Innovations: Environmental Innovations

Use this lesson to introduce how innovations can help bring about environmental changes. 

Objective: Students will build on what they've learned about environmental innovations to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Time Required: 40 minutes, plus research and presentation time

Materials: Exploring STEM Careers student reproducible, pen or pencil, access to Internet

Warm-up Discussion: Tackling Environmental Issues
Ask: How do people go about finding solutions to environmental problems? Where do they begin?
2. Explain that there are three general ways to deal with environmental issues. Write these ideas on your whiteboard or chalkboard:

  • Help outlaw inflicting harm upon endangered species (i.e., contact local government officials, etc., with ideas/suggestions for legislation to protect endangered species).
  • Repair something that has been damaged (i.e., clean up trash on beaches).
  • Find a new and improved way to do something (i.e., drive an electric car versus a gas-fueled vehicle to reduce air pollution).
3. Many solutions to environmental problems involve a mix of these methods. Ask: How could all three solutions be used to deal with the problem of deforestation? (i.e., make it illegal to log trees to protect those that remain; plant new seedlings to regrow forests; find an alternative to wood as a building material, so there's less need to cut down trees in the future.)

Main Lesson: Environmental Innovations
Explain that many times fixing an environmental problem requires an innovation. Ask:

  • What do you think an innovation is? (A new and creative method, idea, or invention that fills a need or improves people's lives.)
  • What types of innovations make your life better?
2. Share the following examples of environmental innovations with your class. You can display the websites using a computer and projector or interactive whiteboard.
3. Engage students in a classroom discussion about the innovations by asking:
  • Would some of these innovations be harder to put into action than others? Why or why not?
  • Describe some of the inventors' thought processes. How did they come up with their ideas? What do you think is the key to creating a useful environmental innovation?

Wrap-up Activity: Using the Student Reproducible
Many environmental innovations rely on some sort of technology, even bike shares and urban farming. Technology is one of the basic building blocks of STEM. Ask: Has anyone heard of this term before? (Here's a hint: It's an acronym—a word formed from the initials of a phrase.) What does it stand for? (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.)
2. Explain that there are many types of careers in STEM fields. Ask: Can you name some careers that would fall into this category?
3. Hand out copies of the Exploring STEM Careers reproducible to each student. It asks them to investigate two STEM careers and compare how they are similar and different. After going over the instructions together as a class, provide students with the following resources to help them in their research. Then have them complete the reproducible on their own.

4. Students will create a presentation to share facts about their two chosen careers with the class. Encourage them to use different forms of media in their presentations, like videos, images, and sound. When presenters are done speaking, open up the floor for discussion. Remind students to offer feedback and questions that are thoughtful, helpful, and positive.

Take It Further (optional)
Encourage students to be innovative by entering the Lexus Eco Challenge! With your help, student teams create and implement an Action Plan to solve an environmental challenge. Their creativity could earn them a chance to win more than $500,000 in scholarships and grants!

Here's how it works:

  1. Choose a Challenge: Student teams and their teacher advisor should go to and choose a Challenge to enter: Land & Water, Air & Climate, or both! Then select one of the topics provided to address.
  2. Research Your Topic: Provide class time for each team to research its topic. 
  3. Develop an Action Plan: Instruct each team to create an original Action Plan describing how they can help solve their selected environmental issue. 
  4. Put Your Ideas Into Action: Teachers will guide teams to implement their Action Plans in their community. Remind students to keep track of the process, including successes and challenges.
  5. Submit Your Entry: Enter online at by having students submit a PowerPoint presentation or by using the online tool! Visit the site for complete entry details and official rules.

This lesson supports the following Common Core skills:

Speaking & Listening

  • Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners
  • Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation
  • Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify information

This lesson supports the following Next Generation Science Standards:
Earth and Human Activity
Engineering Design Crosscutting Concepts

  • All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short- and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment. 
  • The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. Thus technology use varies from region to region and over time.



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