Sustainability Science for Teachers
  • SSE

At a Glance

Explore the challenges of sustaining human health and well-being on Earth at global and local levels.
Started: 18 August, 2011
School : MLFTC
Location: Online, ASU Campus
Course Type : Hybrid & Online
Credit Hours: Three
Email :

Sustainability Science for Teachers (SCN 400) is geared toward preparing preservice K-8th grade teachers with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to educate their future students regarding sustainability literacy. This required course in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College launched in 2011 and takes place in student’s junior year of their undergraduate studies. The course’s goal is twofold: 1) to engage preservice teachers as citizens and impart a sense of urgency to take action, and 2) to develop sustainability literacy among preservice teachers enabling them to employ these concepts in their future classrooms. The course is conducted in a “hybrid” environment, which is divided into thirds:

  • Short digital stories and exploration of materials that consider the global and national issues of sustainability.
  • Homework assignments that consider the local issues of sustainability as well as K-8 lesson plans regarding sustainability topics.
  • In-person or virtual classroom discussion sections that are inspired by course homework and weekly topics.

Making good use of the hybrid format allows our course to take an innovative approach to delivering course content in 10-minute video segments. Students view the course content each week through digital stories which use an engaging, documentary-style narrative approach to explore the multiple facets of each topic. Start exploring Sustainability Science for Teachers by clicking on the 13 course topics below.


SustainabilityPopulationPovertyFoodWaterFossil FuelsNew EnergyEcosystem ServicesProductionDisposalGovernanceTranslationChange

What is your definition of Sustainability?

This week, students begin their semester long journey into the world of sustainability science. We start class off by exploring the big question, “Why should preservice teachers learn about and subsequently teach sustainability science to their future students?” In this first face-to-face class, preservice teachers begin to confront their own understanding and prior knowledge related to sustainability science, as well as begin to grapple with the fact that teachers share a responsibility in producing globally-minded and knowledgeable citizens who are able to analyze sustainability challenges and work toward solutions.

How many people can the Earth support?

This week students will follow the trials of the human journey from the slow population growth of our ancient ancestors to the population explosion of the last few decades. Together, they will discover why populations do not grow without constraints. When exploring these segments, students will consider the content through the lens of futures thinking.

Lesson Plans:

7 Billion: Where Do You Stand? (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 6-8
  • Subject Area: Social Studies, Science, Environmental Education
  • Students have the opportunity to take a stand and defend their personal opinions in educational classroom debate on issues surrounding population growth.
  • World of 7 Billion: Teacher Resources

More or Less? (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 3-5
  • Subject Area: Social Studies, Science
  • In this lesson students will construct a word web to show the cause-and-effect relationships of a growing population. They will look at how more people may affect water availability, jobs, pollution, food resources, and much more.
  • Population Education: Additional Resources


What does it take to meet everyone’s basic needs?

This week students will hear stories from Armenia, Kenya, Cambodia and New Delhi. They will discuss basic needs, resource distribution, and the Millennium Development Goals from low, middle and high income countries. When exploring these segments, students will consider the content through the lens of values thinking.

Lesson Plans:

Freedom from Poverty (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 3-5
  • Subject Area: Social Studies, Math, Language Arts
  • Students imagine what it would be like to live in poverty by creating their own budget using $2/day. Students then learn 7 countries around the world facing extreme poverty issues today. Finally, they consider alternative income projects can help to break the cycle of poverty.
  • Free The Children

What Humans Need (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8
  • Subject Area: Geography, Science
  • During this lesson students will consider necessary things for meet human needs around the world, by comparing needs vs. wants. They will also discuss consequences that result from a lack of basic needs.
  • Population Reference Bureau

How sustainable is our food system?

This week students will discover how food is produced and the consequences for human and environmental health. When examining the content for this week they will uncover the problems and solutions associated with our food supply through the lens of systems thinking.

Lesson Plans:

What is Hunger and Who are the Hungry? (PDF)

  • Grade Level: K-2, 3-5
  • Subject Area: Social Studies, Nutrition, Literature
  • This lesson teaches students why we need food, the different kinds of food we need, and who is hungry in the world.
  • Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger: Primary Level

Why are People Hungry and Malnourished? (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8
  • Subject Area: Social Studies, Nutrition, Literature
  • Students will discover the factors that cause and contribute to hunger in the world. They will learn about the food system and the process that food goes through before being eaten. Students will then learn about what it means to be food-secure but looking at different case studies from around the world.
  • Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger: Intermediate Level



How can we provide water to meet human needs sustainably?

This week we learn about how water is used and overused locally, nationally, and internationally. We will learn about water purification, pollutants, and sustainable solutions that should be considered for future generations.

Lesson Plans:

Drain to Drinking Water (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 6-8
  • Subject Area: Science, Social Studies
  • In a hands-on activity students consider human effects on water. They learn about what happens to water once it goes down the drain and how it becomes drinkable again.
  • Sustainability Lesson Plans

Don’t Use It All Up! (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8
  • Subject Area: Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies
  • In this lesson students learn about the demand they have on a natural resource like water. They consider how humans use water and ways that it can be conserved.
  • Food, Land & People

How do Fossil Fuels affect people?

This week students will hear the story of fossil fuels, using perspectives from a broad range of sources. They will hear from North Dakota, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, as well as South Africa and Nigeria. This week, students will begin to connect the four Ways of Thinking. Online students perform a simulation of the in-class activity.

Lesson Plans:

The Energy Times (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8
  • Subject Area: Social Studies, Nutrition, Literature
  • This lesson students will study past and present use of energy in order to develop their own historical newspaper. They will learn about how energy use has changed over time to meet societal demands as well as how this change has affected the environment.
  • Energy for Keeps: For Teachers

How Will We Power Our Future? (PDF)

  • Grade Level: K-2, 3-5
  • Subject Area: Science, Social Studies, Geography
  • This lesson provides students with an introduction to the importance of energy in their lives. They look at renewable and nonrenewable resources and define fossil fuels. Students also look at what resources are used to generate electrical power in Arizona.
  • SRP: Powering Our Future

What is the future of energy production?

This week students will explore several types of renewable energy sources. For each technology they will consider the problems and benefits associated to the complexity of providing the world with these types of new energy.

Lesson Plans:

The Power of the Wind (PDF)

  • Grade Level: K-2, 3-5
  • Subject Area: Science, Math
  • By building their own model of a windmill, students demonstrate that kinetic energy can be used to do work. They also learn about wind as a renewable energy resource.
  • SRP: Powering Our Future

What’s in Your Energy Portfolio? (PDF)

  • Grade Level: 6-8
  • Subject Area: Science, Social Studies, Language Arts
  • This lesson gives students the opportunity to survey adults in their community to raise awareness about the use of renewable energy. Students present findings to their class and develop a action plan for change.
  • Energy for Keeps: For Teachers


How strategic is our management of the biosphere?

This week students will track the integration of human and environmental systems into one “coupled human-environment system.” They’ll examine some of the successes of that process, as well as some of the negative effects. In this week, all four of our ways of thinking will frame how we think about our relationship with the natural world.

Lesson Plans:

Ecosystems Services – Water Purification

  • Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8
  • Subject Area: Earth Science, Biology
  • In this lesson students learn about benefits that ecosystems provide for humans. Students explore the concept of ecosystem services by investigating natural water purification.

What Goes Around Comes Around

  • Grade Level: 6-8
  • Subject Area: Science, Language Arts
  • In this lesson students will model the cycles of matter by creating an ecosystem in a jar. They will also give research-based oral presentations on the carbon, water, and nitrogen cycles.



How do systems of production and use affect people and places?

At the end of this week we expect students to be able to understand how the production of goods occurs on both local and global scales, purchasing decisions create positive and negative impacts, and the way we use goods is as important as what we purchase.

How is waste managed, and how does it affect people and places?

At the end of this week we expect students to be able to understand that the full product life cycle is a system and not a linear process. We expect students to comprehend that there is a decision to make at the product’s end-of-life and that decision can create both positive and negative impacts.


How may we enact policies that improve sustainability problems at different scales?

This week will learn about governance and how it may guide the ways we go about enacting policies that lead to more sustainable actions. We explore a variety of historical issues where governance actions have dramatically changed outcomes. We take a global perspective and discover how governance has affected the AIDS epidemic and the ozone hole. We also look nationally to the US school system and discover how national values have developed state and federal policies over time. Lastly, we zoom in to the community level and introduce the Tragedy of the Commons.

Are we on course to achieve a sustainable future?

By now students have identified many current problems that may prevent future generations from meeting their needs. Although we cannot predict the future with certainty, we can project current trends forward to determine whether we are on track and what we might need to change. This week is all about futures thinking.

Why does sustainability matter for teachers?

This week students will seek to answer the question, “why does sustainability matter for teachers?” They will consider how teachers can be change agents in their schools and communities, how sustainability can be integrated across content areas using current academic standards, and why sustainability education matters for the future.

Although we can’t grant public access to the course itself, screenshots are available for the Water, Population, and New Energy weeks in Blackboard.