Integrate > Undergraduate Teaching for a Sustainable Future > Bring the Earth into Your Teaching

Bring the Earth into Your Teaching: From Engineering to English

Many current societal issues are connected to the Earth, such as: environmental degradation, food supply, energy needs, mineral resources, climate change, and more. Incorporating these topics into a course (from any discipline) can increase relevancy and interest among students. Understanding societal issues and learning about solutions helps students develop the expertise needed to address problems that involve the Earth. Bring the Earth into your course by incorporating expertise or building connections within your course content. Why teach about Earth and societal
issues across the curruculum? ยป

Find and incorporate expertise to teach about the Earth

Build connections between faculty

Building connections between experts in differing fields capitalizes on multiple strengths and knowledge bases. Enhance the way that you and your students are able to consider and interact with these ideas.

HHMI Interdisciplanary Crosstalk
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Illustration of the importance of interdisciplinary perspectives. From Daniel Fazer, HHMI Bulletin[creative commons]
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Interdisciplinary Teaching can enhance your abilities to incorporate topics outside of your area of expertise and can also bring relevancy to students. For example, at the University of Utah, philosopher, Ed Barbanell, and environmental engineer, Steve Burian, teamed up to teach Hydrotopia, a course about historical and emerging water issues in the western United States. Drawing on both of their skills and expertise, Ed and Steve were able to train engineering professionals with the technical know-how to manage and operate a water resource system while building a sensitivity to the human and environmental context.

Integrate differing viewpoints

Engineers and Earth Scientists are a case where the two groups are exploring many of the same topics from differing perspectives. Valuable insights and discoveries can be made by exploring and integrating these perspectives while addressing topics of hazards (and hazard mitigation), resources, and energy use.

Engineers from Lord Corp. volunteer their time at a Math Options Career Day.
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Milinda McCorkle, an engineer with Lord Corp. in Erie, works with a student from Woodrow Wilson Middle School, while McCorkle's colleagues assist other girls in their workshop, "I.D. Dasie: The Design Process." Participants had to design a two-lane bridge to span a river while meeting their customer's specifications. A total of 10 engineers from Lord Corp. volunteered their time at this year's Math Options Career Day.[creative commons]
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The Power of Integration: Engineering, Geoscience, and Sustainability
Engineers and geologists tend to see the same Earth topics from different viewpoints. Appreciating and integrating these viewpoints makes it possible to teach effectively to multiple audiences that could otherwise have difficulty approaching the content. For example, in their essays, Mary Beth Gray describes the benefits for engineering students that gain a geoscience perspective early in their careers, and Steve Burian describes specific techniques for teaching sustainability to multi-disciplinary audiences including engineers and geoscientific.

Build Earth and sustainability connections within the context of your course

Support transfer between courses by making Earth and sustainability connections within the context of your course.

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Incorporating sustainability into your core course content
For courses that don't lend themselves easily to topics of sustainability, finding ways to infuse the information into the existing core content is one approach that adds relevancy without being a time sink. This method of finding the sustainability or earth-centered "lens" through which to view traditional course content can add an interesting and engaging perspective that has the added benefit of addressing important societal issues.

Systems thinking is a core concept in many disciplines. Meghann Jarchow introduces students to this concept through her activity Using concept mapping to experientially introduce systems thinking (e.g. ethanol production). In this way, her students are engaged in a current environmental topic while gaining an understanding of systems thinking and complex issues.

Teaching Sustainability and Social Justice through Contrasting Narratives
Explicitly comparing and contrasting narratives about the same topic, or how a story changes through time, can illuminate interesting differences and changes. This process can also help students think critically about differing viewpoints and influences. One method to help students can cultivate awareness of differing perspectives is to examine an issue through a specified lens other than their own. For example, evaluating a proposed highway project through different public and private organizational lenses.

The Sustainability Improves Student Learning (SISL) project ran an Educating with Math for a Sustainable Future Workshop, which created a set of teaching activities that can help bring sustainability concepts into the math classroom.

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