InTeGrate Modules and Courses >The Wicked Problem of Global Food Security
 Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: Dec 15, 2016

Summary

The 1996 World Food Summit declared food security to be "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life." Over the next several decades, food security will continue to be one of the the most pressing issues facing our planet. In this three-week module, we take an Earth systems approach to understanding and addressing world food insecurity issues, and explore how social, economic, and political factors impact decision-making and can improve or compromise the biogeochemical interactions provided by the Earth system as they pertain to food production. Students will explore the very factors that cause food insecurity (including climate, socio-economic, and physical) through readings, lecture, case studies, and geospatial analysis using ArcGIS Online. The module will culminate with a summative assignment where students will design a community-based action plan utilizing a variety of data sources addressing food insecurity in a location of their choosing.

Strengths of the Module

  • This module prepares students from a variety of backgrounds to explore a global humanitarian problem using systems thinking. Sociopolitical and economic factors as well as Earth system concepts are examined as students explore what is meant by sustainable food production.
  • The module employs a flipped classroom model. Students prepare for each class by conducting reading assignments and tutorials. These activities can be evaluated by the instructor and/or serve as the basis for discussion. Class sessions are reserved for group work and mapping activities, and opportunities for metacognitive reflection is built into assignments.
  • In class, students work in groups to to build understanding of the complexity of the global food system, and learn how complex, multiscalar problems like global food security are "wicked problems"—where a solution may work for part of the problem but entail unforeseen consequences in other parts of the system.
  • Data-enabled exercises set in place-based case study learning opportunities is also a strength. Individual and team assessment rubrics of student learning are included.
  • Although designed as an integrated module, sufficient information and guidance is provided to enable instructors to incorporate individual units, activities, and components of activities into courses.
  • Finally, a major strength of the module is its value in modeling the steps of a protracted research project to lower division students. Student teams examine primary literature, obtain spatial data and conduct original analyses using geospatial technologies, and present their findings to the class.

Students who learn with this module will:

  • Brainstorm solution(s) to the wicked problem of food security
  • Synthesize multiple data sets and types of background material
  • Gain familiarity with ArcGIS Online and use spatial analysis to explore a place-based problem
  • Describe the various factors that influence food security in three different regional contexts
  • Make connections between the earth system and cultural, economic, and political processes to understand the wicked problem of food security

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These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards. At the top of each page, you can click on the NGSS logo to see the specific connections. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more about the process of alignment and how to use InTeGrate materials to implement the NGSS.

NGSS in this Module

The Wicked Problem of Global Food Security Module aligns well with the High School NGSS Cross cutting concepts: Cause and Effect, and Stability and Change, as well as the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas: Global Climate Change, Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience and Human Impacts on Earth Systems. High school teachers could adapt the module to could be used at the high school level. While it would be beneficial to introduce the topic of Global Food Security to middle level students, this module's units require a deeper understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of science than is typical of middle school students. The module uses the flipped classroom strategy which requires students to conduct an extensive amount of research on their own and then come to class prepared to work with their peers in team settings. Students' make and analyze GIS maps to study food security with a focus on malnutrition. The students learn why it is a "wicked problem" and work in teams as they research the food security problem in regions of the United States. Finally the student teams apply the same process to where they live.

A great fit for courses in:

  • environmental science
  • sociology
  • geology
  • geography
  • natural resources
  • environmental geology
  • earth science
  • global change

The Wicked Problem of Global Food Security module is designed as a lower division introductory course that engages students from all backgrounds in exploration of an intractable humanitarian problem that requires multidisciplinary understanding. It also provides an introduction to the importance of Earth system science to nonmajors with little to no background in Earth science, and demonstrates the critical importance of Earth system knowledge and concepts when addressing the problem of world hunger and nutrition. No background in Earth science is assumed, and students are encouraged to bring their own disciplinary knowledge to the class and share with their team. Students in the course are introduced to ArcGIS Online (AGO) and use spatial analysis tools in identifying their research problem and solution. The module, individual units, and activities all may be scaled for use in introductory or graduate courses. Case studies of instructor application are provided on these web pages to describe experiences using the module, units, and activities in a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary courses at different levels. This should help instructors adapt the module for a wide range of course needs.

Supported Earth Science Literacy Principles:

  • Big Idea 3. Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
  • Big Idea 5: Earth is the water planet.
  • Big Idea 7: Humans depend on Earth for resources.
  • Big Idea 9. Humans significantly alter the Earth.

Supported Essential Principles of Climate Science:

2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.

4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.

5. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and human-made processes.

6. Human activities are impacting the climate system.

7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

Addressed grand challenges in Earth and environmental science:

  • Recognizing the signal within the natural variability
  • Quantifying consequences, impacts, and effects
  • Effectively communicating uncertainty and relative risk

Addressed grand challenges in Earth system science for global sustainability:

  • Determine how to anticipate, avoid, and manage disruptive global environmental change.
  • Determine institutional, economic, and behavioral changes to enable effective steps toward global sustainability.
  • Encourage innovation (and mechanisms for evaluation) in technological, policy, and social responses to achieve global sustainability.


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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »