Kids having fun at Debris Day
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Habitat Fun and Outdoor Activity at Debris Day!

The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) joined Living Classrooms and several other environmental organizations from the DC area for another beautiful morning of EE and fun on the Anacostia River! Debris Day, organized by Living Classrooms, invites local elementary students to join in environmental education-themed activities and games while working together to take care of Kingman Island.

In addition to the trash clean-ups that were the main focus of the day, the event offered a great opportunity to introduce students to the aquatic and terrestrial habitats of the river and the local wildlife they might find there. In place of live animals, students took on the roles of the newts, perch, deer, herons, and other animals to identify what about these habitats were well suited to their animals (and vice versa).

“I’m a bumblebee so I’d be over on the land looking for flowers!” exclaims one student. “I’m a striped bass so I’d be in the deeper parts of the river,” adds another. “I’m an osprey,” says a student with his arms outstretched, making a zigzag pattern back and forth between the blue tarp (water) and green tarp (land), “so I’d probably be somewhere in between flying along the shore looking for fish!”

After more questions about their animals and enthusiastic responses from the students, a piece of “debris” in the form of a red ball was introduced into our healthy river environment. As the ball was passed around, students thought about ways the debris might affect their animal or its needs from the habitat. From the dangers of mistaking the debris for food to polluting the water or reducing populations of animals lower in the food chain, it was clear that every animal felt the impact of the debris.

To wrap up the activity, take advantage of the health benefits of being active outside, and use some of the energy that comes with being a kid on a field trip, we held a race where each student had to get from one cone to another only moving like their animal. The results were close, but it looked like the white-tailed deer or osprey took the lead.

With a couple minutes left, we asked the students, “How many of you are scientists?” Some confidently raised their hands right away while others thought about it for a few seconds before deciding that they too considered themselves scientists. We were thrilled to see such a positive response!

With so many opportunities available to participate in scientific research and data collection through citizen science, it’s easier than ever for anyone to get involved, no matter where they live or what their interests are. This is one of the messages behind NEEF’s new Surrounded by Science Infographic, which features citizen science projects that look at environmental topics at every level of the environment, from right outside your door to the craters of the moon.

You can use the Surrounded by Science Infographic as a starting point for classroom activities and lessons of your own. While we took the piece on wildlife habitats and turned it into an easy low-cost game, you can use any of the facts or simple activity suggestions to start a discussion in your classroom or at home! Also check out the Surrounded by Science Educator Toolkit to find more lesson plans and resources to help you continue the connections between science and the environment!

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