Noah, HS, Global Leadership

Correlating Local and Global Sustainability Issues

© Tania Westby
Interview with Noah Zeichner

In this interview Noah describes how he uses Facing the Future activities to correlate local and global sustainability issues.

School: Chief Sealth International High School, Seattle, WA

Grades: 10-12     Classroom Size: 25-30

Subjects: Global Leadership, U.S. History, Theory of Knowledge

Classroom Challenges:

  • Achievement Gap
  • At-risk Youth
  • Classroom Management
  • ESL/ELL
  • Large Classroom or Large Group Activities
  • Small Classroom or Small Group Activities
  • Special Needs/Inclusion

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


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

"I use Facing the Future within my content units. A lot of the Global Leadership class that we’ve developed with Global Visionaries works on leadership skills, which we weave through the content. Right now we have three developed units. One of the units is based on the Facing the Future Climate Change unit, which we piloted a couple of years ago. We’ve adapted it a little bit - reformatted it a little bit to fit our context."

Noah uses the following Facing the Future resources:

How did these resources fit into your curriculum?

© Tania Westby"We do a whole unit on water scarcity and there are particular pieces from Facing the Future that are incorporated into our unit, including 'Every Drop Counts!' [see Lesson 16 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. We do some aspects of that lesson – we do a water carrying simulation, some of the little demonstrations. Then I bring in guest speakers from Water 1st International. I've also brought in speakers from the Common Language Project. They are independent journalists, who spent this past year reporting on water scarcity issues from East Africa. They had spent several months living there and reporting and came in to share some of their research.

Global water scarcity is one aspect of our unit. 'Every Drop Counts!' hits the global and local levels, since we do the water audit [see Lesson 16 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. We do the water audit, we have the kids interview a few people about their access to water, and they read a section from It’s All Connected. They go through the water cycle and the terminology that we use. We talk about the bottled water industry, the impact of plastic beverage bottles on the environment, and the myth of bottled water being safer, higher quality than tap water.

The main Facing the Future pieces in water are pages 36-37 of It’s All Connected and 'Every Drop Counts!'. I expanded upon this over the four or five weeks. During the last week of each unit we take the kids over to the elementary school to a fourth or fifth grade classroom. They develop lessons based on what they have studied and for about 45-minutes, they teach a small group of fourth graders. That is the most powerful part of this class; they get to go out and teach what they’ve learned."


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

"I feel like I teach only from supplemental materials. That is how I tend to operate in all of my classes. I don’t focus in on a single text. In my class it’s easy, because the whole curriculum that we have adopted brings supplemental materials together. If I didn’t have this environment to do this in what would I do? I guess if a teacher were to say, 'I am teaching about Roman History and I want to bring in something in about water or contemporary issues about water,' you just look for those connections. Every topic I’m talking about in social studies has issues and themes embedded in it. If you are teaching history you should always be pulling those connections into contemporary issues because these are perennial issues. Humans have always needed safe water supplies. Humans have always needed water to irrigate their crops. So, you look for those perennial issues that exist today and in the past."


What were your main objectives/goals for this course?

"Content-wise I want them to understand the limited availability of fresh water on this planet on personal, local, and global levels. Taking that further, I want them to understand how it impacts daily lives of other people, specifically in developing nations. That is always the challenge - to connect global scarcity with the personal, local side of water issues. You can almost teach this in two pieces, local and global. The difficulty is to connect them and that comes through the action projects."


What skills did your students gain?

"They are definitely gaining critical thinking skills, collaboration skills, and leadership skills. My class is focused on collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, rather than monitoring their reading and writing levels."


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

"I have to adjust the activities, so that everyone can participate. For example, last year, one of my students was confined to a wheel chair. That might mean if usually I did something outside I would do it inside. For the water carrying activity, from 'Every Drop Counts!', I changed the route. It’s a simple adjustment, but I always have to be aware of who is in my classroom. That is just the reality of teaching."


What parts of the unit engaged your students the most?

"Well the most hands-on, active activities are the most engaging. It is much more engaging for them to do a water carrying exercise and have a discussion about it, than perhaps reading and talking in small groups about the terminology they encountered. Another [lesson] that I have done is the 'Global Mall' [see Lesson 30 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. That is a very active lesson, where they are moving around and talking to each other. The climate change activity where they are learning about cap and trade, those are always the most engaging [see Lesson 7 in Climate Change, Grades 9-12]."


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

"My students are involved in an action project that they design. It can be anything from a personal water audit, like the one in 'Every Drop Counts!', which they all do [see Lesson 16 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. We take the lesson further by trying to reduce and measure their consumption. So, a simple project might be - 'my sister and I are going to use a 100 gallons less per month and here is how we are going to do it and measure it.' A more complex action project might be researching the two huge Aquifina water machines in our school. Students could find out how much money they are generating and then find a sustainable way to generate that money, without selling disposable water bottles. Maybe, selling reusable water bottles and bottled water service to refill it."


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

"I want to learn how to pull off a series of action projects, successfully, within the context of a six period day in a high school. That is something that I really need to master, while making sure that the kids follow through and lead it successfully."


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

"I just pay attention, I watch what’s going on, and when I attend conferences I seek out workshops on global issues and global sustainability topics. Certain journals that I subscribe to include Rethinking Schools and Social Education. Rethinking Schools recently released a whole issue on environmental justice and there are some really amazing ideas in there on how to teach a unit on climate change. I am looking at incorporating some of these ideas into what Facing the Future has put together."


Do you plan to teach this unit/lesson again? What would you do differently next time?
© Tania Westby

"I am always asking myself if I should do the water carrying before or after the talk about what water carrying is. Usually I bring Water 1st International in to talk about sustainable projects that they work on. They provide a lot of imagery about areas where people carry water. I also show a MTV video from a few years ago. This video features Jay-Z going to Africa, carrying water, and learning about the issue. I don’t know that I’ve figured it out - it’s experiential. I guess I might keep [the water carrying activity] before the talks and videos, because students realize that water carrying is a waste of valuable time, even before we discuss the real issues. They begin to realize that people who are carrying water could be doing other things, like getting an education or generating income."


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

"One minor challenge in the water carrying activity is having enough gallons of water and trying to get the kids to bring in a gallon. I’ve had them carry other things, maybe they take a recycling can filled with books to simulate the weight. A gallon of water is about 1/5 of what the actual jug weighs when people carry it in other countries. It doesn’t have to be a gallon of water, but I usually have about half of the kids carrying water and about half the kids carrying something else. As long as they are carrying something that weighs at least 8-10 pounds it will work. I’ve never successfully had a whole class with everyone with a gallon on water. So, that is one little glitch that can be fixed.

The other question that I would encourage teachers to think about is what do you do with all this water after you do all of the water carrying? Have the class come up with something to use it for. If you have 30 kids in class that’s 30 gallons of water. So what do you do with it all when you are done?"


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

"Well, look at global issues in whatever you are teaching. If it’s history look for sustainability issues in other time periods. If you're teaching about the Mayan civilization there are some serious sustainability issues embedded in that history. If you are having trouble, look for connections between past history and the present. There is nothing more important than teaching about global sustainability. My tip for history teachers is that there’s sustainability issues embedded throughout history."


Learn more about Noah's work


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