Our Planet, Our Responsibility

Use this lesson to discuss current issues facing the planet and introduce the concept of environmental stewardship.

Objective: Students will explore an environmental problem impacting their community and examine ways people are working to solve the issue.

Time Required: 40 minutes, plus research and presentation time

Materials: Identify the Problem Student Worksheet, pen or pencil, access to Internet

Warm-up Discussion: The Big Issues
1. Discuss the bulleted items with your class. Ask students if these things have anything in common. Point out that the list summarizes some major environmental issues affecting our planet.
  • Harm to organisms or the decrease in their numbers
  • Destroying or changing the habitats, or natural homes, of organisms
  • Changing the way Earth’s systems, such as the atmosphere, function
  • Using up Earth’s resources
  • Pollution
2. Choose one item from the list above—for example, pollution—and write it on your whiteboard or chalkboard. Have students use their prior knowledge to describe some specific environmental problems that fall into this category.

3. Pass out copies of the Identify the Problem Student Worksheet to students. Read the introduction as a class. Explain that students will use the Internet to research one of the environmental problems they listed on the board. Then they’ll use the graphic organizer to explore the problem, its causes and effects, and solutions.

4. As students work, have them consider the following:
  • Are people responsible for or contributing to this problem? How?
  • Who or what does this environmental problem impact? How does this happen?
  • What don’t we know about this problem?
  • Are you personally curious about anything related to this issue?
Main Lesson: Environmental Stewardship
1. Explain that people’s actions affect the environment. People can have a negative influence—or a positive one—on the world around them. One way to help solve issues facing the planet is by practicing environmental stewardship. Ask:
  • What do you think environmental stewardship is? (The responsible use and protection of the natural world.)
  • What are some ways people could put environmental stewardship into action in their homes? Schools? Community?
2. Caring for the entire planet might seem like too big of a task. But if many people make small changes in their own lives to help the environment together, they can make a big impact. Share the following examples with your class. Then show how environmental stewardship can work on a large scale.
  • Of the 254 million tons of trash Americans create each year, it’s estimated that 75 percent could be recycled. But we currently recycle just 34 percent of that amount.
  • Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons each year to circle Earth 300 times! If people were to stop using these disposable items, it would reduce a huge amount that would end up in landfills.
3. Introduce students to a scientist who has made environmental stewardship her life’s mission. Read the following passage out loud. If students are interested in finding out more, you can recommend they read the book Jane Goodall by Jodie Shepherd, C. Press/F. Watts Trade (2015).

As a young girl, Jane Goodall dreamed of working with wild animals. When she was 26, Goodall was offered the chance to study chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa. She spent the next 25 years researching the apes in their natural habitat. She made important discoveries about the animals’ lives, such as how they raise their young and use tools. Goodall saw that chimpanzees and their homes were under threat. The same thing was happening to other animals all over the world. So Goodall created a program called Roots & Shoots. It encourages kids to create community projects to protect the planet.

4. After you are done reading, share this video with students. Jane Goodall offers advice for kids on environmental stewardship:youtube.com/watch?v=skAbsyRkCLg. After reading about Goodall and watching the video, ask students:
  • What environmental issue was Goodall concerned about?
  • How did she get others involved?
  • What advice did she give to kids?
Take It Further (optional): Students now know what it means to practice environmental stewardship. Help them put this knowledge to use by entering the Lexus Eco Challenge! In the Lexus Eco Challenge, student teams create and implement an Action Plan to solve an environmental challenge, with the chance to win up to $500,000 in scholarships and grants!

Here’s how it works:
1. Choose a Challenge: Student teams and their teacher advisor should go to lexus.scholastic.com 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 lexus.scholastic.com by having students submit a PowerPoint presentation or by using the online tool! Visit the site for complete entry details and official rules.

SOURCES
nationalgeographic.com/topics/category/environmental-issues
archive.epa.gov/stewardship/web/html/
epa.gov/smm/advancing-sustainable-materials-management-facts-and-figures
outsideonline.com/2030946/marine-biologist-sylvia-earle-profile
yesmagazine.org/issues/media-that-set-us-free/the-green-belt-movement-the-story-of-wangari-maathai
youtube.com/watch?v=skAbsyRkCLg
rootsandshoots.org/
livescience.com/50515-jane-goodall-chimpanzees-conservation-gmos.html

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