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6 free resources to teach K-12 students about climate change

20 April 2021

Just as the Earth isn’t at the center of the Universe, neither are we humans the center of the Earth. Take your K-12 students on a worldwide learning journey and uncover ways to restore a balanced relationship with all of the life our planet sustains. We’ve listed 6 of the best free educational resources on how to keep our planet safe and clean!

Today’s climate changes and challenges pose a clear call to action. Now more than ever, schools need to boost student’s environmental and climate literacy. In this blog, we’ve listed 6 amazing free resources that help you teach your K-12 students about the environment, climate change and biodiversity. 

1. Mystery Science

Open-and-go lessons that pique elementary school student’s natural curiosity

Grade: K-2 to K-5

Mystery Science uses and deepens the curiosity kids have about the world around them and helps them think critically. The website features standards-aligned multimedia science units as well as additional 5- and 15-minute mini-lessons. 

Each lesson starts with a question commonly asked by kids like “How old is the Earth?” or “Why are so many toys made out of plastic?” A series of short videos and prompts then guides a class discussion, followed by an experiment that can be done as a class. Together, these facets of the program do a great job addressing young students’ questions and curiosity about the natural world.

Pros: 

  • The lessons make STEM accessible for young students through a wide range of topics such as light and sound, biodiversity, engineering and the water cycle.
  • Be prepared for your students to be amazed, grossed out, and fascinated as they watch remarkable video clips, including one where a mouse is eaten by a plant!
  • Students engage with science and technology in an authentic way, building on the ideas they develop in each unit.
  • Units include lab experiments, materials lists, downloadable worksheets and sources for alternative activities. Built-in questions provide immediate feedback via video and text.
  • Mystery Science helps teachers prep lessons in minutes instead of hours and encourages teacher collaboration across various social media platforms.
  • Remote learning: Easily share lessons that are perfect for home science learning!

Cons: 

  • Teachers may need to tweak the units to allow for more discussion and class participation. 

Note: Not all content is freely available. You can get started with Mystery Science’s free selection of units and mini-lessons right away or sign up for their trial to get access to 200+ lessons free of charge.

 

2. Climate Kids

Explore Big Questions around climate issues

Grade: K-3 to K-6

Climate Kids is a comprehensive website from NASA covering a variety of global climate change topics. This fun, fact-filled website invites students to explore and play while maintaining great depth of content. It provides many ways to participate in learning, including games, hands-on activities, facts, videos and career profiles.

The site is organized into 6 main categories: Big Questions, Weather & Climate, Atmosphere, Water, Energy and Plants & Animals. The Big Questions section introduces students to the basics by providing answers to questions like “What is Global Climate Change?” and “What is Happening to the Oceans?” 

A striking interactive feature is the Climate Change Time Machine, which fosters the scientific inquiry process. Students can go backward and forward through time to see visual evidence of how the Earth has changed over the years. The Time Machine includes maps of sea ice, sea level, carbon emissions and average global temperature.

Pros:

  • Climate Kids provides accurate scientific information and makes it accessible for diverse learners through various media. 
  • It quickly draws students into a safe and developmentally appropriate environment and offers easy ways to find games, videos, facts and offline activities.
  • Videos like “What is Happening to the Oceans” can spark whole-class discussions. 
  • Games can be flipped for playing at home, with follow-up discussions taking place at school. 
  • Teachers can use Climate Kids as a toolbox for learning about global climate change, while exploring the Big Questions section can help build essential background information.
  • The Activities page is full of resources and links that teachers may find useful for planning lessons.

Cons:

  • The information is often text-heavy and organized several layers deep. Finding specific answers to climate questions can be challenging! 
  • The large collection of games, activities, and videos can become overwhelming without teacher guidance. 
  • No audio support or other accessibility features are offered. 

 

3. WWF Together

Endearing, interactive lessons about endangered animals

Grade: K-3 and up

WWF Together is an interactive app that teaches K-12 students about endangered species. It offers in-depth, interactive stories of endangered animals, each with gorgeous photographs, HD videos, and interactive elements. In the app, students get to see enlarged photographs of animals and simply tap the one they want to learn about. 

There are similar features in each animal story, but the diversity of the animals and the variety of fun facts and interactions keep things interesting. Students can try out “tiger vision,” flap their wings like a migrating butterfly, and chop the panda’s bamboo!

They’ll find fun facts, conservation news, more photographs, videos and simple activities that allow for interaction with the animals. Students can also create a digital or paper origami of each animal, take a selfie with it, place it in a scene and share it with friends.

Pros

  • This free educational app does a fantastic job of using beautiful photographs and interactive elements to get kids interested in the important topic of conservation.
  • WWF Together is packed with up-to-date conservation and wildlife news.
  • Students get to discover cool and unusual animal facts. (Do you know what a panda and a stick of butter have in common?)
  • The app educates students about multiple ways to get involved and help protect endangered animals.

Cons:

  • Kids need to read some text as they explore and there’s no audio support.
  • The app is currently only available for iPhone and iPad through the Apple store. Get it here.

 

4. National Geographic Kids

One-stop shop for K-12 students interested in the cultural or natural world

Grade: up to K-8

National Geographic has a reputation for breathtaking photography and in-depth coverage of the world’s cultures and exotic wildlife. So it comes as no surprise that National Geographic Kids provides an overwhelming number of high-quality visual learning resources!

The website features a large collection of approachable multimedia resources about animals, habitats, countries, and cultures. It’s packed with fascinating instructional videos, photos, maps, hands-on experiments and facts that introduce students to the diversity of life on Earth.

Alongside the more traditional educational material, National Geographic Kids also offers fun short video series like Weird But True! and Try This! and a game section. Let students explore topics such as recycling and take quizzes to keep them engaged and direct their own learning.

Pros:

  • A terrific, ever-expanding array of learning resources from a trusted, expert brand.
  • Video clips, regular series, cartoons, games and hands-on (offline) activities are sure to captivate students as they explore animals and people around the world.
  • The Homework Help section can provide assistance with light research papers or projects. It teaches students how to be an expert fact-checker, write an animal report and more.
  • Teachers can search for resources that match topics they’re working on in the classroom, like crafts how-tos and plenty of science experiments.
  • Content is accessible to younger students and offers age-appropriate guidance. There are also closed captions on videos for accessibility purposes. 

Cons:

  • Some of the material isn’t logically organized and can be difficult to find. Keyword searches and teacher-provided links will come in handy here. 
  • Teaching resources are limited and the quality level of games varies.

 

5. NASA Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet

Earth’s changing climate explained by the world’s leading climate experts

Grade: K-6 to K-12

NASA Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet is a comprehensive collection of climate change information, including images, videos and short documentaries, infographics, engaging blog posts and FAQ sections to give kids options for how to engage with the content. 

The site features a wealth of interactive content that allows students to explore climate change over time, across the world’s geography or from multiple perspectives. Young learners can get the basic facts about climate change, while more advanced learners get to access original research and raw data files to explore information firsthand.

Teachers can use NASA Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet as a central part of their ecology and earth sciences curriculum. Use it as a starting point for research projects, assign sections of it for homework reading, or encourage students to use the interactive tools in class and in presentations.

Pros:

  • A one-stop shop for climate change information, from basic intro content to practical guides and raw data for middle schoolers and up.
  • High-quality content, beautiful and sobering imagery and actionable resources, all on an easy-to-navigate website.
  • Everything has been meticulously researched (with citations and links to original sources) by NASA experts and all is free to use, share, and remix.
  • Basic facts are broken down into evidence, causes, effects, and solutions, echoing the manner in which science research is typically conducted and reported.
  • The “For Educators” section has tons of great ready-to-use resources, including lesson plans, curriculum modules, professional development and online communities.
  • There are lots of links to external websites and further resources.

Cons

  • Overwhelming amounts of information aren’t always easily searchable by topic.

Note: From April 21 to 24, 2021, NASA organizes a free online Earth Day event. Online registration is free and open now!

 

6. Our Climate Our Future

Award-winning climate change video experience that empowers young people to take action

Grade: K-6 to K-12

Our Climate Our Future is a free, high-quality series of lessons on the effects of climate change, what causes it, and how to fight it going forward. Videos, animations, activities and other resources explain the reasons for climate change and the realities of its effects on our planet now and provide ideas for what students themselves can do to help. 

The focus is on a main 40-minute video, divided into 11 chapters, that takes climate change apart piece by piece, using comparisons that students will understand. Paired with the many lesson plans and other resources it offers a rich starting point for in-depth discussion, learning and taking action against climate change.

Younger students can focus on watching the video and discussing what it contains, while older students can dig deeper into the educational resources, bringing in heavier math and science topics. All students are encouraged to DOT (Do One Thing) to help combat climate change and imagine a future where we have switched over to using renewable resources.

Pros

  • Video materials are well-targeted to youth, and the site includes relevant lesson plans and educational resources, promoting empowerment and optimism in students.
  • Our Climate Our Future integrates science, math and world events, allowing students to dig deep into the causes, realities, and future of climate change issues.
  • The website is well-organized and offers different ways to approach the topic. 
  • Resources such as lesson plans, student worksheets, a discussion guide and scientific reports put the video content into context for the classroom.
  • Our Climate Our Future demonstrates students that individuals, even young ones, can make a difference!

Cons

  • We didn’t find any!

 

To sum up…

Progress starts with education. Now is the time to get students ready for the future, and the future ready for your students! We hope these resources can support your teaching and inspire a sustainable and safe future today.

 

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