Natural Distasters

Driving Question

In a natural disaster, should resources be allocated equally to all citizens?
Grades Involved


What PBE Principles were highlighted in this project?

Local to Global, Interdisciplinary

Project Description

Students investigated the topic of Natural Disasters through two lenses: Objective (science and action) and Subjective (human experience).

Using background knowledge skills (obtained from peer-teach mini-lessons as well as teacher instruction) from environmental science and civics concepts, students ultimately were asked to participate in a debate around our driving question. Throughout the process of the project, students used a project notebook to document their learning from current events, guest speakers, art and spanish connections, and our Natural Disaster Scenario.

Students applied environmental science skills including (but not limited to) principles of natural disasters, scales of magnitude in which disasters are measured, and monitoring of disasters. Students also utilized civics skills such as governmental hierarchy, government departments, and decision making tactics (i.e.triage).

 How did this positively impact community? How was it shared?

Natural Disasters happen in both our local and regional community, giving students personal relevance and personal connections for their learning. Themes in the learning for their final presentation exemplified the Local to Global core principle in action, connecting across local, regional, national and global communities. Students connected with the broader adult world through meeting with two community members with experience and perspective. Students also participated in an hour-long scenario as Emergency Management Teams for Teton County, WY and Teton County, ID.
Students presented their learning through a parliamentary-style debate where students were given the proposition or opposition side for which to argue. The motion for debate was: “In a natural disaster with limited resources, the government should prioritize helping all citizens equally” (based on our driving question). Within their final product presentation to debate before judges and parents, students used evidence from objective and subjective learning throughout the project to support their assertions within the debate.
Additional final products were displayed in a gallery during the debate. Products included: a completed Natural Disasters Project Notebook (complete with assignments, notes, and feedback), and an artistic representation of a tweet (created from a Natural Disasters Current Event).


The biggest challenge was getting rolling with our driving question. Since the topic of Natural Disasters is so wide ranging, it was hard to know which direction the students wanted to take their learning, but once we separated our learning into two buckets, this direction became more clear.
We explored our Natural Disasters through two lenses: Objective (Science and Action) and Subjective (Human Experience). One of the most rewarding aspects of the Natural Disasters project happened as we were investigating our Objective learning. The middle schoolers participated in an hour-long Natural Disaster Scenario where they were asked to be Emergency Management Teams for Teton County, WY and Teton County, ID. To manage the response to a small-scale eruption and a subsequent earthquake, the students worked together to save as many lives and as much infrastructure as possible. Within the management teams, each student was assigned a department to manage during the disaster (departments included: Police, EMTs, Water/Sewage, Electricity etc.). Using our learning about both government and the science behind natural disasters, students were asked to decide how to manage a variety of problems within the disaster scenario. The scenario lasted an hour in real time and 24 hours in scenario time and highlights included an electrical outage, a crazy reporter who came into the situation room and was asking for a statement, and, in the end, the National Guard took over in managing the disaster. The students within each Emergency Management Team did a really nice job of using their knowledge of natural disasters as well as practicing their skills as communicators, collaborators, and decision makers in this high-stress scenario! This real-world scenario was high-paced, felt “real,” and was incredibly impactful on our learners which made it the most rewarding aspect of the project.

Words of Wisdom

“Let the students drive the learning, while helping to nudge in a direction that will help them to learn more. This is why we ended up in such an amazing place with our debate as our final product–because we helped to facilitate learning, but didn’t direct it.” -Elle Shafer