Teacher's Activity Guide: Kids'Environmental Report Card
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
Do your students have strong opinions about our planet, but feel like no one is listening? Scholastic's Kids' Environmental Report Card gives them a platform to make their voices heard! Each week, there's a new poll on issues ranging from global warming to endangered species. Students can place their own votes and find out how other kids around the country feel. Scholastic will collect students' votes throughout the year and reveal the results to the world on Earth Day, 2008.
This project is about more than placing a vote — it's about forming and supporting an opinion on important issues. Students will discover the power of accurate information, experts in the field, the exchange of ideas, and taking action.
For each topic, students will access:
- important background information in rich, age-appropriate resources
- answers to student-submitted questions from scientists at the American Museum of Natural History
- a moderated message board where students can share ideas and defend their choices
- articles that consider the poll results and the larger issue in context
- a step-by-step letter-writing activity where every student can make his or her individual voice heard
1. Use Web technology to access information about important current environmental issues; develop deeper understanding of these issues.
2. Use this information and class discussions to form their own opinions on these issues.
3. Use interactive technology to vote in nationwide polls.
4. Analyze poll results to gauge the opinions of students around the country.
5. Participate in a step-by-step letter-writing activity to communicate their opinions and hopes for the future to elected officials.
6. Prepare thoughtful questions about environmental topics for real scientists and read responses from these experts in the field.
7. Communicate and exchange ideas with other students on a moderated message board.
HOW TO VOTE SMART
We hope your students are eager to place their votes. But remind them that their votes will be read and shared with the world — and they should place their votes carefully. Just as they wouldn't want adults voting for the president without learning more about the candidates, you wouldn't want them to place their vote before exploring the issue. In short, you want them to be smart voters. One way to encourage a thoughtful voting process is to follow these steps:
1. Learn About the Issue
Here you'll find exciting, age-appropriate resources to help students learn more about each issue before making up their minds. As they explore these articles and activities, encourage students to look for information to support their opinions, but to also be open to information that may change their minds.
2. Discuss and Journal
After students have done their research, hold a class discussion to help them form and support their opinions. Some students may have their minds made up, while others may still be trying to figure out their viewpoints. Encourage students to be respectful and open-minded to others' opinions. Also, talk about the power an informed opinion. For example, if you support your opinion with clear facts and examples, your opinion will carry more weight — and you'll be more likely to change someone else's mind.
To direct the class discussion, write these sentence starters on the board:
- "Right now, I think I would vote for... I'm voting this way because..."
Have students discuss their answers in small groups, or write their thoughts in their journals.
You could also spark discussion or journal writing with questions such as:
- How does this issue affect your life? (Does it affect your life directly or indirectly? How?)
- What will happen in the future if nothing is done about this issue?
If students get stuck on a certain question they can't answer with basic research, encourage them to post the question to "Ask a Scientist." However, be sure students don't ask scientists to share their opinions. Remind them the point of the activity is to help students form their own opinions.
Once students have carefully considered the issue, it's time to post their votes online. To do this, simply go to the main page of the Kids' Environmental Report Card, click the circle next to the student's choice, and click Vote! Keep in mind that each entry counts as one vote, so votes must be entered separately for every student. Students could take turns entering their votes, or you could take a class vote, tally the answers, and have the teacher or a student enter the votes one by one.
If time permits, ask students to share how it felt to vote in a nationwide poll.
4. Check Out the Results
Each time a vote is entered, students will see the current results of the report card, which includes votes from kids across the country. You may want to have students predict the results before viewing them together. What do they think will be the "top three" answers? Why? Once you've reviewed the results as a class, have students respond. Were they surprised to see how other kids voted?
Encourage students to check back periodically to see how the poll results have changed. Just click "See Results" from the main project page. (Please do not vote again just to see the results.)
DIVE DEEPER INTO THE ISSUE
Write a Letter
Students can make their opinions count even more by writing a letter to their local and national representatives. Explain that one letter can have a big impact. When politicians receive a letter, they assume at least 100 people feel the same way as the writer.
Click "Learn More" to begin. The activity will walk students through the letter-writing process, step-by-step. They will:
- Choose a pattern for their stationary.
- Research their topic, with links to reliable sources and information.
- Identify their audience, with links to elected officials.
- Enter information for themselves and the letter's recipient. (This information is used only for the letter; it is not collected or retained by Scholastic.)
- Write a greeting and an opening.
- Provide reasons to support their opinion.
- Write a conclusion.
The student's text will automatically be formatted into a letter, which the student can then review and edit. All that's left to do is print and mail the letter!
Ask a Scientist
In this project, students will be exploring some complex environmental issues, and they're bound to have questions they can't find with their own research. If students are stumped by a specific question, they can post it to a scientist at the American Museum of Natural History. Throughout the year, scientists at the museum will be selecting and answering the most thoughtful, relevant questions. Encourage students to check back often to read new postings. Even if their own questions aren't answered, they'll find fascinating, first-hand information from experts who deal with environmental issues every day.
Rather than have each student post his or her own question, choose a few of the best questions from the class. Collect questions that students could not find with basic research, then encourage students to choose those that are most interesting and relevant to the poll. The best questions are ones they think other kids would like answered, too.
- Click "Send a Question."
- Type in the question. (Please be clear, but brief.)
- Type in your first name and last initial. (Remind students not to send last names.)
- Select your grade.
- Click "Submit."
- Check back each week to read the latest answer.
Join the Message Boards
This is the place for students to exchange ideas and opinions, explain their votes, and hear why other students voted the way they did. It's also the place to post questions for other kids and teachers. A moderator will be reviewing the message boards for appropriate postings and language.
- Click "Join Now" to access the message boards for this activity.
- If a student is new to Scholastic's message boards, have them click "Sign In" under the top blue bar and enter a screen name. (No full names, please.) If students have been here before, remind them to use the same screen name as the last time.
- Before students post, encourage them to see if others have already started a discussion about the same topic. To do this, they can use the "Search" function or scroll down the page and read the "Thread" topics.
- If students want to start a new thread have them click "New Message." To post a message to a current thread, they should read through the other postings, then click "Reply."
- To compose their own message, students should change or leave the Message Subject, type their message in the box, and click "Submit Post." (They can also cancel, preview, and even spell check their message before posting it to the boards.)
- Check back often to read replies from other students and check out any new discussions happening on the message boards.
Examine the Results
How do other voters feel about these issues? What did the voting trends reveal and what new questions emerge from the results? This is where you'll find articles framing the results for each of our polls. Tap into a new perspective with links to supporting sources and quotes from kids who weighed in on the message boards.
EXTEND THE LEARNING
Ideas for Using this Activity
You can use this activity as an inspiration and starting point for many cross-curricular projects. Here are just a few:
- As a class, brainstorm simple actions or steps they could take in their everyday lives to affect this issue. Make a class "pledge" to do at least one thing over the next week.
- Encourage students to write letters to local politicians and organizations at the forefront of the issue. The "Write a Letter" activity will help students craft their letters, and provides links to contact information for U.S. representatives.
- Motivate students to keep exploring the issues that interest them most. Ask them to investigate the science behind the issue, and learn about local efforts and problems. Collect these "issue reports" in a class newspaper to share with other classes.
- Collect current news articles about the topic from newspapers, magazines, and reputable online news sites. Have students summarize the articles for the class, share surprising facts, and discuss opposing viewpoints.
- Have students write their own news articles for the school newspaper. Encourage them to interview experts and local officials for their articles. They should include quotes from the interview, relevant facts from their own research, and charts or graphs to show supporting data or poll results.
- Use the poll to inspire action in your own school. Take a school-wide survey and use the results to determine what environmental campaigns to take on this year. For example, students might start a campaign to: clean a nearby stream; turn off classroom lights when not in use; encourage recycling in the lunchroom; or replace used light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.
- Use what they've learned to encourage other classes to join a letter-writing campaign or a school fund-raiser. Have students create posters about the issue they choose to pursue, including surprising facts, engaging images, and poll results.
- Use the message boards to find out how other classes are taking action.
- The results provide exciting, real-life data for a variety of math activities. Students will find results in a bar graph, along with the percent and number of students voting for each answer. Ask students to express the results in ratios and fractions. Or challenge them to show the results in a different way, such as a pie chart or a table.
- Before students post their votes online, have them collect and graph the results of a class poll. Then compare the class and nationwide results.
A Year of Issues
Students will find a new poll every Monday, with 30 issues to vote on throughout the year. If you miss a week, just scroll down the list of "All Issues" and click into the one you missed. Students can research and vote on past issues anytime during the year.