Use Real World Examples to Teach Sustainability
Real world examples demonstrate the complexity and unpredictability of real issues, and as such, can stimulate critical thinking. They also highlight the need for an inter- and multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving. Further, using examples from the real world demonstrates that, oftentimes, there is no perfect solution to a given problem. But, in doing so, gets students thinking about solutions, rather than just focusing on problems.
Multiple pedagogic strategies can be used to incorporate real examples into the classroom. These include teaching with case studies or with investigative cases, field experiences such as field labs or student research, and using local data and examples to teach about issues. Connecting local examples with global challenges can also be beneficial for expanding the context of larger scale issues (e.g. water quality and quantity could be both a local issue as well as a global issue) or those that are non-local, but may still affect students (e.g. drought in California affects local food prices).
Real world problems are inherently engaging since they tend to be meaningful and applicable to students' lives, either directly or indirectly (e.g. through the media or social networks). If you're not sure where to begin, the tips below can get you started. These tips were compiled from small group discussions among workshop participants at multiple InTeGrate workshops.
- Introduce students to your research - make it personal. It inspires students.
- Task students with bringing examples of real-world experiences and problems to the class.
- Bring experience into the classroom through guest speakers, engaging students in case studies, or field work
- Engage students in community work, such as service learning. Learn more about service learning.
- Bring in ethics (e.g. Hurricane Sandy preparedness and subsequent lawsuits): this makes connections between disciplines and is centered around current events. Ethics also broaches topics related to responsibilities: What are your responsibilities as a citizen, property owner, or professional?
- Develop empathy for others' life experience and point of view. Some strategies for building this perspective include sensory mapping, real or cyber ethnography, service or community based learning, literature and media assignments, role-playing and games that look at contrasting narrative, arc of story, point of view, and evolution through time. Reflection is an important tool and can provide a gradeable product in the form of a journal, paper, or exam/assignment question.