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Monday Morning Ready05.25.2018
Jumpstart Your Week!

Expanded polystyrene (or “Styrofoam”) is an excellent insulator. That’s why it’s a popular material for insulating buildings—and why those cheap little cups of deli coffee still burn your tongue after 30 minutes. But its environmental record leaves something to be desired. It’s nonbiodegradable, harmful to animals who accidentally eat it and made from potential carcinogens.... < read more >
Grade 3-4

Why isn't Styrofoam considered to be an environmentally friendly product?

Grade 5-6

Imagine that you were constructing a building. For the insulator, you could use nanowood, which is more eco-friendly, or foam, which is cheaper. Which product would you use? Why?

Grade 7-8

According to the article, using nanowood as a building material could potentially "save billions" in energy costs. How do you think consumers, who would reap those benefits, could convince builders to use the more expensive product in their projects?

Grade 9-10

According to the article, the University of Maryland team that developed nanowood thinks the material can be produced fairly cheaply and quickly using fast-growing trees like balsa. What other obstacles must the team overcome before nanowood can hit the market on a large scale?

Design a Biodegradable Product


  1. As a class, discuss what it means for a product to be eco-friendly. (Eco-friendly products do not harm the environment during production, use or disposal.) Challenge students to identify a variety of eco-friendly traits. (reusable, recyclable, energy efficient, biodegradable, etc.)
  2. From that list, focus on the benefits of creating biodegradable products. Guide the class to understand that biodegradable products are made from natural materials. Over time, they are reabsorbed into the environment.
  3. Instruct students to conduct research to learn about biodegradable materials. What are they made from? What can they make? What nonbiodegradable materials do they replace?
  4. Challenge students to use what they learned to design their own biodegradable product. Give students time to create a sketch a design of their product. Then have them write a brief "bio" that touts their product's eco-friendly traits.


Invite students to share their sketches and bios with the class. Encourage classmates to discuss the merits of each product. Challenge them to identify which nonbiodegradable products each new product would replace.


Grades 3-4:
Investigate biodegradable materials as a class. Encourage students to share what they learned. Then have students brainstorm ideas for various products that could be made from biodegradable materials. Select one product from the list. Encourage each student to sketch a design of the product. As a class, write a brief biography that touts the product's eco-friendly traits.
Grades 5-6:
Divide the class into small groups. Have groups conduct research to learn more about biodegradable materials. Then instruct them to brainstorm a list of products that could be made from a biodegradable material and choose one product from their list. Give groups time to sketch a design of their products and write a brief biography touting its eco-friendly traits.
Grades 7-8:
Divide the class into pairs. Have partners conduct research to learn more about biodegradable materials. Then instruct each pair to think of a product that could be made from a biodegradable material. Have partners sketch a design of their products. Give them time to write a brief biography touting its eco-friendly traits. In their biographies, challenge students to identify a nonbiodegradable product that their product could replace.
Grades 9-10:
Assign each student a partner. Encourage pairs to search the Internet for information on biodegradable materials. Instruct them to select one biodegradable material that could be used to create a variety of eco-friendly products. Then have each partner choose a different product and sketch a design of that product. Encourage partners to work together to write a brief biography that touts the eco-friendly benefits of the material they selected. Challenge them to incorporate both of their products into the biography to show how the material could be used in different ways.
Notoriously Durable Styrofoam Could Be Munched by Mealworms
Even with advances in recycling technologies, most Styrofoam still can’t be recycled. So it remains in landfills, taking centuries to break down. Read this Smithsonian magazine article to learn how mealworm larvae might be the answer to this global pollution problem.

Put Out to Dry…Not in My Back Yard
Many people are interested in going green. Even more people want to save money. But local covenants must still be maintained. In this Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum lesson, students design an environmentally friendly way of drying laundry, such as a clothesline. Then they brainstorm ideas about how to do this while still following local zoning laws.

It’s a Wrap
Have you ever thought about how one product, such as wrapping paper, could affect our landfills? In this Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum lesson, students brainstorm ideas about how to address this problem and write an article to educate others about the issue.

Hidden Costs: Mapping the Source and Costs of Raw Materials
This teacher-created lesson from the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum encourages students to look at production-consumption systems through the lenses of geography, science and economics. Students research the source of materials used in common products and then design an alternative system that helps conserve resources.

Inventive Minds: Theresa Dankovich
Researcher Theresa Dankovich invented a bacteria-killing water filter that is made of biodegradable paper embedded with silver nanoparticles. Watch this video from the Lemelson Center, National Museum of American History to learn more about her work.

Exploring Solar Energy: The Science Behind Design
In this lesson from the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, high school students learn about energy-related problems and design solutions. Students investigate the sources and properties of energy, conduct Internet research and create a workshop for their classmates.

What’s Your Problem? A Look at the Environment in Your Own Backyard
In these lesson plans from the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, students take on an environmental project. They interview people who live in their town or neighborhood. They ask about the state of the local environment—and how it has changed over the years—before deciding on a problem on a problem to tackle.