Some years ago, scientists at Yellowstone National Park did something amazing. They reintroduced wolves to the park after a 70-year absence. This may sound like a relatively small action, but the results were astounding. Because of the wolves, deer began to avoid certain areas of the park, which in turn allowed more diverse vegetation to grow. This diverse vegetation attracted insects and rodents, which in turn attracted more birds and small predators. Beavers returned to areas of the park, and the dams they built would ultimately help stabilize the rivers and lead to even more growth.

Scientists refer to this phenomenon as a trophic cascade. A trophic cascade is an ecological process which starts at the top of the food chain and has reverberating effects all the way down to the bottom. It’s a powerful reminder that even the smallest actions can have a positive effect on the world around us. Simply by doing a little good in our own backyard, we could help regenerate ecosystems, support endangered species, and create a better environment for our friends and neighbors. Now, just imagine what could be accomplished if we got an entire classroom full of students focused on doing exactly this?

A Powerful Force for Good 

Every educator knows that students are one of the greatest untapped resources in our world today. They have passion, determination, curiosity, and the creativity to solve old problems with new solutions. All they need is a little nudge in the right direction. So, if you’re an educator looking to start a trophic cascade of your own, consider implementing one of these environmental lessons in your own classroom:

State of Sustainability: Every state in the U.S. is uniquely important. In this project, students will become aware of the need for a sustainable world by focusing directly on their own state’s sustainability. They will use their creativity to design a book about their state that informs readers how small changes can develop a more sustainable world. Finally, they’ll publish their book and sell it for a charitable cause. By raising awareness for their states, they can help protect the precious ecosystems that countless plants and animals rely on!

What’s in Your Water: Water is essential for life. All living things depend upon it. Yet every day, our actions contribute to pollution that is detrimental to our waterways—and ultimately our watersheds. In this project, students will take action to protect our watersheds. They will investigate water samples to determine what’s in their water and investigate ways to improve water quality. Then, they’ll share what they’ve learned by creating a fundraiser to raise money for a charity that focuses on improving water quality and water pollution issues.

The Dirty Truth: Life on Earth is precious and precarious. Every day, more species go extinct as our world becomes more polluted. People are fighting to make a difference—but should we instead look to the skies to save our species? In this project, students learn about the importance of environmental protection, and about the wonders of Mars. They choose whether to support environmental protection or space exploration and create a commercial to raise money for their cause.

Curious, Creative, and Critical

The challenges facing our planet today can seem insurmountable, but we should never underestimate the power of our students. If we simply give them the knowledge they need, they can become a powerful force for good that will radically reshape our world. So, let’s start our own trophic cascade right here in the classroom. Introduce your students to some engaging, environmental PBL, and watch as they create a new and sustainable future for us all.

*Image courtesy of Paul Hudson via Wikimedia commons.

For more free educational resources, check out out these teacher-tested strategies from Blue Apple!