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How can we teach sustainable thinking?

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

sustainable thinking, sustainable education, 21st century skills, WEF, future proof

The main aim of the The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is to encourage countries to integrate ESD into all forms of their education systems. It covers all levels from primary to tertiary, including vocational and adult learning.

The strategy identifies 39 competences that are aligned to UNESCO's four pillars of learning: learning to know; learning to do; learning to live and work together; learning to be. Three broad domains offer categorisation of approaches: holistic, envisioning change and achieving transformation.

The strategy is insightful as it guides the educator to consider approaches to integrating ideas of sustainability in their teaching and the design of learning experiences. Understanding the root causes of unsustainable development is key for the educator as is an understanding of how engagement in real-world issues enhances learning outcomes and helps learners to make a difference in practice. The strategy encourages educators to create create opportunities for sharing ideas from different cultures/disciplines/generations/places without prejudice and preconceptions. The educator should also inspire hope in their students while facilitating learner-centred education in order to develop critical thinking and active citizenship.

I want to be this type of educator. I want to encourage creative and critical thinking and I want to encourage my students to innovate, to understand different perspectives and to appreciate the responsibilities that they have as citizens to promote and protect equality in terms of the environment, individuals and groups.

I created a critical thinking project that is interdisciplinary in nature in order to work towards developing these skills in myself as an educator and in my students as 21st century learners.

The premise behind this project is the development of critical thinking skills. Critical thinking skills need to be taught as they provide students with essential life skills that help with but also go beyond academic achievement.

The following extract is taken from UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ 2019 message on International Youth Day, observed on 12 August:

International Youth Day is 20 years old.  This year, Youth Day highlights the theme of “Transforming Education” to make it more inclusive, accessible and relevant to today’s world.

We are facing a learning crisis.  Too often, schools are not equipping young people with the skills they need to navigate the technological revolution.  Students need not just to learn, but to learn how to learn.

Education today should combine knowledge, life skills and critical thinking.  It should include information on sustainability and climate change.  And it should advance gender equality, human rights and a culture of peace.

All these elements are included in Youth 2030, the United Nations strategy to increase our engagement with young people and support them in realizing their rights.  Today, we celebrate the young people, youth-led organizations, Governments and others who are working to transform education and uplift young people everywhere.

This aim of this project is to address the teaching of critical thinking skills in order to equip students with an understanding of how to think and learn.

The main idea behind the project is for students to think about their thinking: to develop their metacognitive skills. They will also practise the skills of self-regulation, self-evaluation, listening, collaboration, skim reading, definition-finding, analysis, evaluation, goal setting, decision-making, and public speaking.

This project can be differentiated so that it challenges students from a wide age range. The duration of the project will depend on a variety of factors. At its minimum time frame, this project will last between 8 and 10 hours. 

The project is suitable for a class or year group project, for a series of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), Critical Thinking lessons, Modern Studies, Politics, Civics or Citizenship lessons. It would also suit an end of semester project.

Scriven (1996) highlighted the importance of critical thinking as,

“…the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action"

Angelo (1995) points to critical thinking

"… as the intentional application of rational, higher order thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, problem recognition and problem solving, inference, and evaluation"

These skills complement but also transcend the learning and teaching of content, and once taught and practised, they can become the tools upon which students can draw to navigate  the world around them.

The project includes individual tasks, group tasks, the possible use of ICT, literacy and numeracy. The worksheets can be used by students or used by the teacher as a guide to structuring each task. Sticky dots and sticky notes would be useful for Task E.

The tasks and skills contained within this project can help schools to meet national education targets such as:

Learning for Sustainability (GTCS Professional Standards Framework):

  • Equality and justice and recognising the rights and responsibilities of future as well as current generations

  • Committing to the principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policies and practices in relation to: age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion and belief and sexual orientation.

  • Valuing as well as respecting social, cultural and ecological diversity and promoting the principles and practices of local and global citizenship for all learners.

  • Demonstrating a commitment to engaging learners in real world issues to enhance learning experiences and outcomes, and to encourage learning our way to a better future.

  • Respecting the rights of all learners as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and their entitlement to be included in decisions regarding their learning experiences and have all aspects of their well-being developed and supported.

In this project, students will use critical thinking strategies in order to research, analyse, evaluate and make judgements about possible strategies to tackle poverty in the fictional country, Darwan.

As an introduction to the fictional country of Darwan, here is a video showing an overview:

The full project can be viewed here, downloaded and used for educational purposes.

The project is available under a Creative Commons Licence and is not be sold for profit.

Should you have any questions or comments please contact me or leave a comment below.

#UNSDG #criticalthinking #sustainability #teachingandlearning #innovation #projectbasedlearning

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