Initial Publication Date: October 9, 2017

Why Tie Sustainability Topics into Real World Examples?

"Think global, act local." Stimulate students' interest in grand challenges involving Earth and society by using real examples -- from local to global scale -- and getting students involved in the community. These approaches transform material students learn in their science classrooms from abstract concepts to concrete applications that students can relate to. Further, real examples make sustainability topics applicable to society as a whole, engaging not only students' cognitive skills, but also appealing to their affective domain. Using real examples to make connections to real issues can also strengthen students' preparation for the workforce by allowing them to practice skills such as data collection, analysis, and synthesis.
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Incorporate Local Sustainability Topics into the Classroom

Students are energized and mobilized by real-world issues, and instructors can expand upon these interests by becoming involved in the local community [e.g. Brozo, 2005] . There are many strategies that can help your students move beyond talking about issues and towards taking action, including community partnerships, place-based approaches, and taking part in research projects. These strategies are pedagogically strong, student-centered approaches that support deep learning and application. Sensory mapping, ethnography, and Service Learning projects are just a few examples of strategies for moving students to action in the community.

Incorporating topics that students can relate to, no matter what their major is, such as teaching about energy (where it comes from, self-assessment of usage, efforts to reduce use), water (where drinking water comes from, usage, water quality and quantity issues), and food (where does it come from, the energy involved in transport, getting students to think about sustainable practices) can further help students make the connections between what they learn in the classroom with their personal life. For example, the Lifestyle Project is a great way to build students' self-awareness with regard to consumption and sustainability and to move students to action at the personal level.

Connect to students at a personal level by incorporating Environmental Justice into your course. Environmental Justice incorporates personal and community impacts with the scientific examination of the cause and effects of environmental contamination, climate, energy, and more. Respectful engagement with affected communities allows students to grapple with a dynamic and complex system that involves power inequities, historical context and environmental hazards and resource use and management. Engaging your students with Environmental Justice directly in the local community or developing empathy in the classroom (e.g. through contrasting narratives) can prepare students to face and solve grand societal challenges.

Prepare Students for the Workforce with Course-level Hands-on Experience

Sustainability topics offer a natural way for students to gain workforce skills. Encouraging students to take advantage of internships and other pre-professional opportunities is a great way to give students a flavor of the real world and how they can apply knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to the workplace. Engaging in the workforce gives students a better context for what they are learning in the classroom and illuminates the opportunities that exist. Three ways to incorporate workforce preparation in the classroom are to provide relevance, give credit, and illuminate opportunities to build networks.

Provide relevance
Provide relevance for the material students are learning and how it can help them get a career by including information and data about sustainability-related careers in your course. Gain insight about what the workforce for a sustainable future will look like, including the job outlook and competencies and skills employers are looking for in hiring new employees to engage them as you introduce new topics and to better prepare them for the workforce.

Give credit: Internships and pre-professional opportunities
Turn sustainability-related internships and other pre-professional opportunities into upper-level course credits as an independent study opportunity. Encouraging students to seek out these experiences is a powerful approach to helping them make connections between their course work and the real world, utilize skills they learned in courses, and prepare them for the workforce through actual experience. The experience may even pave the way for them to attain employment either at the institution they worked with or with the network they build with the experience.

Illuminate opportunities and build connections
Explore strategies for building connections with potential employers and partnering with industry to illuminate the careers that are available to students interested in sustainability-related fields. These connections can also help build a network that can be used to set students up with internships, pre-professional or professional opportunities. A simple way to start is to invite guest speakers to your class or campus who can talk about their experiences and describe their career.