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Disney's Planet Challenge Is Now Open to Middle School Students, Too

Why should elementary school kids have all the fun? New competition broadens scope of environmental learning program

Disney's Planet Challenge has been a great success at the elementary school level, offering fun, project-based lessons on science and conservation, while also emphasizing imagination, innovation and creativity. But there's been a clamor from middle school teachers: Can't you do anything for us, too?

For the 2010-11 school year, we have. For the first time, Disney's Planet Challenge will offer a separate competition for grades 6-8. The elementary school contest, meanwhile, has been reconfigured for grades 3-5.


The middle school competition takes the same educationally balanced approach as our original contest. Like the elementary school contest, the middle school competition is free to enter and encourages students to conduct research, develop problem-solving skills and apply science and other interdisciplinary lessons in a local setting to help understand and protect the environment. Classes choose a topic to pursue and create a portfolio to document their work through notes, artwork, photos and videos. Teachers can draw upon our sample lesson plans to make sure that educational content aligns with regional standards, but students manage the process from start to finish.

Classes of no more than 40 students may enroll in the middle school competition. After-school clubs are eligible as long as the club is an integral part of the regular classroom curriculum and is comprised of students from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

The judging process and prize structure are a little different from the elementary school competition. Instead of a trip to Disneyland, the top prize is a $20,000 award for the winning class to continue or expand its project—whether that's protecting a local habitat, kick-starting a renewable energy effort or cleaning up an environmentally fragile site. The students and their schoolmates will also be treated to a Disney concert in May 2011.

"Districts that have participated at the elementary school level can now continue their participation at the middle school level."

There are three tiers of judging in the new middle school contest. Projects are evaluated by a panel of experts on environmental relevance, student learning, changes in practices and attitudes, community involvement, originality and lasting benefits to students, the school or the community. A rubric has been developed to measure all projects evenly and fairly.

In the initial phase, a team of educators selects finalists from each state based on their portfolios. The top 20 projects will then be screened again to yield the final four teams. Those classes will be invited to submit a grant proposal that outlines how they would maintain or build upon their projects. The grand prize and other runner-up prizes will be determined by those submissions.

To get started on entering, visit the Disney's Planet Challenge website at

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