Free Previews & Table of Contents
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Unit 1: Watch Where You Step
Students identify the components of an ecological footprint by creating a web diagram of all the resources they use in their everyday lives and the mark or “footprint” this consumption leaves on the environment. The activity emphasizes the interconnectedness of lifestyle, population, and environmental impacts, and focuses on solutions to reduce ecological footprints. Extension activities ask students to research past trends in ecological footprint size and to compare footprints from around the world.
Unit 2: Is It Sustainable?
Students define and discuss sustainability and its 3 key components: the economy, the environment, and society. They evaluate 2 seemingly identical apples through the lens of sustainability. Students then brainstorm and analyze the sustainability of a variety of actions taken by individuals, businesses, and governments, using a Venn diagram to help organize the process. A homework assignment calls for students to evaluate the sustainability of resources they use on a daily basis.
Unit 3: Shop Till You Drop?
In this simulation, students experience how resources are distributed and used by different people based on access to wealth, while paying attention to the environmental and social impacts of resource consumption. Students discuss and write about personal and structural solutions to increase the environmental and social sustainability of consumption choices. An extension activity focuses on real-world resource distribution per capita.
Unit 4: Are You Buying This?
Students examine the influence of media on consumption habits by working in groups to create and present mock television commercials for products linked to unsustainable or unhealthy behaviors. Students first present the commercials as they would typically be seen on television and then present them a second time through the lens of sustainability. On a second day, students review their own energy and water consumption habits and then create commercials for alternative products that use these resources in a sustainable manner.
Unit 5: What Makes a Civilization Sustainable?
Students read about past societies, drawing conclusions about why they may have failed. Causes of failure are grouped into broad categories. Students explore ways in which the lessons of the past can be applied to modern societies to ensure sustainability.
In groups, students create representational maps of their school and the surrounding community in order to conceptualize and understand the relationships between neighborhood resources, the environment, community, and sustainability. Students then brainstorm specific ways to make the school neighborhood more sustainable through improvements to the physical environment and revise their maps to reflect these enhancements. A homework assignment asks students to assess the availability of important resources near their homes. In an extension activity, students present their ideas to community stakeholders.
Unit 7: Three Faces of Governance
Students create a sustainable national energy policy via cooperation and negotiation among the 3 faces of governance:
the State (Government), Civic Organizations, and the Private Sector. In groups representing each of these areas, students work to accomplish their individual policy goals while negotiating and forming coalitions with other groups to strengthen their overall energy policy. Policy proposals are presented and 1 plan is selected to become a national energy policy.
Unit 8: Creating Our Future
How do we create a just and humane world for ourselves and for future generations? Help students identify and plan what they want their future to look like. Using an action-planning model, students visualize their desired future, identify objectives, develop a plan to address local and global issues, and implement their vision through action and service learning.
Reading 1: Ecological Footprint
Students learn how population and consumption can affect humanity’s ecological footprint, or our impact on Earth’s resources.
Reading 2: Feeding the World
Students learn how different methods of agriculture have impacted global sustainability. The reading explores historic and modern trends in agriculture.
Students learn how public transportation, waste management, and community spaces play a part in sustainable development.
Reading 4: What Is Good Governance?
Students learn how government, civic organizations, and business all play a role in governance. The reading explores real-world examples of effective and ineffective governance.
Why Use Understanding Sustainability?
The purpose of this unit is to teach important sustainability concepts and their interconnections, including natural resources, human population growth, and resource consumption. Lessons link to relevant and easy-to-implement action projects, including a sustainability audit in which students investigate and make recommendations about their school’s energy, water, trash, and transportation use. Students develop critical thinking and collaboration skills while applying sustainability concepts in their local and global communities.
Issues Covered/Key Concepts:
- Action planning
- Civic engagement
- Community planning
- Ecological footprint
- Personal solutions
- Quality of life
- Resource consumption
- Structural solutions
- Sustainable civilizations
Student Skills Developed:
- Critical thinking
- Historical analysis
- Systems thinking
- Written and oral communication
How to Use Understanding Sustainability
Understanding Sustainability can be used as a short unit on global issues or as an engaging contextual framework within which core subjects are taught. Understanding Sustainability is often compatible with existing curriculum requirements and topics and extends students’ learning through an interdisciplinary approach to issues.
This unit is thoughtful and engaging. It allows students to weave between sustainability locally and globally. I especially appreciated the history lesson as too often we look at sustainability as a modern notion; this will empower students to look at this issue across time and space.
- High School Global Issues & World Affairs Teacher, Kent, WA
Facing the Future offers the following workshop to help you learn more about Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Alaska Social Studies, Grades 9-12:
Understanding Sustainability: 2-Week Unit for High School Social Studies
Engage your students in an examination of what it means to be a sustainable community, democracy, and civilization. This workshop provides a tour of Understanding Sustainability which includes concepts such as resource consumption, governance, and civic engagement. This unit of study is appropriate for Contemporary World Problems, World History, Civics, Geography, and Global Issues classes; it includes eight stand-alone, activity-based lessons, student readings, assignments, assessments, and action project ideas. Your students will gain skills in critical thinking, historical analysis, mapping, problem-solving, and collaboration.
Additional Professional Development Opportunities
To learn more about our upcoming workshops, webinars, and conferences, please visit our Workshop Calendar. If you are interested in having Facing the Future present at your next event, please contact us.
To complement Understanding Sustainability, this section contains background information and additional resources to help educators and students learn more about global issues and sustainability.