Elementary: Planting the Seeds of Environmentalism
Get little ones reciting the mantra of the three Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle — early with a fun project. Create a classroom garden using old milk cartons as planters, or make adorable eggshell plant pots. The Iowa Department of Transportation's Enviro Explorers website explains the easy steps — the hardest part might be explaining to 6-year-olds that eggshells are very fragile — that will get you from empty shell to full bloom in no time.
If you're extra crafty, you could turn some of those milk cartons into bird feeders (you might even inspire a few novice bird watchers), or cut up old cereal boxes to make book bins to organize the classroom library.
Elementary: Fun with Worms
Kids can learn the art of vermicomposting (and how to spell it too!), and get lessons in math, language arts, science and horticulture. Cornell University's Composting division details the various benefits of keeping a worm bin in the classroom — students can write stories about worms, keep worm bin journals, count and measure the worms, learn worm anatomy and discover the climate that best suits the slimy suckers.
And composting is environmentally beneficial, of course, keeping waste out of landfills and creating nutrient-rich food for plants. For details on how to get started, check out Cornell Composting's main page.
Middle School: Growth Spurt
Middle schoolers can get a hands-on visual aid to help them understand the effects of acid rain on plant growth. Science Made Simple explains that acid rain typically damages plants by washing away nutrients and by poisoning the plants with toxic metals, but acid rain can have direct effects on plants as well. In this two-week-long experiment, students observe plants grown in acid water and in distilled water. Guess which buds should grow faster?
Middle School: (Solar) Power Hungry
So your students can't drive yet — what better way to prepare them for life as motorists than by getting them to think about renewable energy? Thirteen Online details how students can actually build a solar-powered vehicle. No small feat, this is a semester-long project.
Students will examine how much pollution is produced by cars, and how solar energy might alleviate the problem. Students will then actually develop their own model, learning about solar energy and about some of the challenges involved with building solar-powered cars along the way. Here's to the future!
High School: Energy Boost
Help high schoolers understand where precious energy — and their parents' dollars — are wasted by having them conduct an energy audit. Whether done at home or in the classroom, the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office provides lots of information on how to dive in.
Since you likely won't want students conducting a pressurization test, which involves turning off all combustion appliances, this will be a modified version.
Students can check for air leaks at electrical outlets, switch plates, window frames, baseboards, weather stripping around doors, fireplace dampers, attic hatches and wall- or window-mounted air conditioners. These are areas that can be easily fixed to conserve energy and save money. They could measure insulation, and examine the wattage size of the light bulbs in their homes too.
They can then write reports detailing what they found and what changes they could make to the house or room to maximize energy efficiency. EERE suggests good questions a homeowner might ask to establish priorities. Websites such as the Home Energy Saver offer information on the best changes to make for your needs.
High School: Lettuce Test Water Samples, Shall We?
Science Made Simple gives background on bioassay projects, which use living organisms — a plant or bacteria, for example — as test agents for a chemical or disease. Students can use this method to test for chemical contamination in their local waterways.
This bioassay designed by Cornell University uses easy-to-find lettuce seeds as the test agent. The simple procedure, detailed here, uses petri dishes for the soil samples and lettuce seeds. At the end of the five-day growth period, students will collect data by counting and recording how many seeds have germinated.
High School: Soda Works
A compost heap benefits the environment by preventing waste from ending up in landfills, where conditions make it challenging for organic matter to break down. In this Cornell University project, students can create their own composters in the form of soda bottle bioreactors.
Students create their own composting heaps and add organic matter that will break down. They can observe the actual composting action taking place through the soda bottle (the organic matter will decrease in size and become unrecognizable), and because the bottles are small and inexpensive, they are ideal for creating individualized research tools. (And particularly helpful if you're worm-averse.) Students will compare reactor design, moisture content and nutrient ratios of mixtures to be composted.