1️2 Simple Substitutions for an Earth-Friendly Science Classroom

1️2 Simple Substitutions for an Earth-Friendly Science Classroom

Now that Earth Day has come and gone, it’s important that we remind our students of why we celebrate the day at all! Yes, it’s important to highlight hot topics like: recycling, deforestation, climate change, biodiversity restoration, etc. 

But it’s even more important to really show how we can incorporate eco-friendly activities into our daily life. Knowing what something versus taking an active role are two different things. By demonstrating and showing your classes how to actively make eco-friendly choices will help to make these easier to do in their own lifestyle. 

So, the next step after acknowledging the importance of Earth Day is to create an earth-friendly classroom setting!

Think about a recent science lab you just finished. How many earth-friendly substitutions did you practice? 

Maybe you use glassware? Great! But what about all of the plastic or single-use items? The micropipette tips, plastic petri dishes, plastic single use droppers, the list goes on....

Here, we’ll explore how you and your students can expand more on the significance of Earth Day and how to take an active role in making eco-friendly swaps in the classroom. 

The Need for Eco-Friendly Classrooms and Laboratories

Imagine, you pull out your science lab lesson, read over the supplies and start to set up lab stations for the next day.

If you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with science labs 🫠They’re awesome at getting students excited, but it can be chaotic to manage, you repeat yourself about 101 times and you end up getting your 10,000 steps by the end of the day! 

The last thing you want to do is have to spend more time on clean-up. 

So what do you do, you find the most efficient (not eco-effective) way speed this up ⏩⏩⏩.

For example, some teachers I've worked with have used single-use disposable plastic cups instead of beakers because it makes clean up easy. 

I get it! It’s so tempting to want to save as much time as possible, especially when teaching periods can hardly be enough to fit in an entire lab. But we need to remember that as educators, it’s just as important to model what we’re teaching to our students in order to make those eco-friendly habits really stick!

Here’s a quick tip ☝️Check out your states science standards and see if it provides you with environmental literacy and sustainability standards. While NGSS does not have these, my state of Pennsylvania DOES! It's the ELS in the STEELS standards! 

Go check it out and let me know.

Simple Substitutions for an Eco-Friendly Classroom

Alright, you probably realize now that yes, there are some simple swaps you can do in order to make your own eco-friendly science classroom.

The key is to making this a common practice is to just remember the 3 R’s: REDUCE-REUSE-RECYCLE

Here are a few of the swaps I’ve made in my classroom that you can start doing now! (Affiliate links, I may earn a small commission if you purchase from one of these links)

♻️Reduce paper use: Use digital notebooks or post online assignments, notes or activity instructions. 

  • I love printing out a class copy of procedures or one per pair/group and sticking them in these plastic sleeves. I save them year to year so I'm not printing off a set every year I do the lab!

♻️Use metal or paper-based classroom materials: Try cardboard or metal turn in bins instead of plastic. Here are a couple of my favorites!

♻️Quarterly bulletin boards: Instead of changing monthly; split into sections that require weekly or monthly updates. Stick to the same background and border throughout the year, too! Check these out (affiliate links):

♻️Repurpose plastic: I had a TON of plastic shoebox containers at home for my kids infant organizers, so I brought them to school and now use them in the homeostasis lab to contain the mess. 

♻️Buy Nothing Groups: Find these groups to recycle old or unused school supplies. I got my supply caddies and extra binders from my local buy nothing group. Also, reach out through those groups for things you are looking for! Two years ago a few community members bought classroom supplies I did not receive through the district but were imperative for my students (folders, markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc.).

♻️Laminate Lab Procedures: Paper that is used year after year, that students don't necessarily need to keep but you make copies of every year. Lamination protects paper from wet lab accidents too! It’s a win-win👏 If you're school doesn't have a laminating machine, check out these affordable options!

Simple Substitutions for an Eco-Friendly Laboratory

Lab days can definitely be your most wasteful days! Especially when you’re up against the clock, trying to cover as much of the lesson as possible and the convenience of disposable paper cups and pipettes just sounds better.

But, with some planning and collaborating within your department, lab materials are the best place to start! 

♻️Use glass beakers or labware instead of disposable plastic cups. 

If glassware isn’t an option, then consider SAVING those disposable plastic cups year after year. When introducing my population genetics lab, I use beans and plastic cups but I keep the cups to use each year....less prep and less waste. 

♻️Instead of using food or candy for lab activities (like candy for a DNA model) buy true DNA modeling kits or use materials that can be reused over and over. Inexpensive supplies are: pipe cleaners, paper clips, beads & yarn or string

Assign students to clean up certain materials or stations. This not only takes away the stress of cleaning up and prepping for the next class, but also gives students ownership of the lab. 

♻️Speaking of clean-up, here is how I’ve also saved more water on lab days! Since my sinks cannot be plugged, I place one of these collapsible tubs in each sink to hold water instead of having it run continuously for clean up and washing.

♻️Of course, you can’t have a lab day without an accidental spill or broken labware! It’s always good practice to remind your students of proper waste disposal, designated broken glass containers and proper chemical storage to help prevent water or soil contamination. Even if it’s been mentioned before, it never hurts to say it again!

Involving Students in Eco-Friendly Practices

Making these eco-friendly swaps and practices should not put MORE on your to-do list. Instead, have students engage and take on some responsibility in their role by following a sustainable lab audit ♻️☑️

What’s a sustainable lab audit? 

It’s where students consider the materials in the lab or labs they've done in class and how they can be changed to include more sustainable products or environmentally friendly practices.

Maybe consider doing this on pre-lab days by designating 10 minutes to explain or share an image of the lab set-up and allow students to brainstorm eco-friendly swaps.

By making this a common practice in your classroom, it can help students to carry over this way of thinking into their other classes, their home and hopefully their day-to-day life! 

Go from just talking about our carbon footprint to actually demonstrating how to reduce it and taking better care our beautiful planet 🌍!

I’d LOVE to hear which of these classroom sustainability practices you’re going to try out!

Send me an email at 👉🏻 admin@keystonesciencepa.com with the subject: Classroom Sustainability and let me know how it’s going. 

If you’re wanting more, here you go:

💡Feel free to explore Keystone Science for ready-to-use Ecology NGSS aligned notes and activities.

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🌟Share in the comments or email me directly 👉🏻 admin@keystonesciencepa.com

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