The Way We Live

Helping Iowans protect the environment and live well

The Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) and Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) offer interdisciplinary, PreK-12 lesson plans, resources and workshops to help Iowans protect the environment and live well.  Our focus is on the products Americans use daily—“the stuff of life.” These products have a life cycle: They are extracted, transported, produced, used and disposed of around the globe. Students study how this “stuff” is a primary source of environmental problems, how this relates to life satisfaction, and then they DO something about it. View details about our workshops here.

Ideas for Earth Month planning—All found in the Educators Resources database!

To motivate students to “live what they love,” check out the 2-minute Public Broadcasting Service Happiness Store video (all ages) and have them take the Pick 5 survey (grades 9-adults; adaptable to other grade levels).

Read and discuss David Gould’s The Economics of Happiness opinion piece (grades 9-adults).

To help students learn that all products are made from natural resources, use the book, Agatha’s Feather Bed, by Carmen Agra Deedy. An associated lesson plan and fun skit are found here.  Another teacher favorite is Everything Comes from Something.

To engage critical thinking skills, introduce the life cycles of products: Tools to help include eco-innovators’ Life Pscycle-ology video (5:30 min) and UNI’s Life of a Hamburger lesson plan (grades 3-adults). Other cool resources for grades 6 through adults:  This is Your Life Cycle (4:18 min.) and Secret Life of Paper (5 min.).  A PBS video, Electronic Gadgets, is great for grades K-8.

The book, Stuff: The Secret Life of Everyday Things, by Alan Thein Durning and John C. Ryan, has a wealth of background information for teachers of all ages, and can be used in grades 6 through adults.

From here, move them to action with these simple community engagement/service-learning ideas, and with the inspiring clip, Keep Swimming, from the movie, Finding NemoLiving Gently is another great resource to help adults commit and make a plan for action.

More than 200 resources, targeted for specific grade levels, are found in the Educators Resources database. All of these resources can be used with adult audiences!

Check them out! 


As a result of their teacher attending the Helping Students Protect the Environment and Live Well professional development workshop, Denver (IA) High School students organized a community service project to Stuff the Bus (a school bus) with the unused and unneeded things from their own homes and other homes in the community. Click to watch these students take action!

What teachers say…

“I think this should be a community outreach program. If everyone got to see one portion of what we talked about some eyes would be opened.”

“…It is rare to enjoy a class as much as I did this one. Thanks for a high quality experience that was an instrument of positive change for me…”
“I asked the kids to rank order the following terms as to their importance for the earth: Incineration, landfilling, recycle, reduction, [and] reuse.
The vast majority ranked recycling as most important. But they changed their minds [to reduction] by the last day.” 

“In the past few months, my family has dropped garbage consumption by half…!”
Read how one Iowa teacher applied The Way We Live to her classroom: Elementary students uncover a story about milk waste in one Anamosa school


Partners and Supporters: The CEEE appreciates the support received for this project from foundations, non-profit and for-profit organizations, landfills, solid waste agencies, governmental agencies and corporations.

Portions of The Way We Live website were prepared with the support of ...

Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP CEP) : Invest in Iowa, our outdoors, our heritage, our people. REAP is supported by the state of Iowa, providing funding to public and private partners for natural and cultural resource projects, including water quality, wildlife habitat, soil conservation, parks, trails, historic preservation and more.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Solid Waste Alternatives Program Agreement Numbers 08-G550-18, 10-G550-26, and 12-G550-25FL. However, any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDNR. 

Iowa National Science Foundation EPSCoR project under Cooperative Agreement 1101284.