Seas, Trees and Economies Curriculum Unit

Seas, Trees, and Economies is a set of lessons for students in middle grades—grades 6-8. These lessons are written to help students understand the relationship between our natural environment and the economy as well as to describe how the environment and the economy jointly provide us with the goods and services that we want. The lessons provide students with the tools they need to recognize the fundamental trade-offs, to explain how and why choices are made, and to explain how people can make better choices regarding the use of natural resources and the disposal of wastes that production and consumption unavoidably create. Most lessons employ simulations and other active-learning strategies to engage students in the learning process and to provide experiences to help them discover why things happen as they do.

Download the complete curriculum unit or individual lessons.

Lesson 1: The Mystery Trees of Island Breeze

Students read a short story about a fictional natural resource, the great Mystery trees of Island Breeze. Students discuss the various goods and services provided by the trees, draw pictures of the uses of the trees, and then role-play to demonstrate the effect of scarcity on a society.

Lesson 2: Here Today, Back Here Tomorrow

Students engage in a trading activity that allows them to chart the flow of a natural resource out of the environment, through the economy, and then back into the environment.

Lesson 3: Letter Perfect and Clean Enough

Students learn about the types of natural resources (plant, animal, mineral, fossil fuel, and other) that the environment provides. Then they solve a puzzle, practice their printing, and develop a scarcity slide that they use to illustrate trade-offs—letter perfect versus clean enough.

Lesson 4: Waste Not, Want a Lot

Students play the role of producers, deciding what and how to produce in response to various incentives.

Lesson 5: Eggs-ternal Costs

Students participate in an egg hunt. Through the activity, students recognize that some actions people take have external costs; that is, the actions impose costs on others. Students learn that property rights have a role in reducing external costs.

Lesson 6: A Valuable Lesson

Students are asked to decide which goods and services they would most want in various situations. They learn that the value of a good or service is the maximum price they are willing and able to pay for it and that the value of goods and services depends on how well the goods and services satisfy wants. Students also discover that valuable goods and services are provided by both the economy and the environment.

Lesson 7: Cycling and Recycling Around the Classroom

Students pretend to be natural resources moving through the cycle of production, consumption, and recycling.

Lesson 8: Eco-Cents

Students discover ways that businesses have reduced the impact of their production and products on the environment. They consider the role of consumer sovereignty in bringing about these changes. Working in teams, students are challenged to come up with their own ideas for new products or services and make a marketing presentation to the class.

Lesson 9: A Bad Deal for the Rain Forests

Students are given the opportunity to buy small snacks in three different situations. The first involves a choice between two different goods that have the same price. The second involves a choice between the same good offered at two different prices. The third involves a choice in which a good has public or “shared” characteristics or private or “me-only” characteristics.

Lesson 10: The Lorax and What the Lore Lacks

Students read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, a section at a time, stopping to discuss the economic assumptions and lessons of the story. These discussions are used to illustrate how the outcome of the story could have been avoided.


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