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Introduction to Environmental Science

Syllabus | Unit Descriptions | Research Project | Textbooks

Environmental science is a great class to teach. The material is interdisciplinary and has a lot of real-world application. It is also challenging, however, as most schools designate environmental science as the science-class-for-kids-bad-at-science. If your students are taking the class because they essentially had no other choice, it can be an extraordinarily hard class to teach. Unlike other core science classes, there is no standard curriculum, set of topics, or set of concepts that everyone teaches.

Environmental science is a true elective. Unlike most other science classes, the teacher must spend a great deal of his time working with students' affective domain. How do you a feeling of importance in the topics you are covering? As this is an interdisciplinary class, there is a highly political component, one which may run counter to the students' own beliefs and philosopies.

The best way to teach this course may be to focus on the facts, present the information in as objective manner as possible, and try to encourage critical thinking, analysis, and informed opinions based on science. The resources in this section hopefully can be a means to that end.


This is a copy of the syllabus I use for my environmental science course with the dates removed. Click on any of the links within the document to access specific Powerpoint lectures on that topic. There is also a set of links to the study guides for each chapter found on the third page of the syllabus. Further resources for each unit can be found within the navigation bar to the left of this page.

Week Topic Assignments Lab
1 Introduction to Environmental Science Research Project Topic
Study Guide
Environmental Ethics: Bhopal and Dow Chemical
2 Principles of Science Mythbusters "Who Gets Wetter?"
Study Guide
Data Analysis and Graphing
3 Species, Populations, and Communities Study Guide Symbiosis in Blue Planet 'Coral Seas'
4 Land Ecosystems Planet Earth "Mountains"
Study Guide
Analyzing Ecosystems with Climatographs
5 Aquatic Ecosystems Blue Planet "Deep Seas"
Study Guide
Classifying Endangered Species: IUCN Redlist
6 Human Population PBS Nova: World in the Balance
Study Guide
Population Pyramids
7 Food and Agriculture Food, Inc.
Study Guide
Animal Cruelty: Death on a Factory Farm
8 Climate Change Inconvenient Truth
Study Guide
Historical Hurricane Frequency and Intensity
9 Human Health and Environmental Toxins Eyes of Nye 'Antibiotics'
Study Guide
Lead Poisoning
Making LD50 Graphs
10 Air Pollution Study Guide EPA AirData
11 Water Pollution Gasland
Study Guide
Dead Ahead: Exxon Valdez Disaster
12 Renewable and Alternative Energy Surviving Disaster: Chernobyl
Study Guide
Ghost Town: Chernobyl Travelogue
13 Nonrenewable Energy 30 Days: Working in a Coal Mine
Study Guide
14 Hazardous Waste and Landfills Dirty Jobs: Trash Collector
Study Guide

Unit Descriptions

This is a list and description of each of the content found within each of the major units covered by this course. This is not a comprehensive list of all concepts taught, simply a listing of the key ideas that students should gain a long-term familiarity with.



Introduction to Environmental Science

Major themes of environmental science; Environmental ethics and philosophies; major environmental problems; developed vs. developing countries.

Nature of Science

Scientific method; Data analysis; Types of experiments; Parts of an experiment; Basic principles of matter and energy.

Communities, Populations, and Species Interactions

Levels of organization within environment; evolution; classification; Relationships between different species; Community arrangement; Patterns of population growth; Food webs; Carbon cycle.

Land and Aquatic Ecosystems

Abiotic factors; Types of land biomes; Relationship between climate and biome; Biodiversity and productivity of each biome.

Aquatic Ecosystems

Abiotic factors; Physical characteristics of different bodies of water; Biodiversity and productivity in different layers of bodies of water.

The Human Population

Exponential growth; Carrying capacity; Pronatalist and antinatalistic factors within different cultures; Demographic transition model.

Food and Agriculture

Food production from farm to store; Chemical composition of food; Food processing and storage technology; Agricultural technologies (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, irrigation); Nitrogen cycle.

Global Climate Change

Greenhouse effect; Atmospheric composition; Relationship between atmosphere and climate; Historical climate change.

Environmental Health and Toxicity

Living and nonliving causes of disease; Toxicity and its measurements; Effect of toxins on human health.

Water Resources and Pollution

The water cycle; Sources of fresh water; Types of water pollution; Biomagnification; Water quality legislation.

Air Resources and Pollution

Composition of air; Sources of air pollution; Effects of air pollution; Air quality legislation.

Renewable Energy

Law of Conservation of energy; Basic power plant design; Pros and cons of renewable energy sources.

Nonrenewable Energy

Basic power plant design; Energy extraction and processing; Pollution directly produced by energy generation; Nuclear fission.


Law of Conservation of Matter; the waste stream; recycling; landfill and incineration technologies.

Research and Current Events

A listing of long-term research project topics with suggested sources is a good place to start. These are topics that should be spread out through the entire semester so that the students' presentations match the concepts currently taught.

Current events are an essential part of the environmental science course. Truly, the crux of the class is to gain a better understanding of how we currently interact with the environment. However, finding articles that are relevant, objective, and comprehensive can be a very challenging task. This is particularly true for students who are apt to simply pick the first result on a Google search, or find the shortest article possible.

For your current events assignments, try the Environmental Science Current Articles Search Engine. This is a custom Google search that only takes articles from a select few websites, such as National Geographic and Popular Science.

Textbooks and Curriculums

These are specific textbooks that I have taught from and used as a framework for designing my course.

Living In the Environment, Miller

The value of this textbook depends entirely on what kind of class you are teaching. For an AP Environmental Science class, it is ideal. This textbook by G. Tyler Miller is ideal. It covers all concepts that may be found on the exam in good detail. The book is well-sequenced, and has a lot of real- world examples and scenarios.

For the more typical environmental science class for the non-science student, this book is a nightmare. The vocabulary is cumbersome, the diagrams are abstract, and the reading level is not particularly engaging.

The teacher resources that accompany this curriculum are basic; a test generator and a CD of Powerpoints that are very simplified outlines of the textbook chapters.

Environmental Science: A Global Concern

This textbook, by William and Mary Ann Cunningham, is an highly recommended one for the non-science major elective course. The book covers all of the most prominant topics, while presenting them in a way that is accessible to students who may not have strong science backgrounds. The pictures and tables found within the text are highly relevant to the chapter topics and many of them are good discussion starters in class.

This curriculum comes with the standard set of resources, including a test generator and a CD of lectures that are pretty inclusive of the material from the text and can be used as-is.

Holt Environmental Science

This textbook, by Karen Arms, is designed for the low-level reader, or early grade level students taking environmental science. Most of the prominant topics are covered, but only at a very basic level to give the students an understanding of the very essentials. This textbook would work well for a 7-9th grade regular or low-track class, but would be much too basic for any other group.

This curriculum comes with an extensive set of resources, including a test generator, pre-made Powerpoint lectures, pre-made exams and quizzes, and several labs and worksheets for each chapter.


Please select one of the topics to the left for specific resources.


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