Environmental Pathways

These online materials complement the Environmental Pathways: Youth Investigating Pollution Issues in Illinois curriculum created in part by the Illinois EPA in 2000 for 5th and 6th grade educators. 

Learning pathways are Next Generation Science Standards-aligned units that integrate environmental education into required science content, allowing today’s youth to think deeply about local environmental issues. The pathways in this curriculum have been designed following the storyline model, so that each unit is motivated by a puzzling event and driven by student questions. As environmental education curriculum, these storylines emphasize problem-solving, taking local action, and fostering students’ sense of connection to their local communities.

Illinois EPA recently added a pathway entitled Where does my food go? In this unit, students investigate an everyday phenomenon: food waste in the school cafeteria.

Students observe other classes during lunch as they throw away their food scraps and packaging, or watch a video typical of a lunchroom experience. Students record their observations and “wonderings” while in the cafeteria.

Back in the classroom, the class develops a Driving Question Board (DQB), that helps generate ideas for investigations. Their questions drive the flow of the unit.

Students plan and carry out their own investigations to answer these questions, which includes designing a landfill, classroom composting, and food waste audits at school and at home.

Students collect information from their households and from the school to better understand the ways that their community is engaged in waste reduction. The unit culminates in a school- or community-specific action plan that the students develop and propose to implement.

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