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Teaching Environmental Activism Using PBS LearningMedia’s Celebrate Earth Day Resources

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Earth Day is a worldwide event celebrated annually on April 22 and established nearly fifty years ago in response to a series of environmental disasters.

An estimated 20 million Americans participated in that first ever Earth Day back in 1970. PBS LearningMedia (California) has created a Celebrate Earth Day website to provide teachers and students with a forum to learn more about the history of Earth Day, the history of the environmental justice movement since then, the racial implications of pollution and waste disposal, and the role of new technologies in conservation efforts.

The PBS Learning Media Celebrate Earth Day Website

The website consists of many great resources - videos, articles and lesson plans - all of which I recently presented to my US History students. 

After spending a full period exploring the website, I am certain that students everywhere will find the below resources interesting and informative. Mine certainly did. 

  • An article and related lesson plan entitled A Brief History of the First Earth Day and What We Can Learn From Its Success. Click here for the lesson plan produced by KQED’s Rachel Roberson. It’s very good!
  • A video entitled The Environmental Movement and the First Earth Day.
  • A video and related lesson plan entitled Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the story of why biologist Rachel Carson was driven to write Silent Spring. Her book questioned the safety of pesticide use in the United States, with the most famous pesticide at the time, DDT, a chemical that had saved millions of lives in World War II from insect-borne disease and was thought to be safe.
  • A video and related lesson plan entitled Opposing Industrial Hog Farming, which takes a close look at how pollution from an industrial hog farm impacts people who live near the farm.
  • A video and related lesson plan entitled Redwoods and Climate Change, which follows a group of UC Berkeley scientists to the top to a 320-foot redwood in Mendocino County. The video also provides students with an opportunity to see how scientist are trying to predict how the remaining redwoods and their descendants might fare in the face of climate change in the decades to come.
  • A video entitled Let Them Eat Flies, which goes behind-the-scenes at an innovative “bug farm” in Ohio, where engineer and entrepreneur Glen Courtright, harnesses the power of flies to turn food waste into sustainable fish food. 

Suggested grade levels: Each of these resources is ideal for grades 6-12. They helped me set the stage for the writing project that I assigned to my 11th graders the day after they had spent an entire period exploring the website. 

The Writing Assignment This writing assignment first required my students to take into account the following: 

  • Section 4 of Chapter 24 of the students’ Honors US History textbook is entitled Environmental Activism, which describes the roots of environmentalism, environmental concerns in the 1970s and ways the environmental movement has continued.
  • While there are many different definitions for the term environmental activism, for the sake of this assignment, the term would be defined as (1) any action that seeks to protect, conserve, or preserve the environment; or (2) any action that seeks to educate the public about the need to protect, conserve, or preserve the environment. 

The writing assignment then called upon my students to write a 750-1000-word article describing either (1) an act that sought to protect, conserve, or preserve the environment; or (2) an act that sought to educate the public about some aspect of the environment. 

For additional writing assignment requirements, including a list of possible titles, a scoring rubric, and some words encouraging students to include in their article links to relevant video clips and/or images found online, click here.

Here are some direct links to articles my students have produced:

From each of these articles, I learned a great deal. After you have read one or more, I suspect you too will have learned much. 

Four Important Reasons Why I Teach About Earth Day

There are many reasons why I teach about Earth Day and the actions that various Americans have been taking to protect the environment – and why it’s so important to continue the environmental education. 

  1. I wish to respond to the growing nationwide support for fostering students’ environmental literacy.
  2. As a CA social studies teacher, I wish to respond to the 2016 State Board of Education approved History–Social Science Framework, with this Framework recommending the integration of the Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&C’s) into all of the K-12 history, geography, economics, and government classroom lessons.
  3. I believe that it’s time for all K-12 educators, and especially high school US History teachers, to teach about how others have sought to protect, conserve, and preserve the environment.
  4. I support the call of the Common Core English Language Arts Writing Standards (for grades 11-12) - to provide students with ample opportunity to “write routinely . . . for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.”

I’m thankful to PBS for providing me with the resources needed to better educate my students about Earth Day and the related environmental movement.

Peter Paccone is a San Marino High School social studies teacher and the KQED In the Classroom coordinating editor. He is also a Flipped Learning, iCivics, Flipgrid, Poll Everywhere, and KQED Ambassador and a PBS Digital Innovator. He writes frequently for several education-related online publications and he speaks often at various teacher conferences. His goal for the 2018-2019 is to give a keynote.

Peter Paccone

Peter Paccone High School Social Studies Teacher

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