Wendy, MS, Social Studies

Scaffolding New Concepts with Hands-On Curriculum

Wendy Ewbank from Seattle Girls SchoolInterview with Wendy Ewbank

In this interview Wendy describes how she uses Facing the Future activities to engage students on an emotional level, when scaffolding new concepts.

School: Seattle Girls School, Seattle, WA

Grade: 7     Classroom Size: ~18

Subject: Social Studies and Science 

Classroom Challenges:
  • Achievement Gap
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Gifted or Advanced Learners
  • Small Classroom or Small Group Activities

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

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

"Facing the Future lessons are often the hook into a unit or a topic. For example, 'Shop 'till you Drop?' was the hook for our Pay It Forward project [see Lesson 30 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. It got my students thinking beyond their own daily lives as they thought about their needs versus their wants and how to be change agents. It helped them to realize their privilege. The fact that they got engaged on an emotional level meant that the scaffold for the concept was there and it did not go away. The concepts are introduced in a way that sticks."

Wendy uses the following Facing the Future resources:

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 don’t do it as much as I’d like to for that reason, but every time I do the kids love it, so it makes me go back to it. The fact that the kids enjoy something participatory makes me fit it in. I use it for the critical thinking and the hook that it provides."

Please describe the unit with which you have used Facing the Future materials:

Wendy's students participating in the 'Fishing for the Future' lesson"I use [Facing the Future resources] in my 7th grade social studies class which is U.S. History and Civics. A huge passion of mine is civic engagement, and I want kids to be better people for taking my class. The materials also fit in the environmental science unit too.

In our climate change unit I use the lessons on ecosystem impacts and energy sources [see Climate Change: Connections and Solutions]. These laid the groundwork for a role play/town meeting that we did at the end of the unit. I also had students write a member of congress or person in power to exhibit their learning and I used Facing the Future lessons to introduce it.

I used the Buy, Use, Toss? lessons as a year-end wrap up. We’d been learning about U.S. citizenship and this allowed us to... connect that to global citizenship.

Speaking more generally about how this fits into my teaching - I want students in my class to walk away as productive global citizens. In order to do that you have to address issues at the root causes. Facing the Future really gets at root causes effectively. Whatever Facing the Future lesson I’m using I can be confident that it’ll address a real world problem and solution and that it educates kids around the root cause of the problem."

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

"There are concepts I want my students to know and be able to apply and Facing the Future has helped me create experiences that teach those concepts well. An example of a concept I want them to learn is that 'all of our daily actions have impacts'. You can talk about that, but to do something that is engaging that gets at impacts and suggests solutions really helps me meet the goal that students realize that their daily actions have consequences that are often negative and unintended."

What skills did your students gain?

Wendy's student creating a poster for the 'Watch Where You Step!' lesson"Thinking outside the box. For example, in both 'Fishing for the Future' and 'Shop Till You Drop?', students came up with unsolicited solutions/actions like fishing in another group's ocean or giving a loan to another group since some groups had more money than others [see Lessons 20 and 30 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. Role plays allow students to think creatively. If you are given a text and asked questions, there is no room for creativity. In Facing the Future lessons the questions are not so much literal questions, they are applications and problem solving questions which encourage kids to think creatively and more critically. The kinds of skills they develop are learning to work with other people, assuming the perspective of other people, absorbing something and articulating it in their own words, and thinking about the 'so what' and 'now what' of the issue."

How do Facing the Future resources help you address your classroom challenges?

"Facing the Future provides hands-on, cooperative tasks that allow groups of students to problem solve/collaborate on a solution.

  • Achievement Gap
    The home environments and past experiences of my students are very diverse. The more you can provide experiences that level the playing field the better. Facing the Future resources do this because the lessons don’t rely on students having prior knowledge. Things that are hands-on help with this. The role playing activities are also helpful.
  • Differentiated instruction
    We don’t do a lot of direct instruction, so materials that foster group work and help develop critical thinking skills, like Facing the Future materials, are things I look for. I don’t want to hose down the classroom with the same content. When I use a Facing the Future lesson, I don’t necessarily use it the way it is written but it gives me avenues and connections to other resources, so it’s differentiated for the teacher too. It doesn’t feel canned like other curriculum does.
  • Gifted/Advanced learners
    The lessons lend themselves to a lot of sophistication or simplicity. The concepts are simple, but the critical thinking questions themselves are incredibly thoughtful. There is a lot of meat for kids operating at a high level.
  • Small Group
    We don’t do a lot of direct instruction, so materials that foster group work and help develop critical thinking skills, like Facing the Future materials, are things I look for."

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

Wendy's students participating in the 'Fishing for the Future' lesson"I always make adjustments to lessons I use. For example, sometimes I might have additional information and websites to dig deeper and further the research. I did this with the energy sources lesson. I also sometimes add a writing component on to the lesson, like having students do a free write, journal entry or write a letter. Sometimes I combine lessons together or take an idea from one lesson and use it somewhere else. For example, I’ve taken discussion questions from a Facing the Future lesson and used it as the basis for a town hall meeting where I created roles students can play. There is a lot of cross fertilization of lessons.

Facing the Future provides a lot of intellectual juice for teachers so that they can readily tap into that as moments arise in the classroom. There are lots of resources provided so I feel much more on top of these issues. I don’t have time to do all that research myself."

What parts of the unit engaged your students the most?

"The hands-on elements, the lessons where they get to play a role (lots of lessons involve role-playing.)"

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

"I make up a lot of my stuff. I had a collaboration with a woman who did environmental justice work. She came into my class and taught four lessons. I’m initiating another collaboration with the geography chair at the University of Washington. She is really into having kids map their neighborhood. They’ll look at social factors, labor factors, etc. and map it. This idea is that this kind of work will make them more participatory citizens."

Wendy also uses the following resources:

How did these resources complement each other?

"It’s all about critical thinking. Those resources and Facing the Future [resources] do not dumb down concepts for kids."

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

Wendy's students collaborating to make a 'Watch Where You Step!' poster"Our third term culminating event requires them to take an issue of personal passion and write an essay about root causes of the problem. They have to interview someone impacted by the problem or who works on the problem. They develop an action plan to address one or more issues of the root problem. They also do an art piece that communicates their message about the issues and they participate in an activity on the culminating event night where they have to work together to see commonalities on multiple root causes of issues. The 'Making Global Connections' activity works well with this [see Lesson 4 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]."

Have Facing the Future materials helped you participate in school or district-wide sustainability projects?

"I’m a Facing the Future Peer Educator so I got to go to Milwaukee and Lake Chelan to present to other teachers. I’ve gone a number of conferences. It has also helped me be a resource to other people in my building. I got all the teachers in the school on board and they are using it too. When I taught a social studies methods class at the University of Washington I brought the Facing the Future materials in as well."

Do Facing the Future materials help you be a better teacher?

"Yes. Because not only are the lessons consistently engaging which makes me look good because the kids like the class, but I apply the use of hands-on, engaging simulation activities to other units that I write. I might get an idea from a Facing the Future activity and apply it elsewhere. I pick up ideas for original lessons."

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

"How young people can work with young people around the world to pressure our elected leaders. Is there something we could do with the combined energy of all the people that are working on these issues to have a bigger impact?"

How do you assess these lessons?

"There is no formal assessment, but the concepts I introduce using Facing the Future are later assessed. I feel confident that conceptually our major assessments address these issues."

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

"Trust that it will work. I haven’t done anything that has flopped. There are so many entry points, be aware and thinking about where you can take this. Think about what this relates to that you’ve already done. Think about how you can link it – it’s not just about this lesson."

Assignments and Rubrics

Below you will find pieces from Wendy's Pay It Forward project.

Download the 'Pay it Forward' Check-List

Download the Pay it Forward Check-List

Download the 'Pay it Forward' Grant Proposal Project

Download the Pay it Forward Grant Proposal Project

This grant proposal activity was completed in three groups of 10-12. At the project's culminating event students were given 30 minutes to arrive at a consensus proposal.

Learn more about Wendy's work


Have you created inspiring adaptations with Facing the Future's lessons? Then contact us to be featured as a Classroom Example.



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