Monday is Earth Day! Celebrate in your classroom, program, or at home with these fun hands-on projects about sustainability.

Earth Day began in 1970, when millions of people publicly protested environmental crises like smog, pollution, and declining biodiversity. Later that same year, the United States government created the Environmental Protection Agency and began passing laws to protect the land, our health, and our environment (including the Clean Water Act). Today, Earth Day is a global event, with people around the world again joining together take action to protect the environment and learn how they can lead more environmentally-friendly lives.

Earth Day is a great opportunity to teach young people about big ideas related to sustainability and the environment. We partnered with PhD students at USC to create a series of 3 hands-on design challenges that explore different ways to make the buildings we live and work in more sustainable and energy efficient. Share these projects with young people in your classroom, after school program or organization and ask them what ideas they have for ways to reduce energy consumption, make buildings more efficient, and conserve resources. We’ve found that families and students around the world are passionate about solving environmental problems – environmental problems are in the top 5 problems students choose to address when given the opportunity – findings backed up by the students driving the conversation around climate change around the world.

Share ways students can make their own homes more efficient, and kickstart their imaginations for their own futuristic designs for more sustainable homes, offices, and towns.

Hands-on Project: Build a sustainable model town out of recycled materials

Build a Water Collection System

Water is a critical resource, and conserving water is something people at home can do, including by collecting rainwater. Sustainability engineers are working on systems that can collect the most rainwater possible without wasting a drop. In this design challenge, students will join sustainability engineers and build structures that collect water. Their structures will also direct the flow of water to a water tank for later use.

Build a Wind-Powered Turbine

Since wind is created by natural, recurring cycles in our atmosphere, it is considered renewable. Traditionally, electricity is made by burning fossil fuels or diverting rivers through dams, both have big consequences for the environment. However, using wind, the sun, and even waves, engineers are thinking about ways to convert energy from nature into electrical energy. These ideas are behind this second design challenge. Students will build a way to convert energy from wind into mechanical energy!

Figure out how to spread light through a dark house

In this design challenge, students will think like sustainability engineers and design a way to spread sunlight through a house to help save electricity. Using less electricity and using more natural light is one way that people at home can help save energy.

To get started, ask students to think about the ways different things interact with light. Light can reflect off some surfaces, or can be dispersed, like through water and prisms.