The Way We Live

...and how our choices impact our environment

Educator Resources 

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Find educational resources easily. The full list of resources is available in alphabetical order by title. You may also search by grade levels, subjects and topics. To search for multiple grades, subjects or topics, press and hold the CTRL key (Windows) or Command key (Mac) on your keyboard then click to select the materials you need. Many of the educational resources can be downloaded from the website.

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Educator Resources Materials Available Grade Level Content Areas Topic
Iowa Department of Natural Resources Safe, Smart Solutions

Visit the DNR Iowa Website for information on Household Hazardous Materials

This website addresses household hazardous wastes, and includes educational materials, definitions of hazardous waste, and a variety of other hazardous waste information.

Other 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Science Recycle/Reuse/Compost, Waste/Pollution
Is Recycling Enough?

See Is Recycling Enough? Lesson Plan Here (PDF)

Students review definitions of recycling and reuse, then learn about waste reduction. They then collect data and create graphs to visually see the changes in waste generation and recovery rates from 1960 to 2000.

Another activity to help show students the importance of the production cycle is the Life of a Hamburger Activity.  

Activity 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Math, Science Reduction/Consumption, Recycle/Reuse/Compost
Island Survival

See Island Survival Activity Instructions Here (PDF)

This activity works well as an introduction to waste reduction. Through participation in the simulation, students make lifestyle choices while considering the effects of these choices on the amount of waste generated.

Island Survival Story for Students - Gives students the situation and purpose of the activity.

Island Survival Graphic Organizer For Students - Documents initial student brainstorming and planning.

Assessment Worksheet 

Activity 3-5, 6-8 Math, Science Living Well, Population, Waste/Pollution, Other
It's the Little Things

See The Secret Life of Things Video Here

Through this fun, animated video, check out the lives of common products such as flat-screen TVs and cell phones. They tell their stories of mistreatment and neglect, because they were discarded while young and they believe they still have much life left! This 5-minute video calls for smarter designs that reduce waste and save energy.

Produced by Eco-Innovators.

Videos 3-5, 6-8 Arts, Science, Social Studies, 21st Century Reduction/Consumption, Recycle/Reuse/Compost
John McCutcheon Songs - Music & Lyrics

See Lyrics to John McCutcheon Songs Here

John McCutcheon is a master in the folk music world. Here are lyrics to several of his songs about community building and the idea that "what one can't do, we'll try two" or more people working together for change.

Other 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Arts, Language Arts, Social Studies, 21st Century Citizenship/Service, Living Well
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (by Taback, Simms )

Check your library or store for this resource.

Joseph had an overcoat, it gets old and shabby, but he keeps re-making some-thing of it until he has nothing. Then he even makes something out of that.

   1999: Viking, NY , NY 0-670-87855-3 (Illustrated picture book )

Book/Reading PreK-2 Arts, Language Arts, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption
Just a Dream (by Van Allsburg, Chris )

Check your library or store for this resource.

Walter doesn't care much about the environment, but one night when he falls asleep, his dreams help him understand what the future will be like, depending upon the choices made in the present.

   1990: Houghton Mifflin Co.: Boston 0-395-53308-2 (Illustrated picture book )  

Book/Reading 3-5 Science Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Just Look at Our Shoes

Just Look at Our Shoes Lesson Plan (PDF)    Just Look at Our Shoes Lesson Plan (DOC)

In this interdisciplinary lesson, students learn about the life cycle of shoes and calculate the quantity of shoes discarded. They learn that the earth is a closed system and that there is no “away.” Math exercises can be designed for almost any grade level, such as Math Exercises for Grades 1-6.  

What teachers say…

The shoes activity was a huge hit with my class, a cross curricular winner. In math we charted, averaged, multiplied decimals…to figure the [shoes]…thrown in the trash. In writer's workshop they wrote an explanatory and persuasive piece both explaining what the problem is and…researched possible solutions... In computer we searched web sites...and hunted for ways to deal with "shoes." In social studies we discussed third world countries, labor issues...
Activity 3-5, 6-8 Math, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Keep Swimming video (from Finding Nemo)

See Keep Swimming video here.

This 3-minute video depicts the power of working together to make things happen.

Videos PreK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Arts, 21st Century Citizenship/Service
Know Your Resources

See Know Your Resources Lesson Plan Here (PDF)

Students learn about the limited supply of natural resources in the world and, by role-playing, begin to understand some of the equity issues related to the use of those resources.

The objectives of this lesson are:

  • Students will learn about the world's supply of resources
  • Students will compare lifestyles and consumption habits of rich, middle and poor people throughout the globe


Activity 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies Global Studies, Population
Landfill Tour or Guest Speaker from Landfill

Don’t forget to draw on local experts. Many areas of the state have solid waste educators who can give you a tour of a nearby landfill or come to your class and give a presentation. If you can’t find a listing for your local contact, call your county’s courthouse (start with the Auditor’s office) and ask.



Activity, Other PreK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Language Arts, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Recycle/Reuse/Compost
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (by Louv, Richard)

Check your library or store for this resource.

Louv says today's kids are increasingly disconnected from the natural world, even though research shows that exposure of youngsters to nature can be an effective therapy for attention-deficit disorder and other problems.  This 336-page book is highly rated by environmental educators.

   2005: Algonquin Books 1-56512-391-3 (336 pgs. Nonfiction)

Book/Reading Post-secondary Science, Social Studies Citizenship/Service, Living Well
Leyla Acaroglu: Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore

See Leyla Acaroglu's Ted Talk video here:  Paper Beats Plastic?  How to Rethink Environmental Folklore.

Most of us want to do the right thing when it comes to the environment. But things aren’t as simple as opting for the paper bag, says sustainability strategist Leyla Acaroglu. A bold call for us to let go of tightly-held green myths and think bigger in order to create systems and products that ease strain on the planet. (Video description thanks to TED Talks.)

Videos 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Science Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Life Cycle of Everyday Stuff (by Reeske, Mike and Shirley Watt Ireton)

Check your library or store for this resource.

This 95-page curriculum offers ways to explore the science of consumer products. Life cycles, design, manufacturing and redesign are several of the seven units included in this guide.

   2001: National Science Teachers Association, Arlington, VA 0-87355-187-7 (95 pgs., Nonfiction Curriculum Guide)

Book/Reading 6-8, 9-12 Science Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Life of a Hamburger

See Life of a Hamburger Lesson Plan Here (PDF)

This lesson helps students understand the complex and invisible chain of production that occurs to get a common, everyday product to us. Its kinesthetic component is great for most learners, but especially for movement-oriented students.

Lesson objectives:

  • Students will demonstrate awareness of the chain of environmental impacts caused by the creation of a product
  • Students will be able to explain what portion of a product's life cycle is household wasted
  • Students will be able to name a minimum of two stages of a product's life

You'll need to download and print the following sets of cards for the activity:  

Activity 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Live Well

See Live Well - A Cross-Cultural Middle School Unit video here (1 minute)

Janesville Middle School teachers Liz Foelske and Emily Stenslund attended the professional development workshop titled "Helping Students Protect the Environment and Living Well." As part of the workshop they developed and taught a mini-unit to middle school students in Janesville, IA. Watch how their students leaped into the book Material World, directed a 48-Hours of Trash event at the school, and took their own community service action on the school grounds.

Videos 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Language Arts, Science, Social Studies Citizenship/Service, Reduction/Consumption, Living Well, Global Studies
Living Gently / Plan of Action

Access Live Gently here (pdf-color)

Get started now making choices that are kinder on the environment. This set of actions is tailored to adults, but we'd love to have teachers challenge their students to create age-appropriate handouts similar to this that we can share here for use by other students! When you open this Live Gently Plan, save it to your computer, then fill it out and follow the instructions for helping contribute to a healthier planet and a healthier you! 

Ways to Encourage Students to Take Action!  Just knowing more about “stuff,” doesn't mean any of us do something as a result of this knowledge!  These well-established strategies will help teachers help students take actions and change their behaviors.

Activity, Other Post-secondary 21st Century Citizenship/Service, Reduction/Consumption, Living Well
Lorax (by Seuss, Dr.)

Check your library or store for this resource.

The Lorax shares a powerful message about the environment in this classic. Brilliant and whimsical rhymes and delightful creatures tell the story that "UNLESS someone like you...cares a whole awful lot...nothing is going to get better...It's not."

  1971: Random House Books for Young Readers 0-39482-337-0 ( 72 pgs. Illustrated picture book)

Book/Reading PreK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Arts, Language Arts, Science, Social Studies Citizenship/Service, Natural Resources/Life Cycles

See PBS Magazines Video Here. (You must create an account or log in to view the video, but it's well worth it!)

This 2:30 second video is a great tool for inspiring students to research and create second lives for products that would otherwise be thrown away. Created by Public Broadcasting Service.


Videos PreK-2, 3-5, 6-8 Arts, Social Studies, 21st Century Citizenship/Service, Living Well, Recycle/Reuse/Compost
Marshmallow Challenge

See Marshmallow Challenge Activity Here (note:  you must create a free account first).

After creating a login/logging in, access Educators Only Section at bottom of screen.  Choose the Marshmallow Challenge under Games & Activities.  

The Marshmallow Game challenges students to design a marshmallow "tower" using the least amount of materials. Great team-builder. The activity comes from Australian-based Eco Innovators.

There are many additional fact sheets and other resources available on this excellent website.

Activity 3-5, 6-8 Science, 21st Century Reduction/Consumption