Environmental Project Based Learning Units

These project based learning units are standards aligned, and include many take-and-teach activities for both virtual and on-site learning. Grade band level units (K-2, 3-5, and 6-12) are embedded. 

Students sitting on logs in an outdoor classroom

Environmental WebQuests (Grades 3-12)

WebQuests are self-directed learning tools that support students in constructing their own meaning while exploring at their own pace and discovering what is most interesting to them.

Environmental Case Studies (Grades 3-12)

case study is a research method involving an up-close, in-depth, and detailed examination of a particular situation, place, or moment in time.

Use case studies as supplemental resources in the following ways:

  • Integrate as an additional activity to enhance your already existing instructional materials for a core subject area.

  • Include in Project or Problem Based Learning units of study.

  • Use as part of a unique focus on an environmental topic or issue.

Start here! Case Study Protocol Analysis Examples; Browse ELSI's Environmental Case Study Library

students and teacher sitting in circle outside looking at plants

Field Research Activities (Grades K-12)

Field Research Activities provide students with hands-on activities to investigate a specific environmental topic in a local context (home, school, or community).

Home-Based Activities

School-Based Audit Activities

Environmental Justice Resources (Teachers and Grades 6-12)

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people (regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or age) in the process of improving and maintaining a clean and healthful environment. Environmental justice starts with improving the lives of those who have traditionally lived, worked, and played closest to the sources of pollution, and/or those who are on the frontlines of impacts of climate change. 

The resources below are designed for all teachers to use for background knowledge, and for 6-12th grade teachers to customize, adapt, and use directly with students to explore environmental justice.

environmental justice chart

Climate Change Curriculum Resources

After learning about all of the intense impacts of the climate crisis, students need to know there is hope. Start with climate change content and activities and then shift to hope through innovation in designing climate change solutions.

Climate Adaptation Engineering Challenge:

Design Challenge Disasters (may need to simplify for grades K-5):

Climate Ready Impacts Simulation:

This simulation highlights the school years between 2025 and 2055 with a focus on the different climate change impacts in each round: 2025, 2035, 2045, 2055.  

  • In each round participants will receive a “global narrative” which provides information on big picture trends for population, and projections about agriculture, human migration, and species extinction. Participants will also receive local climate data cards that capture data on four indicators: heat, wildfires, precipitation, and sea level rise. 

  • Stakeholder Reflection Roles: Individuals will be representing a stakeholder in each round, and should consider the data and reflections through the eyes of that stakeholder. 

Support materials for the simulation are below: 

Please Note: These resources are still in draft mode. Please make a copy and adapt for your own context.

Other Resources

CA Department of Water Resources logo

San Francisco Bay Hydrologic Region Lessons (K-12)

This educational resource from the California Department of Water Resources includes K-12 lessons specific to the San Francisco Bay Hydrologic Region. Lessons are aligned to NGSS standards and include vocabulary review, graphics, activities, and discussion questions.

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Sustainability Focus Areas

SMCOE's ELSI team has identified nine sustainability focus areas that are most relevant to sustainability and climate mitigation, and lend themselves well to solutionary action within campus facilities and operations, as well as literacy efforts in curriculum and community. On the resource page for each focus area, there is a section for "Curriculum," which has topic specific curriculum resources. 

Outdoor Education logo

Residential Outdoor Education Solutionary Project-Based Learning Curriculum

The San Mateo County Office of Education's "Solutionary Project-Based Learning (PBL)" framework was used to design the San Mateo Outdoor Education (SMOE) instructional unit.  The purpose of the classroom-based lessons that flank the students' SMOE experiences is to provide them with the context to compare the systems and practices within their school related to their energy (electricity), water usage, waste management, and land-use practices with those they will experience at SMOE. First, students learn about the fundamental concepts that will be addressed within the unit, which should establish students' baseline of knowledge. Then, students engage with problem cycles that highlight key issues, data, and anomalies. Students then design a solution for a select problem that they would like to solve. Finally, students are assessed on their understanding, reflect on their learning experiences, and decide on next steps.

The curriculum is subdivided into three segments:

Learn more about SMOE's Solutionary PBL Curriculum at SMCOE's Green Careers Awareness Program website.

Julie Hilborn

Coordinator, Environmental Literacy and Sustainability

Email: jhilborn@smcoe.org

Phone: (650) 802-5406

May Tran

Administrative Assistant III

Email: mtran@smcoe.org

Phone: 650-802-5561