Sustainability Science for Teachers

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) prepares preservice K-8th-grade teachers with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to educate their future students regarding sustainability literacy. As part of producing globally-minded and knowledgeable citizens, educators share a responsibility in addressing sustainability topics with the next generation of scientists, politicians, inventors, citizens, and leaders— those who will be faced with solving sustainability challenges as they become increasingly complex and urgent This course is required in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and takes place in a student’s junior year of their undergraduate studies. The course is conducted in a “hybrid” environment, which is divided into thirds:

  • Short digital stories that consider the global and national issues of sustainability.
  • Homework assignments that consider both the local issues of sustainability and lesson plans regarding sustainability topics.
  • In-person or virtual classroom discussion sections that are centered around the digital stories and course homework.

Start exploring Sustainability Science for Teachers by clicking on one of the 13 course topics below. Click on the Water week to view the full week’s content for free.

SustainabilityPopulationPovertyFoodWaterFossil FuelsNew EnergyEcosystem ServicesProductionDisposalGovernanceChange

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?” Students begin to confront their own understanding and prior knowledge related to sustainability science. They learn that teachers share a responsibility in producing globally-minded 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

Strategic Thinking & AZCCRS


After watching the above videos, demonstrate an understanding of Strategic Thinking. Consider how this way of thinking is correlated to the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards for 4th grade. Reflect and respond thoughtfully to the following prompts in at least two clear, concise paragraphs:

  • Identify one, clear connection between the skills described in the video and one 4th grade standard in any subject area (Math, English Language Arts, Science).
  • Identify the standard; briefly describe a lesson activity to address the standard, and draw a clean connection to systems thinking.
  • How might you using this way of thinking be beneficial in your teaching or for your students?


Quiz Questions

Students work through a simple review style quiz to ensure all the key points were understood. The quiz is meant to be brief and not punitive in nature. Instead, it acts as a self reflection on the content.


The Phoenix case study video showed how water is being used in the valley. This case can be further explained by using the four ways of thinking. In 2 clear, concise paragraphs, explain how each of the four ways of thinking can be used to explain water use in Phoenix. Be sure to answer the following four questions in your reflection:

  • What makes up Phoenix’s water system?
  • How has Phoenix, and Arizona, used Futures Thinking to develop policies?
  • How does Values Thinking play a role in how, and for what, water is used in Phoenix?
  • What are two strategies to ensure that Phoenix starts using water sustainably?

Face-to-Face (Once per Week)

During the face‐to-face sessions of the course, preservice teachers participate in engaging hands-on activities that aim at fostering pedagogical content knowledge related to the week’s topic and explore ways that the content can be implemented in their future classrooms (Shulman, 1986). What does a class experience in SCN 400 look like? Watch the video below to view a brief sample.


Complete and review and analysis of one of the following K-8 lesson plans related to the topic of water:

A. Drain to Drinking Water

  • 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.
  • Drain to Drinking Water

B. Don’t Use It All Up

  • 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.
  • Don’t use it all up

Questions (Please respond to each question in one cohesive and thorough paragraph.):

  1. How was Strategic Thinking exemplified in the lesson plan you chose to review? If you did not find evidence of Strategic Thinking, how would you infuse this type of thinking into the lesson plan?
  2. How did the information in the lesson plan reinforce the data, logic, and ideas in this week’s online content? Please use at least one specific example from the lesson plan and one specific example from the online content to support your answer.
  3. Explain how you might modify this lesson plan to connect the content covered in the lesson to the daily lives of students to inspire action and change.


If you need help structuring your writing, we have provided scaffoldingto help you answer the questions:

  • This lesson plan includes ________ thinking because (insert specific example from the lesson plan tied to ________ thinking)…
  • The evidence of ________ thinking in this lesson is (insert specific evidence from the lesson plan tied to ________ thinking)…
  • As evidenced by (insert specific evidence from the lesson plan tied to ________ thinking), ________ thinking is included in this lesson plan.

If you do not find evidence of the way of thinking you chose in the lesson plan, feel free to use the following prompts to structure your writing:

  • This lesson plan does not include ________ thinking because (insert specific explanation of how the lesson plan does not include ________ thinking)…
  • ________ thinking means (use your own words to define the way of thinking you chose). I would infuse it into this lesson plan by ________. This would cover the concepts of ________ thinking because…


⬇ Download this week’s Resource Document

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 into the community level and introduce the Tragedy of the Commons.

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.

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. These video narratives employ the use of digital storytelling, a captivating strategy that uses spoken text combined with digital content such as images, illustrations, video, and multimedia to create an emotional connection to the topic (Educause, 2007).

All content within each topic week is imbued with the Four Ways of Thinking as lenses through which students view the material and think about its impacts