• Views 487
  • Favorites


Gender Justice, Physical Geography


6th, 7th, 8th


Social Studies, Geography, Justice, Social-Emotional Learning


80 minutes

Regional Focus



Google Docs, Google Slides

Wangari Maathai & Deforestation

Created By Teachers:
Last Updated:
Oct 2, 2022


This lesson introduces African environmentalist Wangari Maathai and links deforestation with the concepts of governance, poverty, and income opportunities for women in Kenya. 

Step 1 - Inquire: Students watch a video explaining ways to monitor the world's forests. Next, students explore the Global Forest Watch Interactive Map showing the health of the world's forests.

Step 2 - Investigate: Students watch a video about Wangari Maathai & The Green Belt Movement. Students answer guided questions as they watch the video.

Step 3 - Inspire: Teacher reads Wangari Maathai’s version of the “hummingbird story.” After listening, students write pledges about how they can contribute to restoring our Earth.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
45 minutes
  • Teacher shows the video Frontiers in Forest Monitoring: Introduction to Satellite Monitoring outlining Global Forest Watch. [5 min]

    • The video explains the purpose of Global Forest Watch.

    • Background: Global Forest Watch (GFW) is an online platform that provides data and tools for monitoring forests. By harnessing cutting edge technology, GFW allows anyone to access near real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world.

  • Teacher leads a brief discussion with your students using the following prompts: [5 min]

    • “Why does this tool exist?”

    • “Who do you think is happy about this tool?”

    • “Who might be upset that this tool exists?”

  • Students play with Global Forest Watch Interactive Map. [15 min]

    • Students can go anywhere in the world to see data from GFW.

    • Data can be layered, so students can see different data at the same time

    • There are five main categories to explore:

      • Forest change

      • Land cover

      • Land use

      • Climate

      • Biodiversity

    • One of the easiest ones to see and understand is Forest Change > Tree Cover Loss

    • Students chat with each other and write down at least 5 noticings and at least 5 wonderings as they explore. Example questions to generate noticings and wonderings:

      • What biome lies across most of northern Africa? How does that affect the data?
      • What is happening in most of Australia?
      • Why are regions in the Arctic Circle white?
      • What do you think government policies are in places like Brazil or Indonesia?
  • Teacher collects noticings and wonderings from students in a centralized location. You can use a chalkboard, whiteboard, Padlet, or Mentimeter. [5 min]

  • Teacher facilitates a discussion about what the students noticed. Create space for students to share their noticings and wonderings. Question prompts include: [15 min]

    • What did you notice?
    • What did you wonder?
    • Does that connect to anything you already know?
    • How does that connect to what [x student] said?
    • Tell us more about [x]...
15 minutes

  • Teacher introduces the students to Wangari Maathai. Teacher shows the video Wangari Maathai & The Green Belt Movement.

  • Students answer guiding questions on their own documents as they watch the video. You can also give students time after the video to write in the document.

20 minutes
  • Teacher reads Wangari Maathai’s version of the “hummingbird story.”

  • After reading the story, teacher hands out index cards.

    • On the index card, each student writes: “I pledge to restore the Earth by…”

    • Each student completes the sentence.

    • Teacher hangs the pledges in the classroom.

  • Example pledges:

    • I pledge to restore the Earth by riding my bike to school at least 3x per week from now until the end of the school year.

    • I pledge to restore the Earth by composting all household food waste at home from now until the end of the school year. Every Sunday I will empty it.

    • I pledge to restore the Earth by refusing to fly from now until the end of the school year.

    • I pledge to restore the Earth by only eating meat on the weekends from now until the end of the school year.

Teaching Tips
  • Learning Wangari Maathai’s story is empowering for students because it emphasizes the fact that nobody is too small to make a difference. Maathai grew up in poverty in rural Kenya. Now she is remembered as one of the most powerful voices for environmental conservation, proper governance, and peace.
  • This lesson can inspire students to take direct action, just like Wangari Maathai.
  • This lesson is excellent for teaching the interdependence of environmental conservation, proper governance, poverty, income opportunities, and women's rights.
  • Global Forest Watch is an incredible resource. It has beautiful, detailed data. Students may want to continue exploring on their own time.
Additional Prerequisites
  • Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was an environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental organization focused on planting trees and promoting gender equality.
  • Making the connection between deforestation and other topics (governance, poverty, income opportunities, and women’s rights) might be difficult for some concrete thinkers.
  • You could frame these topics using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
    • Goal 1: No Poverty
    • Goal 5: Gender Equality
    • Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
    • Goal 15: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
Scientist Notes

This lesson introduces students to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Wangari Maathai and deforestation. The Global Forest Watch resource is continually updated. This lesson has passed the science quality assessment.

  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
    • Dimension 2: Economics
      • D2.Eco.1.6-8 Explain how economic decisions affect the well-being of individuals, businesses, and society.
    • Dimension 2: Geography
      • D2.Geo.2.6-8 Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions, and changes in their environmental characteristics.
      • D2.Geo.4.6-8 Explain how cultural patterns and economic decisions influence environments and the daily lives of people in both nearby and distant places.
      • D2.Geo.5.6-8 Analyze the combinations of cultural and environmental characteristics that make places both similar to and different from other places.
      • D2.Geo.9.6-8 Evaluate the influences of long-term human-induced environmental change on spatial patterns of conflict and cooperation.
      • D2.Geo.10.6-8 Analyze the ways in which cultural and environmental characteristics vary among various regions of the world.
    • Dimension 4: Taking Informed Action
      • D4.7.6-8 Assess their individual and collective capacities to take action to address local, regional, and global problems, taking into account a range of possible levers of power, strategies, and potential outcomes.


Login to leave a review