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Back to School: Supporting Teachers with EPA STEM Educational Resources

Published August 23, 2018

kids raise their hands to answer a question in classIt’s that time of year again when parents rejoice the kids going back to school, kids lament the end of summer, and educators are busy finalizing plans for another stimulating year of teaching, encouraging, and inspiring our youngsters. To help share EPA’s work with students of all ages, EPA researchers developed several E-STEM resources that can be used in formal and informal educational settings. Here is a sampling of resources that educators can use:

  • EnviroAtlas is an ecosystem services mapping tool developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency and its partners, empowering anyone with the internet to be a highly informed local decision-maker.  EPA designed a suite of free K-16 EnviroAtlas Educational lesson plans and resources that leverage the EnviroAtlas tool, and deliver highly interactive hands-on learning and an introduction to data visualization and can build students’ analytical, geospatial, and decision-making skills. The lesson plans adhere to State Science Educational Standards, and some lessons are also available in Spanish. Concepts that the lessons address include ecosystem services, watershed geography and management, the water cycle, air quality, urban planning, biodiversity, and connections between the environment and human health.  Watch this video to get an overview of the EnviroAtlas Educational Materials .
  • Generate: The Game of Energy Choices is a fun way for students and others to explore energy choices and the environment. The board game helps players understand the costs and benefits of energy choices through their own selection of an energy mix for their imagined community.  They explore what happens if the mix of energy changes and learn what energy choices mean for our air, water, and future environmental quality.  With no “right answers” the game allows students to develop evidence-based decision making as they advocate to team members their preferences for the energy mix and calculate and compare costs of their solutions. Extensions to the game allow for playing over several class periods and bring additional components such as mathematics, civics, earth sciences, and engineering design.  Materials to make the game board and game pieces, along with middle and high school teaching guides are available free on the web. 
  • Build Your Own Particle Sensor is a hands on learning activity that teaches the basics of particulate matter (PM) air pollution, air quality, and electronics while building problem solving and other STEM skills. Targeted for 5th to 12th grades, students and others can build their own particulate matter (PM) sensor. The instructions are available free on the web and include a materials list, an instruction guide with background information on air quality and the Arduino code for the sensors.
  • Village Green – EPA researchers developed an innovative solar and wind powered air monitoring system designed and incorporated into a park bench that is located in 8 cities across the U.S. (Hartford, CT; Philadelphia, PA; Washington DC; Durham NC; Chicago, IL; Oklahoma City,  Oklahoma;  Kansas City, KS; and Houston, TX;)  Teachers, students, researchers, and others are using the real-time minute-to-minute data generated from the built in air sensors to learn about local air quality and conduct studies.  The data are streamed online and provides information on levels of two common air pollutants – ozone and particle pollution. The Village Green Lessons for Educators provide a unique opportunity for students to learn about air quality as it relates to various topics of science appropriate to their grade level. The purpose of these lessons is to engage students of varying ability levels through hands-on and minds-on thinking. Each lesson is designed to focus around the topic of air quality; from issues of human health to career and 21st century skills. Access the Village Green Project lesson plans for K-8 here.

More educational resources can be found on the EPA’s Environmental Education web site as well as opportunities for environmental education funding and recognition via the Environmental Education awards program.   For many EPA researchers, a teacher played a pivotal role in their decision to pursue a career in sciences. So to all those teaching the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and environmental education, thank you for all you do, and have a great school year!