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Big Picture Project: A Beautiful Planet

Elementary, Middle


The Big Picture Project provides a unique perspective on the changing earth through the eyes of an astronaut and empowers students to take small actions in their everyday lives that will have major impact on the planet.  Students watch the trailer of “A Beautiful Planet and receive a message from astronauts aboard the International Space Station prompting  them to conduct research and scientific experiments into water use, waste production and carbon footprints.

Using Power Point presentations as guides, groups of students choose a theme (water use, waste production, and transportation methods), complete a research report and perform a number of hands-on activities at home that demonstrate the environmental impacts of their behaviors. In conclusion, students share their findings and use mathematical scalars to represent how small individual action can have big effects.

Lesson One: Clarity

After watching and discussing a video clip students examine case studies involving water use, waste production and the carbon footprint impacts of various modes of transportation. They then complete a research report on one of these themes.

Lesson Two: Detail

Students are assigned homework tasks which involve completing hands-on activities over a 24- hour period. Using a variety of measuring techniques students determine the volume of water wasted during teeth brushing, the mass of non-recyclable garbage collected and the carbon footprint of transportation methods to and from school. After calculating 'means' for their data students form initial conclusions about the impact of their behaviors on the planet.

Lesson Three: Size

Students apply mathematical concepts and the 'Imax Size Tool' to extrapolate their individual and class data to a larger scale to emphasize the how micro-changes can be made which support macro-changes globally. They then share their reports and results with others to promote awareness and change.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

  • Analyzing one's carbon footprint
  • Making inferences from a film with regards to mood and themes
  • Organizing and correctly using instruments to measure and collect data
  • Formulating hypothesis to be tested in a controlled investigation
  • Analyzing and interpreting data 
  • Communicating data effectively using mathematical and statistical calculations
  • Selecting and integrating information from various sources
  • Listening critically to others ideas/ thoughts and points of view


  • Resource has local focus and experiential learning opportunities
  • Case studies are provided for each theme
  • Students design their own means of collecting data
  • The Power Point helps the teacher present information in an organized manner
  • Students will enjoy the astronaut-driven challenges and the resource promotes responsible citizenship
  • Has a multidisciplinary approach 
  • Group work allows for shared dialogue and incidental peer teaching
  • Take-home tasks are age-appropriate and relevant to the major ideas of the lesson.
  • Addresses some middle level math outcomes


  • Teachers must develop their own assessment strategies
  • There are no suggestions for differentiating lessons
  • The resource is written for a UK audience, so the teacher will need to insert some statistics relative to their country.
  • Not a lot of background information provided to teachers

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This resource supports instruction in  late elementary and middle level science programs to address outcomes involving resource management, water issues, greenhouse gas production and waste source reduction. It can also be used in social studies classes to examine the impact of human activity on the environment. It is a a good resource to use as a lead up to Earth Day as the the personal audits bring local focus, and encourage planet stewardship.

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

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  • Alberta
    • Step 2Select a grade level
    • Grade 8
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Freshwater and Saltwater Systems
  • Manitoba
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    • Grade 8
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Water Systems on Earth
  • New Brunswick
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    • Grade 6
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      • Social Studies
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Cultures
        • Empowerment: Economics
        • Atlantic Canada and the World:
    • Grade 8
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      • Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Science 8 Beyond Earth: Human presence in the solar system: Learning and Living Sustainably
        • Science 8 Beyond Earth: Human presence in the solar system::Scientific Literacy
  • Newfoundland & Labrador
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    • Grade 6
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      • Social Studies
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • World Issues
    • Grade 8
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      • Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Water Systems on Earth's Surface
  • Northwest Territories
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    • Grade 8
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      • Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Freshwater and Saltwater Systems
  • Nova Scotia
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    • Grade 6
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      • Social Studies
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Social Studies 6: World Issues
  • Nunavut
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    • Grade 8
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      • Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Freshwater and Saltwater Systems
  • Ontario
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    • Grade 5
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      • Science & Technology
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Earth and Space Systems: Conservation of Energy & Resources
    • Grade 7
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Geography
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Natural Resources around the World: Use and Sustainability
      • Science & Technology
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Life Systems: Interactions in the Environment
    • Grade 8
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Science & Technology
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Earth and Space Systems: Water Systems
        • Structures and Mechanisms: Systems in Action
  • Prince Edward Island
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    • Grade 6
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      • Social Studies
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • World Issues
    • Grade 8
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      • Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Water Systems on Earth
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
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    • Grade 8
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Science 8: Water Systems on Earth

Themes Addressed

Citizenship (2)

  • Community-Building and Participation
  • Ecological Footprint

Energy (1)

  • Energy Use

Land Use & Natural Resources (1)

  • Transportation

Waste Management (2)

  • Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • Source Reduction

Water (1)

  • Water Use

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Satisfactory

Students gather facts, examine case studies, and perform personal audits on water use, and waste production and  calculate carbon footprints on their transportation modes. They make their own conclusions on the sustainability of these choices going forward.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Satisfactory

The resource explores how human activity, lifestyle choices and consumption of resources affects the sustainability of the planet.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Satisfactory

This resource emphasizes how the interactions between humans and the environment have impacts on the environment. It provides some thought-provoking questions and activities that encourage discussion,

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

Students will be encouraged to continue to move towards positive change after their own personal water, travel, and waste audits. 

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Good

Classroom discussions and reflections are encouraged. Students gain an appreciation of the importance and worth of individual action.

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Satisfactory
Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Good
Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

The personal audits bring relevance and have local focus.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Satisfactory

The resource has a very positive vision for the future if people continue to make small changes in their water consumption, waster production and pursue greener transportation modes. The homework activity gives a clear picture of present habits and choices.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Good

Students collect data, and draw their own conclusions. The teacher acts as a facilitator prompting and guiding reflection, experimentation, and analysis.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Satisfactory

Although primarily a science resource, there are opportunities to address outcomes in math, language arts, and social studies.

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good

Students brainstorm, complete a research report and perform first-hand experimentation. The investigations are the focal point of group discussions.

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.


Differentiated Instruction Satisfactory

The resource does not offer suggestions for differentiation or provide accommodations for learners who made need them.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Good

The personal audit takes place in a real world context and provides hands-on learning opportunities.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory
Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Satisfactory

Guiding questions are provided, but no there are no checklists or rubrics given to help assess students. 

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory
Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Very Good

Students are given case study cards on each of the eco-themes to read and discuss. 

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good

Students have  choice in the eco-theme that they research. They have opportunities to respond and reflect on what they discover. 

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.