Activity 10 (Elaborate): Doing Our Part
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In this action-oriented activity, students think about individual and group actions they can take to fight climate change. They also engage with stories that show the power that young people have to make a difference in the fight against climate change. Using this information, students create individual pledges and develop a group action project to address climate change in their community.
Timing and other thoughts on this activity: Climate change can be disheartening for students, especially if they have routinely been presented with “doom and gloom” scenarios about the future of the planet. Providing an opportunity for them to make small changes for themselves and their communities is an important way to build their sense of empowerment, and to learn to live the “think globally, act locally” philosophy. This activity presents a variety of options that take different amounts of time, resources, and effort to achieve. Choose those that fit within your constraints, and provide students with the opportunities to make a real difference. If the project goes on for multiple days, you may choose to give students the assessment (Activity 11) when students need a break from the project.
Activity Objectives & Materials
Approximate Time: 2 or more class periods (120+ minutes)
Students will use what they have learned in the module to create individual and group action plans to address climate change.
Students will advocate for climate change in their communities by completing a group action project.
Computer & projector
Speakers (for video)
Student computers (optional)
Make A Pledge!
My carbon footprint
What I Can Do, What We Can Do
DCI: ESS 3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems
DCI: ESS 3.D: Global Climate Change
CCC: Cause & Effect
Display the photo collage below, and ask students what all these things have in common.
Each of these pictures represents a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent climate change: bicycling (instead of taking a car), turning off the lights when not in use, using energy from solar panels instead of fossil fuels, and eating a plant-based diet.
1. Frame the Activity
Show students the greenhouse gas concentration graph from Activity 8 (below) and remind them that we as humans can do a lot to prevent climate change. If we change the cause of climate change, we can change the effects. Our goal is to get this greenhouse gas graph to stop going up and start going down. And we all have the power to do our part to make it happen. During the last activity, students brainstormed ways that they can help protect the Earth from climate change. Today they are going to develop ways to put those ideas into action.
2. Carbon Footprints (optional)
Pass out the “My Carbon Footprint” sheet to students. Tell them that a good way to figure out what they can do to prevent climate change is to calculate their carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases you put into the atmosphere through your actions (including how much electricity you use) during a whole year. Have students add this definition to their sheets. Share that your carbon footprint is based on where you live, how you get around, what you eat, and how you use electricity.
Teacher Tip: The “My Carbon Footprint” sheet is generic and can be used with any of the footprint calculators, although it is closely patterned after the first one on the list. For the others, you may need to help students decide on things they can do to help lower their carbon footprints.
If student computers are available, pass them out, and have students complete one of the carbon footprint calculators below. If not, you may choose to do one for the whole class together. There are many different carbon footprint calculators to choose from that take different amounts of time and require different amounts of knowledge. On the next page there are links to a few that are student-friendly:
Zero Footprint Youth Calculator: simpler, and includes details on how to decrease your footprint
Lehigh University Carbon Emissions Calculator: more detailed, but no suggestions for decreasing footprint
International Student Carbon Footprint Challenge: very detailed, but no suggestions for decreasing footprint
Climate Change and Equity: Many suggestions for how to lower your carbon footprint are closely related to standards of living and living conditions. For example, riding a bicycle to school may be safe in some neighborhoods but not others. Buying locally-sourced fruits and vegetables depends on having access to these resources. Be mindful of inequities that make some changes difficult for some students. Also consider how you can help students advocate for things like a school-based farmers market that can challenge these inequities.
3. What Can We Do?
Ask students if they feel like they have the power to fight climate change in their communities. Lead them in a short discussion about why they do or don’t feel like they have that power. Then share some stories of young people who are working to make a difference in their communities and for the world. Students may have heard of Greta Thunberg. This video about Greta is a great way to help students see the power that they can have:
Students should also have a chance to see other young people who look like them who are fighting for climate change. Consider having students read about one of these other young climate activists who come from a diverse variety of backgrounds.
You can also share this episode of the Flossy podcast, which is an award-winning climate change podcast developed by a group of Black high school students in Canarsie, NY.
Afterwards, revisit the conversation about whether they have the power to fight climate change in their communities, and see if their opinions have changed.
4. Make an Individual Plan
Hand out the “What I Can Do, What We Can Do” sheet, and read through the top part together. Then share the lists that students brainstormed in the last activity about what they can do to fight climate change, either by giving back their papers, or by sharing a summary of their ideas. There are some additional ideas on the back of their handouts. Have students make an individual commitment for what they want to do at the top of the page based on their lists.
Modification: There are many different ways to help students take action. Focus on what students want to do and use what they are passionate about to drive the decision-making. Also keep in mind the "Climate Change & Equity" note above.
5. Choose a Group Project
Have students think about what they can do as a class to help fight climate change. They may already have some ideas from thinking about their individual action. The back of their sheet has some additional ideas. Discuss with students what they would like to do. Be sure to guide the conversation to keep student ideas within budgetary and time constraints. It will only take a class period to make signs to put up around the school reminding people to turn off the lights, but it might take several days to plan a fundraiser, make a video, or plan a school rally. Help students select a plan that they can be successful with.
If some students want to do a larger project, consider starting an environmental club that can work on longer-term projects.
Additional Resources: Project Drawdown has numerous ideas for how to reduce your carbon footprint. Students and schools can also form teams and make pledges online. The Project Drawdown Ecochallenge is a good way to start. It takes some time to learn how to navigate the site, but the resources are well worthwhile. Check it out here.
Pledge Drive: A great way to involve the school community and teach students about advocacy is to hold a pledge drive. Have students take a copy of the Make A Pledge! sheet and go to their families, friends, teachers, and neighbors asking them to pledge to make a change. Students can record pledges on paper cutouts of Earth or other shapes. Make a classroom collage of all the shapes and total up the pledges to celebrate success.
6. Plan the Project
If students are interested in taking on a project that requires additional planning, have them divide the project up into smaller pieces that groups of students can work on. For a school rally, some students may make posters, while others write a letter for school staff, administration, or parents. You will likely need to do some planning outside of class, but try to include students in planning as much as possible. Once you have a plan developed, make sure to share that plan with students.
7. Implement the Plan
Follow your plan, and make adjustments along the way as necessary. Be sure to document your students’ work along the way with pictures, videos, etc.
8. Celebrate Success!
When the project is complete, take time to reflect on and celebrate what you and your students have accomplished. How much carbon dioxide will stay out of the air if people keep their pledges? Did you hold a rally or present at a school assembly? Write a story about it for the local newspaper or the school website. Share your success with others in the environmental conservation community.