Liza, MS, Environmental Science

Broadening Students' Global Perspective


Interview with Liza Esser

In this interview Liza describes how she uses Facing the Future activities to broaden her students' global perspective while teaching about sustainability.

School: Capitol Hill Day School, Washington, D.C.

Grades: 6-8     Classroom Size: 12

Subject: Environmental Science

Classroom Challenges:

  • Classroom Management
  • Gifted/Advanced Learners
  • Small Classroom
  • Small Group Activities

Click on a topic below to read more about Liza's work:


Please describe your experience with Facing the Future materials and how you use them in your classroom:

"I use it over 4-5 months during a population unit, an ecological footprint/sustainability unit, and a climate change and energy unit. I weave the materials throughout those units."

Liza uses the following Facing the Future resources:

How did these resources fit into your curriculum?

"The topics fit well with what I was already doing. When I started teaching the environmental science class, the curriculum was based on the local environment (the Chesapeake Bay) and focused mainly on water and ecology concepts. These materials allowed me to broaden the curriculum and give it a global perspective. Previously, the course was not integrated with other subjects but this curriculum allowed for that. Now, I start by focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and then move on to the larger community using Facing the Future materials."


A lot of teachers struggle to find room in their curriculum for supplemental materials, like Facing the Future materials. How did you do this?

"As a teacher at an independent school, I’m fortunate to have flexibility in how I implement curriculum. I can modify the curriculum to fit my interests and that of my students. Additionally, the Facing the Future curriculum addresses topics that we already were studying, so it wasn’t difficult to add new lessons into the unit."


What standards were used or met when using Facing the Future materials?

"Some school-wide goals are to teach students to think critically and find patterns. The global framework of the lessons helps with this. It helps them to see interconnectedness and patterns."


What were your main objectives/goals for this course?

"To help students to see the environment on a global scale and to see how their actions affect both the local and global environment. I also like to make them aware of the social justice aspect of environmentalism, and how peoples’ lives and resource use are very different in various places around the world."


How did the Facing the Future lessons help you meet these objectives/goals?

"It has a global perspective, but it’s not agenda driven. It doesn’t 'take a side' but teaches students to think deeply about environmental issues. It helps them to be more conscious of their actions and the world around them."


What skills did your students gain?

"The students learned content skills related to environmental science – topics such as carrying capacity, resources, and limiting factors. They also learned critical thinking and systems thinking skills. From a social perspective, students learned to be more compassionate and gained a more informed worldview. Additionally, the Climate Change unit helped reinforce their graphing skills."


How do Facing the Future resources help you address your classroom challenges?
  • "Gifted/Advanced Learners
    The activities have a lot of extensions so students can take the activities in a lot of directions (e.g., the 'Watch Where You Step!' lesson turned into a major research project) [see Lesson 12 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. They can be used as shorter activities or developed into something bigger.

  • Classroom management
    The activities are well thought out and get the kids working in groups together. They also lend themselves to student directed learning; you can explain the task and then let them go to work. The activities give students many opportunities to show their work and explain concepts to each other, which is very engaging for them."

Did you make adjustments to Facing the Future lesson(s)/reading(s) for your classroom type?

"I have 40-minute classes so sometimes I skip over parts of the lesson or shorten it to fit into a class period. Or I build the lesson out to become a bigger project over several days or weeks. There is lots of flexibility to either expand or jump into the meat of the lesson."


What parts of the unit engaged your students the most?

"The hands-on and interactive portions. They like doing skits and activities where they can work in a group, perform, or present."


What resources do you use to complement Facing the Future materials?

How did these resources complement each other?

"It’s pretty organic. It took several years to figure out how they all fit together and I now feel happy with the progression of the class."


Did you incorporate an action project or service learning component in the unit/lesson?

"We have in the past, but not now. In the past we’ve worked with Chesapeake Bay Foundation to do service learning. Currently we’re exploring ways to integrate more environmental service projects into our curriculum school-wide."


Do these materials and teaching global sustainability help you be a better teacher?

"I think so because it’s something that students feel is relevant to their lives. When I first started teaching, sustainability issues didn’t seem to be so pervasive, but now the kids are really interested in it because it’s talked about in the media and in their homes. There’s a lot more awareness about environmental issues today than there was 10 years ago. I feel great that I can help build on that."


What are the professional development implications of using Facing the Future materials?

"It’s inspiring for me. It sustains me to teach about issues that are critical to all of our lives. It makes students excited about learning and there’s nothing more rewarding to a teacher."


In terms of sustainability and global issues education, what do you want to know more about?

"I’d like to understand more about what the most sustainable actions are, what the trade-offs are with different choices we make each day. When talking about ecological footprint, for example, it sometimes feels trite to just talk about carpooling or recycling—things that many people are already doing. I am curious to learn about ways we can truly make an impact with our choices as both individuals and communities. How can we think outside the box to make our communities more 'green' and sustainable? Learning more about food systems and sustainable agriculture is also interesting to me lately."


What resources do you have available to help you acquire new knowledge and skills in teaching about global sustainability?

"My school supports me by giving me both time and funding to go to conferences. I tend to attend the sustainability and environment related sessions at conferences."


What advice, if any, would you give to teachers using these Facing the Future lessons for the first time?

"Start with a lesson or two and then add more each year. You don’t have to take a whole curriculum and teach every lesson in it. Start by integrating the materials into what you are already doing. It’s okay to start small and build."


Tell me about something that went well and something that did not go as well when teaching these lessons:

A 'Watch Where You Step!' poster from Liza's class

"'Watch Where You Step!' is one of my favorites [see Lesson 12 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. I always learn a lot and so do the students. Kids are always surprised to learn that plastic comes from oil, for example. There are a lot of 'a-ha!' moments from that one.

Sometimes I have trouble fitting things into my class period because it is 40-minutes long. I used several of the climate change lessons this year and had trouble getting them to fit. I didn’t have time for the readings and discussion so the lessons lost some of their impact. I was doing them for the first time so I have to rework those lessons to make them more effective."


Anything else you’d you like to share with other teachers who are looking to engage their students in global issues and sustainability?

"That it’s worth the time that you put into it because it’s something that really makes an impact on the students. I often hear stories from students and parents about how learning about sustainability has affected kids and inspired them to make changes in their lives. That is very rewarding to me."



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