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Lesson Plans

Student Reporting Labs STEM Lesson Plan: Protecting green space through hands-on learning

September 16, 2017

Full Lesson


Students in Dalton, Georgia are determined to protect their green space. In this PBS student-produced video, Dalton students visit their local green space, a city park, which serves as an outdoor classroom. In this PBS NewsHour lesson, students take a hands-on approach to nature by exploring green spaces in their community.




Science, social studies, technology, economics

Essential question

Why should community members protect their local green spaces?


  • Students will be able to explain the environmental and economic impacts of preserving local green spaces.
  • Students will collect evidence to prepare to debate the advantages and disadvantages of local green spaces.



Warm up activity:
  1. Quick brainstorm
    • Let your class know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), defines open space as “any open piece of land that is undeveloped (has no buildings or other built structures) and is accessible to the public.” Ask your students if they can name any of the open spaces below and record on the whiteboard:
      • Green space (land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs or other vegetation). Green space includes parks, community gardens and cemeteries.
      • Schoolyards
      • Playgrounds
      • Public seating areas
      • Public plazas
      • Vacant lots
    • Were you a little surprised to read that playgrounds and schoolyards are included in the EPA’s definition of open space? While great for recreation and enhancing the quality of the environment, open spaces also come with environmental challenges. Ask your students if they can come up with some environmental issues that may occur as a result of open spaces; record on the whiteboard. Here are a few examples:
      • pesticide runoff
      • siltation from overused hiking and logging trails
      • destruction of habitat
  2. Watch the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video, “Protecting green space through hands-on learning,” produced by Dalton Middle School students in Dalton, Georgia.
    • Have students engage in a Think-Pair-Share to discuss the following questions.
      • What are the characteristics of green space in this video?
      • What are the benefits of having an outdoor classroom?
      • What green spaces are in your town or city?

Main activity: Green space debate

Students will engage in a debate over the question: Should we protect our local green spaces? Students should collect information about the advantages of green spaces, how and why they are threatened and details about local green spaces to be prepared to argue for both sides.

Part 1: About green spaces
  1. Research the following: Have students collect information about green/open spaces. They may work independently or with a partner. Students may collect information in a Word document, Google doc or on paper. Research should aim to answer the following questions:
    • What is a green space? (You may want to search for green space, open space, or urban open space.)
    • What are the advantages of green spaces? Include information about recreational, ecological, economic, and aesthetic advantages.
    • Extension question: Are there any different definitions of green space? Who might use a different definition? Why? (For example, a developer may not consider an abandoned lot to be a green space, while an environmentalist may say it is.)
  2. The following sites offer a good starting off point:
Part 2: Threats to Green Spaces

In the next section, students should collect information on current threats to green spaces. They should include information about:

  • Political threats (policy changes that may affect green spaces)
  • Short-term environmental threats (pollution, human use)
  • Long-term environmental threats (climate change, species extinctions)
Part 3: Local Green Spaces
  1. Students should search local town, city and state websites to learn about local green spaces. Encourage your students to email or phone their local and state leaders. They are there to serve the public; that goes for students, too.
  2. Have students take notes on what they find. Students should be able to answer the following questions:
    • Where are green spaces located in your town, city, or state?
    • What are these green spaces used for?
    • Are there any local incentives (such as tax abatements) for maintaining these green spaces?
    • What are the threats that are specific to these green spaces?
    • Are there any ongoing debates about how these spaces should be used? (This question would be especially interesting if there are any upcoming local elections in which front-runners are including this issue in their platform.)
Part 4: The Debate
  1. Let students know the resolution as they prepare for debate day. Students should bring notes to the debate which they may use throughout. Collect notes once the debate finishes. Remind your students of the EPA’s definitions of open and green spaces (see above).
    • Write the resolution on the board at the start of class on debate day. 
    • Students must affirm (affirmative side) or negate (negative side) the resolution with supporting arguments and evidence. Students should arrive to class prepared to debate on behalf of either side.
  3. On the day of the debate, students should be assigned to teams (either randomly or strategically). Each team should argue on behalf of one side throughout the entire debate.
    • Give students a few minutes to organize evidence to support their argument. Depending on the size of teams, students may be given time to craft an argument together as a team or argue independently.
  4. Begin the debate. Consider setting a time limit for each question to ensure that all key points are addressed.
    • The moderator who is also the timekeeper will introduce him/herself and announce the rules of the debate, including the following:
      • 2 minutes for opening statements; the “Affirmative” side will go first.
      • 2 minutes for each of the 3 to 5 supporting arguments that each team will have prepared during the lead up to the debate.
      • 1 minute of counterargument from the opposing side in response to each argument. The side who made the original argument may then be given 30 seconds of rebuttal time, if they choose to use it.
      • 2 minutes for closing statements; the “Negative” side will go first.
      • Both teams will alternate turns to introduce their arguments until time runs out.
    • At the end of the debate, the teacher and the moderator should speak privately citing strengths and weaknesses on both sides and agree on the winner. Announce which team won and what specific arguments were strongest.
Part 5: Reflection

Students should be given an opportunity to reflect on their debate experience, including how they contributed and what they would improve next time. Allow students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the objective by describing what they have learned about green spaces, including what a green space is, the advantages of green spaces, how/why green spaces are currently threatened and what can be done about it.

Extension Activity

  • Create an Infographic! Students should use the knowledge they have learned to create an infographic using or
    • The infographic should present the information in a clear and logical way. Students should have an opportunity to provide feedback to each other about which infographics present the information most clearly, and what makes them effective.
    • Tweet or Instagram @NewsHourExtra using #PBSGreenSpace and we will send you a NewsHour stress ball of planet Earth. Email, if you have any questions.

Robin Satty is a chemistry teacher at Holy Family Academy in Pittsburgh, Penn. Before teaching high school, Satty taught general science at the middle school level and is certified to teach biology, chemistry and general science. Her background is in biology where she holds a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s in ecology and evolutionary biology from Brown University.


HS-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

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