Integrate > Teaching for Sustainability > Silo Busting

Breaking Silos: Bring Sustainability and Earth-centered Societal Issues into your Classroom

Storm Button Geoscientists focus on Earth topics, but don't always incorporate societal issues. Other disciplines can better approach societal issues when equipped with Earth-related expertise. Barriers to interdisciplinary teaching exist, find out below what InTeGrate has learned about making it easier.
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Pedagogic Guidance

The InTeGrate project stresses teaching of geoscience in the context of societal issues. How does that translate into day-to-day classroom teaching? The following five themes were established by the InTeGrate assessment team, and will be essential attributes of materials developed by this project.

Connect geoscience-related grand challenges facing societies
Grand challenges have clear and pressing relevance to our students, and these problems often benefit from a multi-discipline perspective. See pedagogic strategies and materials for teaching about energy, water and food.
Develop students' ability to address interdisciplinary problems
"Sustainability is the ultimate liberal art, requiring students to explore connections between disciplines and perspectives, evaluate claims of others, and examine their own choices," wrote Scott Cummings during a 2012 InTeGrate workshop. This sums up the need for students to embrace an interdisciplinary approach to solving societal challenges. The module, Interdisciplinary Approaches to Teaching, from the Pedagogy in Action project defines interdisciplinary teaching, describes the pedagogic advantages and provides concrete steps for bringing interdisciplinarity into your classroom.
Improve students' geoscientific thinking skills
The methods and ways of thinking that are intuitive to geoscientists differ in important ways from what is commonly taught as the scientific method, and thus offer unique approaches and insights to problems. Developing geoscientific thinking skills involves teaching about the nature of geoscience, the methods used by geoscientists, and geoscientific habits of mind. Read more about what we mean by geoscientific thinking and see pedagogic strategies and materials for teaching geoscientific thinking to all students, from pre-service teachers to general education students to geoscience majors.
Make use of authentic and credible geoscience data
While students often have a strong interest in environmental concerns, they may lack the analytical perspective that allows them to identify and evaluate solutions. Working with authentic data can simultaneously teach the methods of a data-based approach while also illuminating a particular topic. Find pedagogic guidance for how to bring data into your classroom in the module, Teaching with Data. Browse a collection of over 100 geoscience activities that use datasets, from On the Cutting Edge.
Foster systems thinking
Societal challenges such as energy, climate change, food resources, poverty and hazards embody many of the hallmarks of systems thinking. They cut across human and natural systems, involve multiple interdependent variables that are changing over time, and imply future changes that are both critically important yet complex to predict. The Systems Thinking page presents pathways and examples useful for incorporating a systems approach into your teaching.

The Importance of Differing Points of View

Understanding and struggling with differing viewpoints will help you build relationships across disciplines and it will help your students grasp the complexity of these topics. When working together, differing points of view bring more robust solutions to complex issues. Throughout the InTeGrate project, we've learned that (at least initial) face-to-face interactions with people are the fastest and most robust way to start understanding different ways of thinking and approaching these issues.

A Spectrum of Ways to Build Connections Between Faculty

Capitalizing on the strengths of others has obvious benefits, since you can both draw on and provide expertise, but there are many ways to go about this. Start off small with informal discussions or invite a guest speaker to your class before diving in to larger scale integration. Whatever the method, remember to foster a culture of collaboration to help your students work across disciplines.

Within a course

View InTeGrate team-authored materials»

Across classes

  • Team teaching
  • Core interdisciplinary courses that brings curriculum together (a.k.a. federated curriculum)
  • Core topics or themes that are linked across many disciplinary courses
More on interdisciplinary teaching strategies »

Provide a Meaningful Context and Examples

Grand societal issues affect us all, and are inherently interdisciplinary. Students are energized and mobilized by real-world issues, and expand their interests by becoming involved in the local community [e.g. Brozo, 2005] . There are many strategies to help your students move beyond talking, including community partnerships, place-based approaches, and taking part in research projects. These strategies are pedagogically strong, student-centered approaches, which support deep learning and application.

Find example activities, courses and ideas

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Community Collections
Activities, course descriptions, essays, real-world examples, and program profiles contributed by InTeGrate participants .

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InTeGrate-Developed Teaching Materials
A major effort of the InTeGrate project is to develop a new breed of teaching materials that can be utilized in general education courses, core courses within geoscience majors, courses for pre-service teachers, courses designed for other majors including environmental studies, social science, engineering, and other sciences, and courses for interdisciplinary programs. Read more about how InTeGrate is creating new teaching materials. Descriptions are available and the first full modules will be published in the Summer of 2014.

site guide button Sustainability Site Guide
Collections of materials are drawn from across many projects, including submissions by participants at InTeGrate workshops. A comprehensive index to sustainability materials can be found on the