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Curricula for Global Sustainability Education

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Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Social Studies, Grades 9-12 - Lesson Plan PDF
Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Social Studies, Grades 9-12 - Lesson Plan PDF

Teacher Lesson Plan PDF
Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for Social Studies, Grades 9-12 contains eight engaging and inspiring lessons that help students build the connections between economy, history, democracy, and sustainability. Each lesson in the two-week unit is aligned with National Council for the Social Studies curriculum standards for easy classroom integration. For every topic covered, students learn creative tools to contribute toward sustainable solutions in their local and global communities.

ISBN 9780981557717
Price $4.99



Free Previews & Table of Contents

Table of Contents and Introduction

Download the Introduction and Table of ContentsPreview the introduction and table of contents



Lesson Overview

Download the lesson overviewThis lesson overview shows the suggested two-week sequence for classroom lessons, student readings, and homework assignments.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 6: Putting Our Community on the Map

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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Reading 3: Urban and Community Planning

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.

Resource Details

Why Use Understanding Sustainability?

Sustainability is a complex, interdisciplinary topic of study. While the notion of sustainability is not a new concept, the word itself has been growing in popular use. Issues of sustainability are receiving worldwide attention as people strive to address problems such as the rich-poor gap, climate change, and overconsumption of natural resources.

So what is sustainability, anyway? Sustainability refers to meeting current needs without limiting the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Working toward sustainability requires fostering the well-being of our economies, societies, and natural environment.

This unit of study encourages students to explore a variety of topics related to global sustainability. Students will develop an understanding of important sustainability concepts and their interconnections, such as resource consumption, human population growth, and poverty and social equity. They will investigate historic examples of civilizations that failed to respond to gathering threats to the survival of their economies, societies, and natural environments. Drawing on the lessons of past civilization collapses, students will consider how to create a sustainable future for people in today’s local and global communities, taking into account both personal and structural solutions to current challenges. At the close of the unit, students will envision and design a sustainable future for themselves and others.

The curriculum unit includes lessons, readings, homework assignments, assessments, action project ideas, and other resources for an in-depth introduction to global sustainability. Each lesson is designed as a stand-alone lesson.

Key Concepts Covered:
  • Action planning
  • Civic engagement
  • Community planning
  • Consumerism
  • Ecological footprint
  • Equity
  • Governance
  • Media
  • Personal solutions
  • Policy
  • Population
  • Poverty
  • Quality of life
  • Resource consumption
  • Structural solutions
  • Sustainable civilizations
Student Skills Developed:
  • Collaboration
  • Critical thinking
  • Historical analysis
  • Inquiry
  • Mapping
  • Problem-solving
  • Systems thinking
  • Written and oral communication


How to Use Understanding Sustainability

Understanding Sustainability can be used as a short unit to introduce and explore sustainability concepts, such as ecological footprint and community development. Although this curriculum is complete with lessons, short readings, homework assignments, and action project extensions, each lesson in the unit can also stand alone.

State Standards

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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.

Educator Quotes

 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


 I think that it is a difficult but important topic, presented in a format that makes the topic easy to understand and communicate to students. 

- School Programs Coordinator, Tacoma, WA


 The sequence is good. The lessons build a conceptual foundation, then get increasingly sophisticated and experiential. 

- High School World History, International and Personal Finance, and Accounting Teacher, Seattle, WA


 The materials show a great deal of thought and start with common place items (a burger, fries & a cola) to help students grasp complex social and environmental issues. The lessons deal with important topical issues that are inherently interesting; but moreover they are creatively and thoughtfully designed. 

- High School History & Social Studies Teacher, Kirkland, WA


 I love this unit of study. It is comprehensive and the flow is appropriate. 

- High School Geography & World Issues Teacher, Toronto, ON

Professional Development

Facing the Future offers the following workshop to help you learn more about Understanding Sustainability: Two-Week Unit for 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.

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