Below are a sampling of resources for developing Environmental and Sustainability Literacy in the classroom:
Green Strides: An essential resource for any school on the path to growing greener, Green Strides is run by the U.S. Department of Education to help schools prepare to become Green Ribbon schools. Their extensive resource library includes links to many national programs that can help your school, as well as case studies and grant opportunities. Their webinar calendar is always full, and frequently features presenters partnered with the EPA, NASA, and AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education).
Resources in Our State
Air Quality Flag Program: Get students engaged with monitoring air quality by signing up for the Air Quality Flag Program. Highlight the importance of good air quality with ready-made lesson plans and supplemental resources. Workshops on air quality provided by the DEEP provide air quality facts for Connecticut, history of air policy actions & outcomes, and actions schools & families can take to improve our air quality.
Audubon Connecticut’s Schoolyard Habitat: Dedicated to immersive outdoor learning, Audubon Connecticut has an array of helpful resources for developing a schoolyard habitat, including guides, lesson plans, and even funding opportunities. Be sure to check out upcoming events for professional development workshops to help make your schoolyard habitat the best it can be.
Common Ground: Common Ground is a high school, urban farm, and environmental education center all rolled into one! Their Schoolyards Program provides professional development, technical assistance, construction support, and peer connection opportunities for K-8 schools as they create and integrate school gardens, schoolyard habitats, outdoor makerspaces, and other outdoor classrooms. One of their programs, Teaching Our Cities, is a network of urban public high schools across the Northeast United States, all working to mobilize their cities as learning labs, and to support each other in this work.
CT Envirothon Program & Competition: Teams of high school students learn about the environment and are encouraged to conduct community-based environmental service programs. At the end of the school year, the winner of a statewide field-based competition will go on to compete in an international (US & Canada) competition for prizes and scholarships.
eeSmarts: Facilitate an understanding of the importance of clean, renewable energy technologies and help foster an energy-efficient ethic in your students with eeSmarts, an initiative from the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund. K-12 lesson plans and curricular materials are available through FREE professional development workshops, which fully align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
Project Food, Land & People: Project Food, Land and People provides educational support to formal and informal educators on agriculture and the use of natural resources to provide for our needs. Educational materials help open discussion for classrooms on food systems, sustainability, science of food, soils, plant science, land, and human interactions, making us part of the food web and ecosystems on Earth. Materials are available in printed and digital formats. Workshops provided by CT DEEP may be arranged for your location or you may register to attend a scheduled workshops listed on the DEEP Calendar of Events.
Project Learning Tree: Make learning fun with hands-on, student-driven activities, both in the classroom and outdoors. This award-winning interdisciplinary program gives students opportunities to investigate school sites, waste & recycling, energy, and water & environmental quality. Workshops are provided by the DEEP and the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association.
Project WET: Bring fun, hands-on water education to the classroom with Project WET. This award-winning, comprehensive curriculum covers not just what lives in aquatic environments but al so the science behind water and its behaviors, all aligned with NGSS. Attend FREE professional development workshops, sponsored in Connecticut by the Department of Energy and Environmental Education (DEEP), to get started and to receive your free NSTA-recommended Curriculum and Activity Guide. Additionally, downloadable products and activity booklets for students are available on the Project WET website.
Project WILD: Connect students with wildlife with this interdisciplinary approach to conservation and environmental education. This program’s award-winning curriculum, aligned to NGSS, offers engaging, hands-on activities to enhance students’ understanding of the environment and foster a connection to the natural world. Attend FREE professional development workshops, sponsored in Connecticut by the DEEP, to get started and to receive your free curriculum guide.
School Composting: Want to start composting at your school? This extensive manual has all the information you need to get started. Developed by the Town of Mansfield and funded by the DEEP, this manual is full of strategies for getting started, composting best practices, blueprints for composting bins, trouble-shooting tables – even lessons and activities to enhance student learning! You can also visit Mansfield Middle School’s site for a closer look at their composting project.
Celebrate Urban Birds: An opportunity to do citizen science, collecting real-world data on birds with your class and reporting your observations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, to be added to their database and analyzed. (The name is a bit of a misnomer, as participants need not reside in an urban environment – you can participate no matter where you live!) Check out their K-12 Education page for activities, curricula, and professional development.
CoCoRaHS: (pronounced KO-ko-rozz) is a citizen science network that collects precipitation data. CoCoRaHS provides a variety of lesson plans for teachers, from the basics of the water cycle, to more advanced data-driven plans for high school students. The data your class collects has many real-world applications, and is used by a lot of different groups to make decisions, from farmers to city water managers to recreation companies, and more.
GLOBE Program: Get your students involved in the scientific process with one of GLOBE’s data-collecting projects. Whether you are recording cloud cover or land cover, sampling macroinvertebrates at a stream or sampling soil in your schoolyard, your class can be part of a global community of students, teachers, scientists, and volunteers working to improve our understanding of the environment. Sponsored in the U.S. by NASA, NOAA, the NSF, and the Department of State
The Great Sunflower Project: Identify where pollinators are doing well, and where they need help. You don’t need sunflowers on your grounds—any flowers will work! Students will learn about the importance of pollinators to both the environment and our own food supply and gather valuable data while doing so.
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project:If your school has even the smallest patch of milkweed plants, you might consider joining the MLMP. Your class could aid in conserving monarchs and their threatened migratory phenomenon, even as they develop a closer bond with the environment by studying it up close. See butterflies in all stages of their life cycle in their own natural environment.
Project BudBurst: Get students outside and observing plants directly with this citizen science program. Students document when various species of plants begin to bloom. This data is then analyzed and published online, and assists scientists in their studies of how climate change affects plant life on a local, regional, and national scale.
Project Feederwatch: This winter (November-April) bird survey is a great way to observe birds with your class, and collect valuable data while you’re at it. Check their website in early spring to apply to be one of 50 schools selected to participate for free. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s K-12 Education page is an excellent resource for activities, curricula, and professional development.
Reducing Food Waste
The Center for EcoTechnology (CET) helps people and businesses save energy and reduce waste. CET has been a leader in the wasted-food reduction and diversion movement for more than 20 years, implementing some of the first wasted food composting programs in the country, and contributing to effective public policy. Now they are helping Connecticut schools with state-specific resources, program design & implementation services, and more! See here for more information on CET and to take a look at a case study here in CT (Wilton)!
Hunger Banquet: A ‘hunger banquet’ can be a great way to encourage students (particularly middle and high school) to think about issues such as food production, sustainability, economics, and global equity. Informational resources, along with suggested guidelines for hosting your own hunger banquet are available from Oxfam America.
School Carton Recycling
View the agenda here for a School Carton Recycling Virtual Convening event co-sponsored by Carton Council. Check out these helpful resources:
-Carton Council: School Council Recycling Presentation
-Hospitality Green: Carton Recycling Presentation
Audubon Connecticut’s Schoolyard Habitat: Dedicated to immersive outdoor learning, Audubon Connecticut has an array of helpful resources for developing a schoolyard habitat, including guides, lesson plans, and even funding opportunities. Be sure to check out upcoming events for professional development workshops to help make your schoolyard habitat the best it can be!
Build a Rain Garden: UCONN has a number of good rain garden resources, and their manual, Rain Gardens in Connecticut: A Design Guide for Homeowners, is a must-read for anyone interested in starting a rain garden. A mobile app makes designing a rain garden as easy as possible, and puts a database of native plants right at your fingertips. They even have a cost calculator to help with the planning process.
Green Schoolyards America: Having access to green spaces enhances the health and well-being of any community. Green Schoolyards America is a great resource that encourages schools to become stewards of the environment. They have activity guides available to download with over 125 activities! They also have resources on the Green Schoolyards Movement and Enhancing Your Schoolyard.
Pollinator Pathways: Pollinator Pathways is a cooperative volunteer effort to create a network of good habitats for many kinds of pollinators. They have many resources for choosing and sourcing native plants as well as tips for developing good habitat. Look for your town’s page to see who your local organizers are!
Stormwater Solutions: The University of Rhode Island has a plethora of resources on keeping stormwater clean generally, and on installing rain gardens in particular. While some of the information is RI-centric (such selecting plants native to RI), most information is applicable to Connecticut as well. Exploring the entire site is suggested, though of particular interest are the basics of rain gardens, the guide for managing invasive plants in your rain garden, and the rain garden maintenance checklist.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Teacher Resources: The USFWS has a wealth of resources in support of environmental education, including activity booklets, a video series, live animal webcams, and lesson plans. Be sure to check out the Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide!
Reducing, Reusing, & Recycling
Carton Council: School recycling programs encourage students to learn about the importance of recycling and enable communities to recover large quantities of beverage cartons. The Carton Council has resources to help schools start a program or promote an existing one. You will find downloadable start-up and best practices guides, posters, student activity sheets, and other helpful resources on the Carton Council website. Students can learn how to conduct a carton waste audit and calculate environmental benefits from implementing a carton recycling program.
EcoWorks CT: Help reduce the number of items sent to the trash by sending unwanted classroom items to Eco-Works instead, to be upcycled and re-purposed by local Connecticut artists. They accept a wide range of donated objects, from lab supplies to globes to buttons to maps, and more. EcoWorks CT’s reBoutique upcycled gift shop sells useful arts and craft and other supplies at excellent prices.
EPA Resources for Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling for Students and Educators: The EPA has a wealth of resources for teachers on a variety of topics related to promoting sustainability, including hands-on activities, enrichment ideas, and more. Check out ideas for community service-learning projects, learn how to pack a waste-free lunch, and explore the virtual town of Recycle City.
How to Recycle Markers: Classrooms can generate a lot of used-up markers, which becomes a lot of plastic waste. This article offers tips on how to extend the life of your markers, as well as links to several marker-recycling programs that you can donate your used markers to.
Recycling Contest: Get students excited about recycling! Every year, Jason Learning holds a recycling-themed contest that is open to any classroom that wishes to participate. Entries are typically due in December and should fit that year’s theme.
School Composting: Want to start composting at your school? This extensive manual has all the information you need to get started! Developed by the Town of Mansfield and funded by the DEEP, this manual is full of strategies for getting started, composting best practices, blueprints for composting bins, trouble-shooting tables – even lessons and activities to enhance student learning! You can also visit Mansfield Middle School’s site for a closer look at their composting project.
Additional Lesson Plans & Curricular Resources
Audubon Birds and Climate Change Report: Explore the impacts of climate change on bird populations with this incredible tool. Use habitat-projection maps and searchable resources to discuss habitat loss as an effect of climate change, or students could be assigned specific local species for detailed investigation. Students might also be asked to consider the effects on the food chain, should one/several species go extinct.
Changing Landscape: Take a close look at land cover in Connecticut with hard data, using charts and detailed maps, including GIS (geographic information systems) data. The Long Island Sound Watershed maps are particularly useful for having specific layers for riparian land cover and impervious surface estimates. Recommended for use in support of high-school level lessons, although certain resources, such as the more basic maps, may be adaptable for use with middle-school students.
Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN): A wide variety of tools and resources, including activities, curricula, experiments, teaching guidance, videos, and visualizations, all with user-friendly search filters to make it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Get a region-specific guide to the impacts of climate change based on the most recent National Climate Assessment Report, or browse their selection of webinars.
Green Teacher Magazine: GT has a variety of informational resources, and though you need a subscription to get full access to everything, there are plenty of free articles on teaching science and sustainability, over a dozen videos on their YouTube channel featuring student projects and teacher perspectives, and their webinars are free and open to the general public.
JASON Learning: Bring STEM directly into your classroom with Jason Learning! This award-winning program provides curricula with lesson plans, hands-on activities, videos, and online games. Give insight into STEM careers with live, interactive events throughout the year with professional scientists and other role models! JASON Learning provide lots of support for teachers with professional development, implementation tips, and more.
Learning from Nature: A Course in Biomimicry: From the Sustainability Leaders Network, this course offers an introduction to biomimicry and how imitating nature can be used to solve design challenges in such diverse fields as public health, agriculture, and engineering. With an emphasis on going outside, this course encourages students to foster a connection to the natural world they live in. Course content includes: Teacher’s curriculum, PowerPoint slides, student’s outline, and handouts.
National Energy Education Department: A variety of GREAT resources are available free-of-charge in the curriculum section. These are categorized and browse-able by grade level, energy topic (hydropower, coal, nuclear, etc.), and subject (math, social studies, language arts, etc.)
PBS Learning Media: PBS has thousands of educational videos, and many of them are interactive! They have lesson plans with support materials, which you can share to Google Classroom with the click of a button. You can even browse for content on by NGSS standards and filter by grade level. We recommend searching by keywords “climate” or “energy” for a lot of great results.
Surf Your Watershed: This EPA site has several resources for studying watersheds and waterways. Of particular interest is How’s My Waterway, which allows students to learn about the condition of local streams and bodies of water. Written in plain, easy-to-understand language, students can also see what was found, and what is being done about it.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Teacher Resources: The USFWS has a wealth of resources in support of environmental education, including activity booklets, a video series, live animal webcams, and lesson plans. Be sure to check out the Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide.
Water Properties from the USGS: The US Geological Survey (USGS) offers comprehensive breakdowns on Water Properties and measurements. They also offer activities and other educational resources for studies on water quality, use, cycles and basics.
WINDExchange: You don’t need to have a wind turbine at your school to teach about wind energy. WINDExchange has compiled an excellent list of curricular resources for K-12 classrooms, including lesson plans, videos, and online quizzes. There’s also a map of Connecticut that shows the wind power potential at 50 meters.
Lesson Ideas by CT Green LEAF Teachers
Suggested ideas for classroom use from Green LEAF teachers for teachers
Apartment Oasis: Small spaces can make a huge impact as habitat gardens.
Beekeeper Visit: Invite a beekeeper to your class.
Bird Feeders: Make bird feeders, observe species and compare different habitats. This is a great outside activity for the late fall and winter months.
Borage Garden: Using borage and other herbs, students experiment with the idea that plants require sunlight and water to grow. Students can also investigate the various uses of borage.
Composting: Learn about and implement a composting plan to reduce cafeteria and garden waste.
Container Gardens: Container gardens allow students to grow plants either in the school or outside, extending the growing season. This method also allows for quick and easy gardens at urban schools. Although this might be a “do-it-yourself” project, a variety of commercial products are also available, including watering systems, containers on wheels, themed seeds, and lesson supports.
Decomposing Pumpkins: Students document and discuss what they observe, make predictions, and reflect about what they think will happen as pumpkins (or watermelons) decompose in an inside and outside location. This investigation can take up to several months.
Donors Choose: DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help fund student projects. Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on their site, and donors can give any amount to the project that most inspires them.
Earth Club: A school Earth Club supports collaboration between students, teachers, administration, and the community with the students at the heart of planning and leading change. This can be an afterschool or before-school club, a lunch group, or an activity during class.
Energy Squad: Students take on the role of the “Energy Squad” to help their school become more energy efficient and sustainable. In this lesson students can learn about carbon emissions and the carbon footprint of their school while engaging in research, writing, discussion, activism, and inquiry.
Nature Trail: Learn about your local habitat while giving back to the community. In this long-term activity, students develop and utilize a school nature trail.
Outdoor Classroom: How to create an outdoor learning space.
Outdoor Tool Storage: Create a storage place to have your tools ready for outdoor learning. The storage will give students easy access to garden tools and outdoor supplies, and it will also facilitate both ease of instruction and student exploration.
Potatoes in a Bag: Grow potatoes in a shopping bag or old laundry basket.
Rain Garden: Rain gardens can help filter our water supply and improve our environment. Students will investigate the effects of water runoff on schoolyard surfaces and understand the importance of water conservation.
School Site Walk: School grounds hold ample opportunity for learning but also require time for planning and professional development throughout the school year – starting with a site walk through to explore learning opportunities, a mid-year check-in to identify and clear hurdles to site-based learning, and finally an end-of-year reflection to model lessons and share successes.
Science Corner: Bring science and excitement into your classroom with an area that features hands-on items, literature, and other visuals that can be connected to standards across the curriculum.
Student Created Signage: Students create signage or guides can be used to label or explain gardens, habitats, exhibits or other green features around your school. This could fit in as a team themed unit that integrates all core subjects and specials.
Sunflower House: This unique garden feature can be an ideal outdoor space for students to sit, work, read, and observe. A Sunflower House is a group of sunflowers planted in a crescent or box shape. As the flowers grow, the ‘house’ will take shape.
Terrariums: Mini ecosystems grown inside containers can be used to sustain life for small plants and animals.
Trout in the Classroom: Students raise trout from eggs to maturity, and release trout into a local river. The project allows students to observe the changes in the trout as they grow and mature.
Victory Garden: Victory Gardens were vegetable gardens planted to increase food production during World War II. Students will explore how people worked together in World War II to overcome food scarcity. While planting and growing their own victory gardens, students will learn about the growing habits of different vegetables through literature, observation, and hands-on inquiry.
Windowsill Garden: Windowsills can be used to grow a variety of plants throughout the year.