Content-Area Literacy

Environmental Problem Solvers

Developed by: Sarah Alessio Shea
Subjects:  Science, Environment, Ecology
Estimated Time:  10 sessions over 2-4 weeks
Grade Level: 6-8
Download the lesson plan and related materials (PDF) →

About This Lesson Plan:

The Environmental Problem Solvers Curriculum will educate middle school students about regional environmental issues and show them practical applications for how to make an impact on regional environmental issues.  Students will learn about household toxins, watersheds and water quality, and waste management.  They will utilize this information to develop tools and projects that help the local environment such as installing rain barrels or recycling signage at their school.  They will take their knowledge and present their projects to their classmates.

About Pennsylvania Resources Council:

PRC is Pennsylvania’s oldest grassroots environmental organization. Since 1939 we have worked to protect the Commonwealth’s resources for future generations through environmental education, recycling and waste diversion programs, anti-litter campaigns and much more. Navigate the pages below to find more about PRC’s history and current projects and programs.

Pro Tips:

This lesson plan invites students to look closely at how small steps at home can make a global environmental impact. Consider using elements of this lesson plan to help your students investigate similar issues and find new ways to engage in your community. What environmental issues are especially pressing in your community? What community partners might be help your students with their research? Who might be willing to help your students showcase their work and spread the word about their insights?

Lesson Plan

Lesson One (Intro to Unit: Regional Environmental Issues)

Students will be introduced to local/regional environmental issues and how people can make positive impacts.  Teachers can choose from a variety of issues to focus on and may take something from the state of PA to emphasize ideas.

  • Discuss Earth Awareness. Create a KWL chart on ways to make our planet better and cleaner. Ask students to what topic they would like to learn more about (air pollution,, humans and the environment, recycling, water supply, etc)
  • Protecting Our Planet:

Lesson 2-7 (Background Knowledge)

Students will learn background information on Natural Resources, Recycling, Composting, Watersheds, and Environmental Health or whichever topics the teacher chooses.  Lesson plans included in the Google doc.  Through these lessons students will get a grasp on the value of conserving our natural resources and ways they can make changes in their lives to improve the quality of their environment.

Hands on Activities (Lesson 6 and School Waste Audit)
Hands-on activities include:

  • Waste Audit of specific classrooms, cafeteria, etc
  • Watershed Extension Activities

Lesson 8-9 (Final Project)

With the final project students will take the background knowledge gained from previous lesson and utilize this to develop a project to make a positive impact on a local environmental issue.  This could be through implementing a program such as recycling or composting in a classroom or schoolwide, or creating an education campaign for students on non toxic products, and more.

Teacher will review topics discussed and ask students to imagine and generate some project ideas based on these topics (see attached document for examples).  Once a list of ideas have been generated, the instructor will guide students to pick which topic/idea they are most interested in.  Students will be grouped together with students with shared project interest

Teacher will give students a work day to develop their project ideas and sketch out a plan for what they will do, how they will do it, and why (ie what is the need for their project).
Each group will get review time with teacher to fine tune their project ideas.

Students will receive a selected number of class periods to work on their project.  Teacher feedback will be key throughout to ensure students are on the right track and have needed materials (computer access, hard supplies, etc) to complete their idea.

Lesson Ten (Final Project Presentations)

Students will present their final project/idea/campaign to their fellow classmates over the course of one to two class periods.  Students will be responsible for explaining to their classmates why they chose the project/idea they did, what impact the project could have on their community or school, and how it will positively impact the environment.  After each presentation, students in the classroom will give a written response highlighting what they think were the strengths and the weaknesses of each presentation (See Student Presentation Feedback Form for example).  These will be collected by the teacher and reviewed with all students on the final day.

  1. Open Lesson 1 – Watershed Awareness Power Point (PDF) →
  2. Open Lesson 2 – Natural Resources (Word) →
  3. Open Lesson 4 – Recycling and Closing the Loop (Word) →
  4. Open Lesson 5 – Composting (Word) →
  5. Open Lesson 6 – Watershed Educators Guide (PDF) →
  6. Open Lesson 6 – Watershed Student Guide (PDF) →
  7. Open Lesson 7 – CHE-Hormone Disruptors and Womens Health (PDF) →
  8. Open Lesson 7 – discussionguide (PDF) →
  9. Open Lesson 7 – Eval Form 2 (Word) →
  10. Open Lesson 7 – EWG-2009-schoolcleaningsupplies (PDF) →
  11. Open Lesson 7 – EWGguide-cellphone_radiation (PDF) →
  12. Open Lesson 7 – Home Audit Worksheet (Word) →
  13. Open Lesson 7 – Non toxic PCP recipes (Word) →
  14. Open Lesson 7 – Post-test (Word) →
  15. Open Lesson 7 – Pre-test Post-test Answer Key (Word) →
  16. Open Lesson 7 – Pre-test (Word) →
  17. Open Lesson 7 – Resources (PDF) →
  18. Open Lesson 7 – Sample Letter to company (Word) →
  19. Open Lesson 7 – UPCI Lesson Plans – 2009-2010 (Word) →
  20. Open Lesson 7 – Vocabulary (Word) →
  21. Open School Waste Audit Guide (Word) →
  22. Open Student Presentation Feedback Form (Word) →
  23. Open Student Project Ideas (Word) →

Standards, Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings

Content Standards

Next Generation Science Standards
MS-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity
ESS3.A: Natural Resources
ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems
MS-ESS2-4 Earth’s Systems

Standards for each lesson:

  • Lesson one (Introduction):
    • 4.5.8.A Explain how Best Management Practices (BMP) can be used to mitigate environmental problems.
    • 4.5.8.C Describe how humans can reduce pollution.
  • Lesson two (Natural Resources):
    • 4.3.7.A Explain how products are derived from natural resources.
  • Lesson three (Landfills and Solid Waste)
    • 3.4.7.B2 Explain how decisions to develop and use technologies may be influenced by environmental and economic concerns.
  • Lesson Four/Five (Recycling & Composting)
    • 4.1.6.D Explain the costs and benefits of recycling in controlling resource use.
  • Lesson Six (Watersheds)
    • 4.2.6.C Identify natural and human-made factors that affect water quality.
    • 4.2.7.A Explain how water enters, moves through, and leaves a watershed.
    • 4.2.7.B Explain the primary functions of a wetland within a watershed.
  •  Lesson Seven (Environmental Health)
    • 4.3.7 A Identify environmental health issue
    • 10.1.6 C Analyze nutritional concepts that impact health.
    • 10.1.6 E Identify health problems that can occur throughout life and describe ways to prevent them.
    • 10.2.6 A Explain the relationship between personal health practices and individual well-being.
    • 10.2.6 B Explain the relationship between health-related information and consumer choices.
    • 10.2.6 D Describe and apply the steps of a decision-making process to health and safety issues.
    • 10.2.6 E   Analyze environmental factors that impact health

Understandings (what do you expect your students to understand? What misconceptions do you need to overcome?)

  • Overarching Understandings
    • Students can make an impact on local and regional environmental issues by starting in their schools and own communities.
  • Related Misconceptions
    • Students may believe that one person cannot make a difference.  This curriculum’s goal is to show them that one person can make a lasting sustainable difference or change in their school or community through promoting positive environmental change

Topical Understandings 

  • Lesson one (Introduction): Students will be introduced to national environmental issue to engage them in how local people can make an impact on larger scale issues.
  • Lesson two (Natural Resources): Students will be able to identify the five basic categories of natural resources and how they are used in everyday lift.
  • Lesson three (Landfills and Solid Waste): Students will identify the four parts of the waste streams, identify parts of a landfill and problems caused by them. Students will be able to do a home audit of their waste as take home assignment.
  • Lesson Four/Five (Recycling & Composting): Students will learn about “Closing the Loop” and the importance of completing the recycling process. Students will also be able to identify materials that can be easily composted as well as how the system of composting works.
  • Lesson Six (Watersheds): Students will be able to identify the parts of the hydrologic cycle, define “watershed”, and have an awareness of how human behavior impacts the quality and quantity of water.
  • Lesson Seven (Environmental Health): Students will understand the links between the environment, personal behavior and human health/cancer. Students will be able to list some of the environmental hazards presented by personal care products, cleaning products, lawn and garden care products, second-hand smoke, the production of electricity, and industrial pollutants.

Knowledge: Students will know…

  • Utilizing knowledge gained initial lessons students will know some of the environmental issues facing the region today

Skills: Students will be able to…

  • Take their knowledge gain and develop a tool/campaign to help tackle a local environmental issue in their school or community
This post is part of the Sharing Connected Learning from Pittsburgh collection.