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Curricula for Global Sustainability Education

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Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Life, Physical, and Earth Sciences, Grades 6-8 - Lesson Plan PDF
Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Life, Physical, and Earth Sciences, Grades 6-8 - Lesson Plan PDF

Teacher Lesson Plan PDF
Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Life, Physical, and Earth Sciences is a flexible, self-contained two-week curriculum unit aligned with national science standards for middle school educators to teach sustainability issues. The curriculum unit features hands-on activities that explore sustainability issues, such as energy, consumption, water scarcity, transportation choices, and potential solutions. Understanding Sustainability has been reviewed and tested by teachers, students, and experts.

ISBN 9780981557700
Price $4.99



Free Previews & Table of Contents

Table of Contents and Introduction

Download the Introduction and Table of ContentsThis download contains the table of contents and introduction.




Unit 1: Fishing for the Future

Through a fishing simulation, students model several consecutive seasons of a fishery and explore how technology, population growth, and sustainable practices impact fish catch and fisheries management. As the students progress through the fishing seasons, they will likely overfish their oceans and will have to migrate to other oceans to meet their basic needs.


Unit 2: 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.


Unit 3: Systems Are Dynamic


Students experience the dynamic, interconnected, and self-organizing nature of systems through an exercise in which they move around an open space trying to keep an equal distance between themselves and 2 other people.


Unit 4: Who You Callin’ Bigfoot?


Students determine ways to increase the sustainability of their lifestyles. Each student changes 1 aspect of his or her daily life for 1 week to reduce his or her Ecological Footprint. Students present their results to the class at the end of the project.


Unit 5: School Sustainability Audit


On Day 1, students perform a sustainability audit of their school in 4 groups (Energy, Water, Waste, and Transportation). On Day 2, each group writes a news article and presents their audit results and recommendations to the class.


Unit 6: Is It Sustainable?


Students define and discuss sustainability and its 3 key components: the economy, the environment, and society. Students brainstorm, analyze, and write about the sustainability of a variety of actions taken by individuals, businesses, and governments, using a Venn diagram to help organize the process.


Unit 7: Toil for Oil


In this oil extraction simulation, students experience the increasing difficulty of extracting a limited, nonrenewable resource over several years. Students consider and discuss renewable energy sources.


Unit 8: Every Drop Counts!


Through a series of water related lessons, including a water trivia game and a short demonstration, students learn how much of the earth’s water is available for human and other species’ needs.


Unit 9: Deep Space 3000


This collaborative activity will help students envision and create a sustainable environment through the design of a “closed system” spaceship that will be in outer space for 3,000 years, and then bring healthy and happy future generations back to Earth.


Reading 1: Ecological Footprint

Students learn how each person’s lifestyle and resource consumption choices affect their ecological footprint.


Reading 2: Sustainability


Students learn how the three major components of sustainability (environment, society, and economy) are interconnected.


Reading 3: Energy and Sustainability


Students learn about the differences between renewable and nonrenewable energy sources and their impacts on the environment.


Reading 4: Sustainable Solutions—We Can Do It!


Students learn about the steps that they can take to work toward a locally and globally sustainable future.

Resource Details

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:
  • Ecological Footprint
  • Energy resources
  • Fisheries
  • Interconnections
  • Population growth
  • Carrying capacity
  • Renewable and nonrenewable resources
  • Sustainability Systems
  • Water resources
  • Technology

Student Skills Developed:
  • Critical thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Outreach to school community


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.

State Standards

Curriculum Funding Toolkit

Use this toolkit to help find funds to purchase Facing the Future curriculum for your classroom. The funding opportunities listed below have been screened by Facing the Future staff to ensure that they are easy to apply to and that funds from these sources can be used to purchase our curriculum.

Learn more about:

Do you know of other funding opportunities that would enable educators to purchase Facing the Future curriculum? Contact us to help spread the word.



Current Funding Opportunities


Eligibility: Teachers, Schools, Districts

Amount: Varies  |  Deadline:  Open

Adopt-A-Classroom partners donors with teachers so you can have funds to purchase critical resources and materials for your classroom. By registering, your classroom will be posted on the Adopt-A-Classroom website available for donors to select. When adopted, you will have full discretion to purchase items that meet your unique classroom needs. FAQs


Eligibility: K–12 public schools

Amount: Varies  Deadline: Open

Teachers can post a project or curriculum they would like to fund. Donors can make an online donation for any amount toward the cost of the project or curriculum. When the item is fully funded, DonorsChoose purchases the item and sends it and a thank you kit to the teacher.

The Lawrence Foundation

Eligibility: U.S.-based IRS 501(c)(3) qualified charitable or public schools and libraries

Amount: Varies  Deadline: April 30 and October 31

The foundation is focused on making grants to support education, health, human services, and other causes, with the opportunity to support other diverse areas on an occasional basis.

Learn and Serve America

Eligibility: Local Educational Agencies, public or private schools, nonprofits, and higher education institutions

Amount: Varies by state  |  Deadline: Varies by state

Do you have an idea for a service-learning project that will impact your community? Learn and Serve America provides grant support annually (primarily through intermediaries) to diverse partnerships to develop and sustain service-learning projects. Generally, grants are for a period of three years, renewable annually contingent upon performance and the availability of funds.

Note: Funds are allocated to each State by a formula that considers each State’s school-age population and Title I allotment. Grants are awarded on a non-competitive basis to States through State Education Agencies (SEAs) that then provide sub-grants to Local Educational Agencies, public or private schools, nonprofits, and higher education institutions that implement programs.

Examples of State Learn and Serve Programs: FL, NY, TX, IL,CA, WA

Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

As the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) reminds our country of its obligations to children and provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child while providing the best tools for parents to help their children be successful students.

Student Achievement Grants - NEA Foundation

Eligibility: Applicants must be practicing U.S public school teachers in grades PreK–12, public school education support professionals, or faculty and staff at public higher education institutions

Amount: $5,000   |  Deadline: Open

The NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grants aim to improve the academic achievement of students in U.S. public schools and public higher education institutions in any subject area(s). The proposed work should engage students in critical thinking and problem solving that deepen their knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The work should also improve students’ habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection.

Toshiba America Foundation

Eligibility: Public and non-profit private schools

Amount: Varies

Deadline: Applications for grades K-5 accepted once a year on October 1st; applications for less than $5,000 for grades 6-12 accepted on a rolling basis; applications for more than $5,000 for grades 6-12 due August 2, 2010.

Toshiba America Foundation (TAF) grants fund the projects ideas and materials teachers need to innovate in their math and science classrooms. TAF is interested in funding projects designed by teachers or small teams of teachers for use in their own schools.

Verizon Foundation

Eligibility: Schools and 501(c)3 organizations

Amount: Grants average between $5,000 and $10,000  |   Deadline: January 1 and October 31

The Verizon Foundation seeks to improve literacy, knowledge, and readiness for the twenty-first century. Its four core areas are education, literacy, Internet safety, and domestic violence.  Eligible organizations seeking grants from the Verizon Foundation must be prepared to track and report program outcomes and specific results that demonstrate measurable human impact. In the grant application, organizations must indicate what outcomes are targeted through programming and what results, as specified on the grant application, the organization will measure.

About Federal Funding

Federal funds tend to be large grant awards and most often are open to schools, districts, or state governments. Individual teachers are not typically awarded small grants through Federal Grant Programs. You can search all federal funding opportunities at or Department of Education funding opportunities at their Discretionary Grant Application Packages page.

Information About Programs

Use the Guide to Education Programs to learn about federally funded programs. Below are direct links to specific programs for which funding opportunities may arise or may be available through your state:


Grants Forecasting
The grants forecast can help you identify grant competitions within some of these programs that may open soon.


Tips and Resources



Don’t let a lack of funds keep you from using our curriculum resources. If you teach at a Title I school or have a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch, please contact us.

Classroom Examples 

The classroom examples below show how Understanding Sustainability can be used to address a variety of classroom challenges and increase student involvement.

Matt D'Amato
  • School: Vanguard High School, New York, New York
  • Grades: 11-12     Classroom Size: 20
  • Subject: Environmental Science

Jessica Levine, photo courtesy of Suzie Fitzhugh
Jessica Levine
  • School: Eckstein Middle School, Seattle, WA
  • Grades: 6-8     Classroom Size: 24-31
  • Subject: Science

Educator Quotes

 I wish more science teachers had these units in their hands. The lessons really allow the students an opportunity to see how this affects them which is sometimes difficult to do as a middle schooler. 

- Middle School math and science teacher, University Place, WA


 The lessons are carefully thought through, are reasonably comprehensive for two weeks, and have nice variety of book, teacher, and student-directed learning as well as a fine balance and range of activities. 

- Middle School Science Teacher, Seattle, WA


 This unit was awesome. Thanks so much. I LOVED it and so did the students. 

- Middle School Life Science Teacher, Cheney, WA

Professional Development

Facing the Future offers the following workshop to help you learn more about Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Life, Physical, and Earth Sciences, Grades 6-8:

Understanding Sustainability: 2-Week Unit for Middle School Science
This interactive session walks through Facing the Future’s 2-week unit on sustainability for middle school science. This “plug-in” unit is designed for science teachers who have not previously used Facing the Future curriculum, and/or who are looking for a single cohesive unit to teach about sustainability issues in their science curriculum. Each of the unit's nine lessons is fully planned out and includes key concepts and vocabulary, homework assignments, extension projects, and assessments. Student readings are also included.

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.

Supplementary Materials

To complement Understanding Sustainability, this section contains background information and additional resources to help educators and students learn more about global issues and sustainability.

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About Us

We equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness, and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future through hands-on curricula and professional learning.

Facing the Future is an
independent program of WWU