Think Green: How to Help Your Students Put Earth First

April 09, 2019

Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D.

Ed.D. in Leadership

As we emerge from our winter hibernation, nature is starting to come alive. With spring arriving and Earth Day coming up April 22, it’s the perfect time to teach our students responsible ways to treat the environment.


You’ve probably got a blue bin tucked next to the trash can in your classroom, but you can recycle so much more than just paper. Cardboard, shopping bags, even the plastic packaging from your latest online order – it’s all recyclable as long as the materials are organized correctly into their different recycling groups. Instead of just teaching your students about this, why not make it into a recycling competition? Companies like Trex sponsor annual competitions for plastic recycling, where schools across the country compete to see who can recycle the largest amount of plastic by weight.

You can also work with other teachers and staff at your school to organize your own school-wide competition. Win or lose, it’s incredibly meaningful for students to see just how much we can recycle when we make an effort. My school has kept over 106 pounds of plastic bags out the landfill so far this year, and that number simply astounds my students.

To go a step further, even old markers and highlighters can be recycled. Crayola’s ColorCycle program allows schools to collect all those markers that have long since given up the good fight, and send them back to be repurposed. Crayola even has pre-made lessons aligned to Common Core Standards that relate marker recycling to topics like graphing, science and geography.

Get Growing

If you’re an educator with a green thumb, check out the resources available through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension System (CES). Through this system, hundreds of universities across the country offer various programs and courses to help educate the local community on agriculture, gardening and STEM projects.

Through my local Cooperative Extension, I took free coursework that certified me as a school grower. With this, I could grow lettuce on the playground that we then served in our school cafeteria. My students participated by picking the seeds, advertising their “home grown” items to the school, and coordinating with cafeteria staff for service on the lunch line.

Another fun garden activity is creating tool boxes for the school yard that contain gardening gloves, trowels, binoculars, magnifying glasses and bird guides. When students go out for free play, they can work in the flowerbeds, weed or explore nature in their own way.

Our schools have so much to offer our students when it comes to eco-minded practices. This month, let’s all try to think just a bit more green.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D.
Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D., Ed.D. in Leadership

Amy has a strong passion for educating all learners and has over 12 years of experience in special education. She works on her family's dairy farm and is currently a doctoral candidate.

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