesting birds and provide instructions for building and installing nest boxes, which in turn will enable youth to become citizen scientists and report their observations of nesting birds to the NestWatch program. The lessons align with Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards.

Thinking Outside of the (Nest) Box is an educational resource created by NestWatch, a citizen-science program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This curriculum will introduce grades 5–8 to the world of nesting birds and engage youth in STEM learning and citizen science through the construction, installation, and monitoring of nest boxes.

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It's in the Bag: Engineering Bioinspired Gear

Middle School: It's in the Bag: Engineering Bioinspired Gear

Plants and animals have amazing ways of protecting and defending themselves, which can inspire engineers to design new technologies. Learners will explore and build upon their knowledge of how animals use camouflage, different modes of protection, and bioluminescence. Learners become materials engineers as they use the Engineering Design Process to design bioinspired gear that meets clients’ needs.

Created for after school and camp programs, this unit takes students through a bio-inspired engineering design challenge. Available as a free download. Printed copies and a kit of all materials required can also be purchased.

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The Very, Very Simple Climate Model

Middle School: The Very, Very Simple Climate Model

In Part 1 of this activity, students read an article and examine a graph showing global surface temperature trends over the last century as well as future predictions. They read about climate models as well as levels of accuracy and uncertainty in such models. In Part 2, students learn about the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions, carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, and average global temperature using an interactive simulation.

The simulation engages students in meaningful scenarios that reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world. Students are asked to interpret and represent their ideas. The teacher notes give good questions to ask the students to help guide them in the lesson and thoroughly explains the simulation.

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Working with Wind Energy

Middle/High School: Working With Wind Energy

The lesson focuses on how wind energy can be generated on both a large and small scale. Students read about anemometer and site testing for wind turbines and learn about engineering design and how engineering can address society's challenges. Students work in teams to design and build their own windmill out of everyday items which they select and purchase with a budget. They test their windmill, evaluate their results and present reflections to the class.

The teacher can begin the lesson with a video of wind turbines such as the one found at https://www.pbs.org/video/nova-wind-power/ to elicit student questions and prior experiences. The full lesson plan and student worksheets can be downloaded from the TryEngineering.org website. Lessons have been translated into several languages.

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Plant Growth and Gas Exchange

Middle/High School: Plant Growth and Gas Exchange

This unit includes 11 lessons that focus on how atmospheric carbon dioxide is fixed through photosynthesis to produce organic compounds that contribute to the biomass of a growing plant. It begins with an engaging question that most students would think they are able to answer. However, the carefully designed sequence of learning experiences challenges common student misconceptions and guides students toward an accurate and evidence-based explanation of plant growth, photosynthesis, biosynthesis, and cellular respiration.

Modifications to the unit might provide an excellent opportunity to address a bundle of performance expectations that focus around photosynthesis and respiration, energy flow in ecosystems, and carbon cycling.

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Engineering Design Inspired by Nature

High School: Engineering Design Inspired by Nature

A project-based approach to creative problem-solving, students along the way learn fundamentals and modern methods used by engineering and design professionals in material science, structural and mechanical engineering, product design, manufacturing, energy, computer science, medical technology, architecture, urban design, and more.

Modular and scalable to fit different school curricula needs and structures, up to 30-50 hours of material. The course can supplement and enrich existing courses, be used as a stand-alone engineering and design course, and be taught daily or intermittently over a month or throughout the semester or year. Aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, the curriculum comes with Teaching Guide, Student Readers, and Media Materials.

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Biomimicry and Science: Applying Nature's Strategies

High School: Biomimicry and Science: Applying Nature's Strategies

The course reinforces core content in science using striking examples from nature and bio-inspired design as a framework to capture student interest. The first three modules of the curriculum address chemistry, physics and biology with five lessons in each subject area. A fourth module guides teachers and students through a project-based learning experience in which students learn and apply a biomimetic approach to design thinking to solve a challenge.

A full-featured curriculum for purchase co-authored by the Biomimicry Institute and EcoRise Youth Innovations. Module 4: Biomimicry Design Challenge is offered as a free excerpt that can be downloaded from the Biomimicry Institute Shop.

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Farming for Ecosystem Services

High School: Farming for Ecosystem Services

This board game engages students in three-dimensional learning as they explore the phenomenon of human impact on biodiversity and the environment. The game models/simulates an ecosystem as students decide how to invest money to design a farm within a woodland that will not only be financially profitable but also enhance ecosystem services.

The game provides eight different ways to use each of six potential lots. Information is provided about costs, ecosystem services (or disservices), farming, and potential profit. Drawing cards at random, students are further constrained by additional costs due to climate, pests, and disease. The resource includes a lesson plan, a presentation, and game printouts.

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Suggested Readings
Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century: Addressing Grand Challenges

Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century

Environmental engineers support the well-being of people and the planet in areas where the two intersect. Over the decades the field has improved countless lives through innovative systems for delivering water, treating waste, and preventing and remediating pollution in air, water, and soil. These achievements are a testament to the multidisciplinary, pragmatic, systems-oriented approach that characterizes environmental engineering.

Over the next several decades as the global population grows, society will be faced with pressing challenges such as providing reliable supplies of food and water, diminishing climate change and adapting to its impacts, and building healthy, resilient cities.  To address the challenges, the report recommends that the environmental engineering field evolve its education, research, and practice to advance practical, impactful solutions for society’s multifaceted, vexing problems.

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Understanding Climate Change

Understanding Climate Change

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A new book from NSTA Press, Understanding Climate Change, offers both extensive background and step-by-step directions for using three-dimensional instructional methods to explore this complex subject. Based on what they learn, students can use critical thinking and analysis to draw their own conclusions about what should be done.

The book is easy to use even for teachers with no background in climate science. Understanding Climate Change, Grades 7–12 is structured as a nine-session module that establishes a conceptual foundation without risking information overload. The material can be covered in three or four weeks or used in part to supplement an existing curriculum.

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References

  • Anderson-Butcher, D., H. Lawson, J. Bean, B. Boone, A. Kwiatkowski, et al. Implementation Guide: The Ohio Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement. Columbus, OH: The Ohio Department of Education, 2004.
  • Baker, Erica, Breanna Trygg, Patricia Otto, Margaret Tudor, and Lynne Ferguson. Project-based Learning Model: Relevant Learning for the 21st Century. Olympia, WA: Pacific Education Institute, 2011.
  • Baker, Eva L., Angelicque Tucker Blackmon, Karen Brennan, Diane J. Briars, Kevin Clark, Chris Dede, Mariette DiChristina, et al. STEM 2026: A Vision for Innovation in STEM Education. Washington, DC: Department of Education, 2016.
  • Buck Institute for Education. A Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education, 2018.
  • Edlund, Kristen, Nancy Skerritt, and Lisa Eschenbach. Designing High Impact Field Experiences. Olympia, WA: Pacific Education Institute, 2016.
  • Mergendoller, John R. Defining High Quality PBL: A Look at the Research. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education, 2018.
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2018.
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2019.
  • National Research Council. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2012.
  • Office of Science and Technology Policy. Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education. Washington, DC: National Science and Technology Council, 2018.
  • Otto, Patricia, Kirk Robbins, Bob Sotak, and Craig Gabler. Field Investigations: Using Outdoor Environments to Foster Student Learning of Scientific Practices. Novato, CA: Buck Education Institute, 2015.
  • Center for Place-Based Learning and Community Engagement. Place-based Education: A Report from the Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative (Second Edition). Place-Based Education Evaluation Collaborative, 2010
  • U.S. Department of the Interior STEM Education Working Group. STEM Education and Employment Pathways Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2013-2018. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, 2013.

Examples Are Not Endorsements

This document contains examples of, adaptations of, and links to vendors, resources, and programs created and maintained by other public and private organizations. This information, informed by research and gathered in part from field experts and practitioners, is provided for the reader’s convenience and is included here to offer examples of the many resources that educators, parents, advocates, administrators, and other concerned parties may find helpful and use at their discretion. NEEF does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of this outside information, including whether these vendors, resources, and programs are fully compliant with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act provisions and the provisions of other laws intended to ensure equal access to educational experiences and programs for diverse student learners. Further, the inclusion of links to items and examples does not reflect their importance, nor are they intended to represent or to be an endorsement by NEEF of any views expressed or materials provided.

DISCLAIMER: Science and technology are changing all the time, so it’s important to remember that information contained in any resource may become out of date. While we strive to ensure that toolkit entries are up to date, please note that we assume no responsibility or liability for the accuracy or views expressed in the resources. If you have a question or concern regarding a resource, we encourage you to contact the resource’s publisher directly.

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