Field-Based Environmental Service Learning

Field-Based Environmental Service Learning

Find ways to engage students in environmental service learning projects in outdoor settings.


4 - 12


Biology, English Language Arts, Geography, Physical Geography

A photograph of the nest of a red-winged blackbird with eggs.
Photograph by James P. Blair/National Geographic Creative

How can students get immersed in their natural environment through service learning? Find ideas for projects that can make a difference locally and beyond. Students can learn environmental concepts and practice new skills as they make connections with others who are taking action around conservation.

A photograph of a community garden in the New York City boroughs of Queens.
Adopt a Greenspace

Plant flowers, trees, or vegetables in a vacant lot or community area to make it beautiful, help store carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels, and possibly even supply fresh food to the school kitchen. Be sure you have permission to be on the property and to plant.

A photograph of water flowing over rocks in the rapids of Shenandoah River.
Focus on your Watershed

Partner with your local river or watershed association to clean up a local stream, river, or other body of water in your community in order to make it healthier for wildlife and people. Learn about storm drain run off, and paint stencils on the drains to discourage people from dumping litter, chemicals, or poisons into them. It all flows to the storm drain, and then into the watershed!

A photograph of children plant seeds with service people.
Celebrate Earth Day

Host an Earth Day celebration. Learn about the history of Earth Day, and then plan how to share present-day concerns about the local environment with your school and community. Include service opportunities such as picking up trash, working in a community garden, planting trees, or helping to maintain a local greenway or waterway.

a photograph of three students sampling water in Rock Creek Park, District of Columbia.
Monitor Water Quality

Volunteer to help monitor and protect the health of your local rivers, streams, and other bodies of water. Use a test kit to sample local bodies of water for water quality data throughout the year. Share the results with other schools, your community, and groups like the World Wide Monitoring Challenge which provides water quality testing kits. Contribute your findings to their international database.

A photograph of the nest of a red-winged blackbird with eggs.
Monitor Bird Species

Join NestWatch, a project to monitor nests for a variety of bird species, started by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Data collected can help scientists determine if climate change is affecting the nesting and migration habits, including whether bird species are migrating and nesting earlier or later in the season as a result of weather variations over time.

A photograph of a male tiger swallowtail butterfly resting with its wings spread on a red clover flower.
Take a Butterfly Census

Contribute to a census of the butterflies of North America—in the United States, Canada, and parts of Mexico. Participate in a one-day butterfly count in your area for the North American Butterfly Association. Recording data on sightings can give scientists valuable information on how butterflies and their migrations are affected by pollution, weather, and climate change. You can also reach out to a local gardening club for help designing and planting a butterfly habitat.

A photograph of large hailstones and a ruler for scale.
Collect Weather Data

Volunteer to join the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network. Data collected is used for weather forecasting and monitoring, severe weather alerts, and climate change studies.

A photograph of a National Park Service employee assisting someone with photographing a grasshopper with their smartphone.
Collect Species Data, and Have a BioBlitz

Use a smartphone or tablet to record observations of plants, animals, and other organisms in areas around your school or home. You can upload observations to iNaturalist using the smartphone app or on the website You can even ask for help identifying species. Observe and record data at different times of the year, and consider how wildlife sightings change with cooler or warmer seasons. Plan a BioBlitz event at school or in a nearby park to get more of your community involved in taking a species inventory.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Project Coordination
Anne Haywood, Mountain to Sea Education
Sherry Schaaf
Educator Reviewer
Anne Thidermann French, Service-Learning Coordinator North Adams Public Schools and Drury High School, Service-Learning Coordinator North Adams Public Schools and Drury High School
Expert Reviewer
Anne Thidermann French, Service-Learning Coordinator North Adams Public Schools and Drury High School, Service-Learning Coordinator North Adams Public Schools and Drury High School
Photo Researcher
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

March 13, 2024

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources