Learning Activities

There are many ways that we can learn more about sustainability. We have a broad selection of learning resources, activities and games, many contributed by our friends and partners, for you to explore. It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher, student, parent or just a curious life-long learner, you will find something to capture you attention here.

Begin at the beginning: what is sustainability?

We get asked to define sustainability a lot, and the answer is complicated, a bit like relationships. Ask ten people “What is sustainability?” and you will get ten different answers from “Recycling” to “Save the Planet!”. While these are all good responses, it is not easy to put sustainability in a box. Living sustainably would touch every part of our lives including: how we grow and consume food, how we produce and dispose of the things we buy, how we travel and how we manage our natural, economic and human resources.

The reality is that for humans to live sustainably we need to think about three Ps. First, People: is it something that is beneficial to us and our neighbors both local and global? Second, Planet: is it good for the environment? And third, Profit: can we economically grow, build, mine or manufacture products in a sustainable way?

Explaining different aspects of sustainability

What is sustainability?
This is the big question. Sustainability is such a broad topic that it is difficult to define. We think this video does a pretty good job of explaining the concept.

What is a circular economy?
Instead of dumping our old clothes, electrical items and waste paper products, we can feed these materials back into the supply chain and put them into new products.

What is sustainable development?
We can’t be sustainable at the expense of everything else. So, while we are protecting the environment, we also need to develop our global economy and society.

Interesting K-12 classroom activities

Bell ringers

Do you have a few minutes at the beginning of your class?
Use these mini-activities to jump start critical thinking about sustainability.

Contributed by: the Walton Sustainability Solutions National Teachers’ Academy

The chicken nugget

Using system diagrams, explore a chicken nugget as the window to our food systems web. How does a chicken nugget impact our environment, our society and our economy? How does our food decisions impact the lives of people and the planet?

Grades: 5-10

Contributed by: the Walton Sustainability Solutions National Teachers’ Academy

Grow food and learn – that is a great combination!

Manzo is an elementary school in an under-served Hispanic community in Tucson, Arizona. Several years ago the school hired a new student counselor who, when dealing with children in crisis, would take them out into the school’s garden. The teachers and staff realized the value the garden could bring to the students’ development and a seed of an idea became a place of flowering plants, vegetables, chickens and learning. See their story unfold.

Take your class on a field trip, virtually

Virtual field trips, or VFT’s, enable learners to quickly move across field sites and examine data at micro and macro scales. These unique 360° virtual reality learning experiences embed links to explanatory videos, images, and gigapixel imagery within spherical images of a field site. Students can explore those multimedia, zoom in/out, rotate their view in 360°, and navigate to new locations. VFT lessons also include instructions for each activity and tutor students through those activities with adaptive feedback.

Yosemite National Park

This VFT situates learners in immersive 360 images through five different locations in Yosemite National Park. Once users complete the first location activity, they are free to explore the park locations as they wish. Through video interviews, fun facts and more, the experience teaches learners about sustainability in National Parks, at work or school, and at home. The VFT also includes a 3D rendered house model, where uses can test their knowledge of everyday sustainability practices.

After you have explored the various locations, there is a short anonymous survey regarding your impressions of the VFT.

Learn More About Sustainability Online

A Sustainable Earth

A Sustainable Earth is a free, online course that you can take to better understand global climate change: its impacts, the reasons behind the rapid warming of Earth, and the scientific tools that are used to study these changes. You will learn about energy production and consumption, on a local and global scale, why some forms of energy are more harmful to the natural environment than others and what the pros and cons are of each. You will dive into the world of solid waste (not literally) and discover the impacts of solid waste on water and air quality, ocean systems and economic systems. Finally, You will explore urban systems in developed and developing countries to discover the benefits of smart growth and the common issues that face us all.

Sustainability Games

Plan for a disaster

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has a great game that shows how to plan for disasters in our communities. Your challenge is to develop resources that will protect your community from extreme events such as hurricanes, tsunamis or wildfires. This challenge is not as easy as it looks and is quite addictive.

How can we feed 10 billion people?

In 2050, our planet’s population is estimated to be 10 billion. Journey 2050 is a farming simulator. It shows you how to balance resources by exploring world food sustainability. You can make decisions and see how they affect society, the environment and the economy.

The fishing game

Our natural resources are not unlimited. and we need to manage them carefully if we hope to draw upon them for generations to come. Forests, fish, metals and minerals all need to be consumed responsibly and recycled whenever possible to reduce our impact on the environment. The fishing game shows how natural resources must be shared by all the stakeholders that need them or they will be exhausted.

Drawn Futures: Arizona 2045

Drawn Futures: Arizona 2045 is a science-based comic book for 5th through 8th grade students. It was created by award-winning comics authors working with the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. This original story envisions the near future of Arizona’s energy systems.

In an increasingly networked and visual culture, comic books and graphic novels are important tools for improving reading skills, communicating with diverse audiences, and creating a way to discuss social and science topics in a meaningful way. Drawn Futures: Arizona 2045 is designed with these goals in mind and aligns with Arizona State Standards for the 6th Grade science curriculum.

Drawn Futures: Arizona 2045 is available now, and a limited number of classroom sets will be distributed to interested educators.

Contributed by: the Center for Science and Imagination

You can also fill out this short interest form to be considered for a printed classroom set. If you have any questions, please contact Bob Beard at Arizona State University.