Earth Day, coming up on April 22nd, is a great opportunity for kids to learn about science, garner an appreciation of nature, and find ways to take care of the warming planet. All that was much easier when your child was in elementary school. Get down and dirty with some trash bags on main street, or plant a tree in your backyard, and that just about did it. But, if you have a middle schooler, you know it can be tough to get her inspired.

But a competition offering cool prizes and the chance to have your work in the spotlight may be just the right incentive to get kids thinking on Earth Day.

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, a nonprofit organization working to promote science education, is challenging middle schoolers to photograph something that is changing in their local environment. It just so happens that April is a month which features many changes in your local environment: flowers sprout up out of nowhere, the days grow longer, birds begin their trek north, and the brooks start to babble as mountain snow begins making its journey to the sea.

The “Snapshots of Spring” contest runs from Monday April 19 through Friday April 30, 2010. During that week, encourage your child to pause and observe changes in nature through the lens of a camera. It could be a change in your backyard, on school grounds, or at your local park. It could be something as small as a bumble bee or as expansive as the horizon. As simple as a blade of grass, or as dramatic as a thunder storm.

Middle schoolers must then research and write a scientific explanation (400 words or less) that answers the following questions:

What is the change taking place in your photograph?

What part or parts of the Earth system may be causing the change?

Was the change expected?

How might the change impact surrounding areas, including people?

How might this picture look different in the future?

This contest is open to all U.S. students in grades 5-8 and entries must be received by email or postmarked by May 12, 2010. Photographs may be submitted via e-mail to [email protected] as a high-resolution TIFF or JPEG. For the best results, use the highest resolution setting on your camera. A signed entry form, found here, must also be submitted. Entries will be judged based on relevance to the contest theme (depiction of change in the environment), uniqueness and overall appearance of the photo, and quality of the essay.

The first place winner receives a digital camera. The top 10 winners will receive their photograph in a special frame commemorating Earth Day 2010. Even more top picks will be featured on the IGES Web site, Winners will be announced on the IGES Web site around June 1, 2010.

For more information about the contest, go to