In our time as students and while working with our younger cohorts, we found that elementary students either don’t understand what climate change is, or think that the problem is too great to solve. This curriculum is designed to support students in their developing of ideas about climate change and how they can contribute to positive actions in their own communities. In addition to learning about climate change, pollution, transportation and electricity production, students will also gain basic a basic understanding on taxes and local government practice. Our curriculum has also been aligned to meet many of the Next Generation Science Standards for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade.


OS 8
OS 8

OS 3
OS 3

OS 8
OS 8


We found the best medium for engaging technology native elementary students to be an interactive computer simulation. The basis for the curriculum is an interactive city-builder simulation in which the student is presented with an empty world where he/she is tasked with building a successful city. In order to do this, students must provide electricity, food, transportation and housing for their community. As difficulties pertaining to scarcity of food, water or excessive pollution are encountered, students must learn how to adapt and overcome these issues. In this process of experimentation and interaction, students are the most engaged.


Our curriculum is created to be implemented for four one-hour sessions with engaging activities, discussions, worksheets and presentations. We have aligned the curriculum to meet many of the required standards. After the unit, students will have a greater understanding of the different systems of their city and the individual choices they can make to benefit their community.

Unlike many of the guided lessons that students have, Operation Sustain is like a virtual sandbox in which kids are free to experiment and let their creativity reign. Not only will students have a fun experience customizing and building their city, they make connections from the simulation and their real world.


On the first day, the students are given a pretest and are presented with the simulation. We also teach the controls, but provide no further guidance. Without explicit goals, the kids play the game and experiment to create their city. While students play, their we answer questions and they begin to develop connections.


With some experience with the game, we introduce a goal-oriented session. The class is divided into three groups, each with a different goal: maximum population, most money and least pollution. After students make observations on the status of their city, they engage in a discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of their designs.


To challenge the students abilities, Day 3 is designed to include a tougher circumstance - natural disaster. The main goal is for students to understand the relationship of carbon emissions and climate change. They will also learn about the effects natural disasters have on cities.


In the fourth and final day, students are invited to again experience the game without explicit goals. In this unguided time, students are given the opportunity to solidify some of the theories they had before. After the activity, we lead students in a discussion of the steps they can take as individuals to improve their community. Finally, students are given the post-test to measure improvement.

Below are the applicable standards for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students. Although Common Core standards were chosen for Washington State, similar standards exist in other states.