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Creating a More Humane and Environmentally Sound Future - An Educator's Reference Desk Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan #: AELP-INT0201


Creating a More Humane and Environmentally Sound Future

An Educator's Reference Desk Lesson Plan


Submitted by: Debra Rowe
Email: dgrowe@occ.cc.mi.us
School/University/Affiliation: Oakland Community College

Date:
April 13, 2002

Grade Level: 9, 10, 11, 12, Higher Education

Subject(s):

  • Interdisciplinary
  • Language Arts/Writing
  • Science/Environmental Education
  • Social Studies/Psychology
  • Mathematics

Description: Students learn critical and creative thinking by creating a scenario of a more humane and environmentally sound future. Students learn course concepts by applying them within their descriptions of a positive future. This project can be used in a large number of disciplines (e.g. math, economics, social studies, psychology, science, and language arts).

Goals:

  1. For students to use and develop their imaginations.
  2. For students to improve their ability to learn the information in a course through application to future scenario building.
  3. To improve students' abilities to integrate the perspectives of multiple disciplines to envision the future.
  4. To improve students' abilities to work toward solutions to societal problems.
  5. To improve students' group collaboration skills.
Objectives:
  1. In small groups, students will be able to write a group paper describing a more humane and environmentally sound future.
  2. Students will be able to integrate concepts from their courses into the scenario, describing how we got from today's society to this positive future scenario.
Materials:
  • writing from futurists (see Procedure for suggested materials)
  • paper
  • pens/pencils
  • computers with Internet access (optional)
  • Task List for Positive Futures Fair

  • Task List in .pdf format; requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

    Click the icon to obtain the free Reader.
Vocabulary:
  • Sustainable development - Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. [World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission, 1987)]
Procedure:

Students will be working in groups on a project which consists of the following:
  1. A description of a more humane and environmentally sustainable future for human beings. This description will include what has to change for this future to come true.
  2. A description of what each student is willing to do to move toward this positive future scenario, along with a description of what schools should teach to help reach the positive future scenario.
  3. An evaluation of each group's process.
Instruction:
Divide students into groups. (Depending on class size and level, the groups may contain 4-8 students. If teaching higher education, try to have each group composed of students from a variety of disciplines.)

Provide each group with a list of reading materials to use when working on their project. [Examples of assigned authors/texts, depending on the class: Eco-economy by Lester Brown; the Natural Step organization, Paul Hawkins, David Orr, Amory Lovins, and World Future Society publications. Within class texts, students can also find a number of relevant sections (e.g. stress management and conflict resolution and organizational behavior in psychology texts, communitarianism in political science texts).]

In groups, students brainstorm possible positive values and scenarios for the future. (If needed, the teacher can start the brainstorming process.) In order to limit the assignment to a viable task, students will pick a few areas to emphasize (either before or after the first round of brainstorming). Make sure students include the future educational system. In addition (depending on students' grade level), students may want to focus on relationships and gender roles, the welfare state, workforce structure, taxation and economic systems, consumption and the environment, energy use, population, ecosystem, chemical use, and/or health and safety. Students' scenarios can cover more than a few areas. Each group will also need to pick a level of society for the scenario. Students may describe a community, a nation, or a more global scenario.

After brainstorming possible positive scenarios, groups will pick one preferred society to expand upon and describe. Students will use concepts from class to describe how society might get from today to this positive future society. [ Author's Note: As students describe how we might get from today to the positive future society, ask them to use ideas they have learned in their courses. For example, in a psychology class, students might describe how the concepts of stress management or good listening were taught more in the schools in the future and integrated more into the norms of society, which helped create a more humane society. In a math class, students might describe how the concept of exponential growth was used to show the public about population growth and educate voters about possible solutions. In other words, students learn how the concepts they are learning in class can be applied to help create a better society.]

Students will prepare a group written and oral presentation of their positive future society. (Note: The goal in each group is to reach consensus. If that is not possible, it is important that the minority voice be heard. Individuals have the right to critique their own group's scenario and present an alternative scenario.) In addition, students will decide which steps they are willing to take to move toward this scenario in their real life. Each student will write an individual paper on what he/she is willing to do to move toward this scenario in real life.

Lesson Extension - Positive Futures Fair:
To help students learn about the organizations in the community who are working to make the world a better place, have students plan a "Positive Futures Fair." Students can invite organizations from the community that are working to creating a more humane and/or environmentally sound future. Organizations' representatives can have table displays and present to the audience volunteer and career opportunities within their organizations. As a whole group, students brainstorm a task list and timeline for the fair. Then, subgroups can split up to write the invitation, the press release, plan the local marketing, and create the process for booths and auditorium presentations. (See Materials for sample timeline and task list for the fair. Don't hand this out -- let students create their own as a group and then check against this for completeness.) [ Author's Note: The fair is really quite easy and not time consuming at all to organize, and the students love it!]

Assessment: Teachers may use all or some of the following criteria/reflections to assess students' completion of the project:

Criteria for Grading of Scenario:

  • You have created a positive scenario that would encourage people to see themselves as responsible local and global citizens, contributing to the good of society.
  • You have used relevant concepts from your respective classes to describe how this scenario evolved from our present day society.
  • This scenario includes multiple values to be taught in the educational system and a description of how to teach those values.
  • Besides the educational system, you have described a number of other aspects of this future society, including how these changes occur and will be funded.
  • You have researched one aspect of society and described it in some depth. Include and document the facts learned from independent research by your group for this in-depth topic.
Reflective Evaluation of Presented Scenarios (completed after group presentations) : This is an individual assignment. It is very important for students to be present the day(s) of the group presentations. Answer the following questions:
  • Where did you find common ground between the scenarios?
  • Given all the scenarios you've heard, what is now your preferred scenario?
  • What steps are you willing or unwilling to take to move towards this scenario?
  • Given what you've learned, what would you suggest be covered/taught/learned in class that would help create a more humane and environmentally sound future?
Group Process Evaluation - Students give a grade to their other group members and then write a paragraph justifying their reason for the grade (work efforts, attendance, and contributions).

Project Assignment Evaluation
- Students answer the following questions:
  • What were the toughest parts of this assignment and why?
  • If you were to try this assignment again, what would you do differently to improve the process of the group?
  • What suggestions do you have for the teachers about this assignment? Specifically, what were its: strengths, weaknesses, and suggestions for improvement?
  • What readings did you find most useful?
  • What did you learn from this assignment?
Short Feedback Forms - Used by the instructor(s) throughout the semester to gather feedback about group process, content, and strengths/weaknesses of group/project as assigned.

Useful Internet Resource:
* Sustainability Education Handbook
http://www.urbanoptions.org/SustainEdHandbook/index.htm

Special Comments: This activity has been presented at over 10 national conferences around the country and was selected as a model activity to be published in a book about Education for a Better Future.