School-Based Environmental Service Learning

School-Based Environmental Service Learning

Find ways to engage students in environmental service learning projects in the classroom or on school grounds.


4 - 12+


Biology, Earth Science, Astronomy, English Language Arts, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, Civics

A photograph of students studying seeds in a classroom using handheld magnifying devices.
Photograph by Jon T. Schneeberger/National Geographic Creative

How can students connect with the natural environment while in school, in both practical and engaging ways? Find ways students can make difference and learn valuable skills through service learning projects.

This is a satellite image of Hurricane Sandy in the Atlantic Ocean off the South Carolina coast.
Promote Natural Disaster Preparation

Find out what forces of nature could potentially strike your community. Discuss how to prepare for natural disasters and how families could respond to the natural disasters they may face in their community. Create and distribute tip sheets for family and community members’ emergency preparedness. Find helpful resources at

A photograph of hands being washed with soap under a stream of water.
Calculate Daily Water Use at School

Use this online tool to help start a school-wide campaign encouraging everyone to use less water. Get the word out with persuasive writing via posters or skits. Challenge your fellow students to a video public service announcement (PSA) contest. With drought conditions affecting many states, helping to save water in your community will be a step in the right direction.

A photograph of a Pacific Green Turtle swims with a couple of striped fish at the French Frigate Shoals.
Raise Ocean Awareness

Watch videos from An Imbalance in the Ocean to examine ways that human actions can throw a marine ecosystem out of balance and lead to species decline. Discuss the threats as well as actions people can take, considering the stakeholders who stand to gain or lose from the success or failures of these actions. Present the data and findings to local stakeholders in a forum or through local news media. Find teacher resources at Earth Echo, an organization founded by the family of legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau and dedicated to inspiring youth to solve environmental challenges that impact waterways:

A photograph of students studying seeds in a classroom using handheld magnifying devices.
Investigate Local Environmental Issues

Investigate the effects of human activities in the local community. Create a scrapbook or slideshow of local environmental issues using newspaper and magazine articles, brochures, and other resources. Identify both the direct and the indirect impacts of human actions, including stories of local environmental stewardship projects or other human actions that have helped or had a negative effect on the local area. Present “Hero Awards” to local citizens and fellow students who are environmental stewards.

A photograph of peppers in baskets at a Farmers Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Grow a School Garden MakerSpace

MakerSpaces, or areas in schools dedicated to innovative, creative pursuits, can help kids become independent thinkers. See School Makerspaces: Growing Farmers, Gardeners, and Cooks to see how seeds and food have sparked creativity, excitement, and wonder. Students might have a small pantry in addition to their school garden and a kitchen. Parent and community groups might enthusiastically supply other needed supplies. Kids can go from reading a recipe to inventively cooking with whatever is on hand, especially if food service providers and science teachers team together.

Innovating around food, of course, doesn’t have to include cooking. In a non-food-focused Makerspace with wood, nails, and glue, students can design and create gardening tools, container beds, or a solar food dehydrator to store summer’s bounty. For schools with a tech budget, 3-D printers allow students to dream and generate parts for gardens and tools that will help them take care of their space. Try Renovated Learning for more ideas.

spools of yarn and other crafting products made of recycled plastic bottles
Create Recycled Art

Create a work of art made of recycled objects. Using your school or classroom’s recycling bin, collect cans, jars, and other recyclables. Add discarded wood, paper, and twine, and let students create sculptures, mobiles, jewelry, or other work. Write a short narrative of what you used and how you recycled the material. Give artwork away as a gifts to family members or to residents of a nursing home in your community.

A Photograph of a green recycling bin located in Redwood National and State Parks.
Start a School-side Recycling Effort

Work with the school principal and food service workers to get bins for recycling in the lunchroom. Ask the school to buy recycled paper and to recycle printer cartridges. Clean up litter around the school and recycle it! Collect and store plastics, glass, cardboard, and cans until you can have it picked up or taken to a recycling center. Use any money earned to keep the recycling effort going, or donate to an environmental cause. Promote the use of reusable water bottles to reduce harmful plastics in the trash as well as the use of fossil fuels. Create video public service announcements (PSAs) to share lessons learned through this project with other schools and community partners.

A photograph of a tornado as it touches down near a road.
Raise Money or Collect Food to Help Those in Need

Start a book or coat, fundraising, or canned goods drive to help people affected by natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, or wildfires. Schools may also be relocated or otherwise disrupted by disasters. Collect school supplies and write notes of encouragement for the impacted students.

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

October 19, 2023

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