What is a Big Idea?

All students need opportunities to explore sustainability big ideas in a variety of contexts and disciplines. High quality education for sustainability helps students investigate the meaning and implications of these ideas and to incorporate these ideas into their own thinking, problem solving, and decision-making. Big ideas come in many shapes and sizes, including broad topics or themes difficult problems, or ongoing debates or issues. When learners dig deeper into the meaning and implications of sustainability big idea, they are better able to learn new knowledge and skills, and apply knowledge and skills in new situations. At the same time, when teachers understand the big ideas associated with sustainability they are better able to prioritize content, identify learning progressions, develop coherent long term plans, anticipate student preconceptions, and guide student learning.

Sustainability big ideas often involve perspectives and information from multiple ways of knowing, multiple disciplines and multiple cultures. Facing the Future materials are organized around eight sustainability big ideas. These are, Connecting with Nature, Equity and Justice, Health and Resiliency, Interconnectedness, Local to Global, Peace and Collaboration, Respect for Limits, and Universal Responsibility. The activities and readings in Facing the Future materials provide opportunities for learners to explore these ideas in a variety of contexts and disciplines and to incorporate these ideas into their own thinking, problem solving, and decision-making.

 [Note: The following discussion of Big Ideas was adapted from Nolet (2016) Education for Sustainability: Principles and Practices for Teachers.]