Breaking Silos: Bring Sustainability and Earth-centered Societal Issues into your Classroom
Why teach this way? »
"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.
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.
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.
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
- The Power of Integration: Engineering, Geoscience, and Sustainability: an example of how two groups see the same Earth topics in different ways, and how addressing those differences makes it possible to teach effectively to multiple audiences.
- 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.
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
- Find ways grand societal issues relate to the core content you're already covering
- Develop and/or use course curriculum written in an interdisciplinary team (read more about how InTeGrate develops materials in teams)
- 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
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.
- Service Learning
- Environmental Justice Across the Curriculum
- Using the Local Environment
- Using Real World Examples to Teach Sustainability
Find example activities, courses and ideas
Activities, course descriptions, essays, real-world examples, and program profiles contributed by InTeGrate participants .
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.
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