March 19th, 2012

Review of Education for Sustainable Development Teacher Resources from the Geographical Association, UK

By Shelby Gull Laird


In this succinct and informative review, Shelby Gull Laird provides a good overview and solid recommendation for the comprehensive package of sustainability education K-12 curricular materials about geography—from a local to a global level—available from the UK Geography Association.

The Geographical Association in the UK has published several different volumes focusing on environmental education (EE) and education for sustainable development (ESD) and connecting these concepts through a geography lens for classroom teachers.  The first is a curriculum guide titled Caring for our world by Fran Martin and Paula Owens, designed for teachers working with students of ages four through eight.  It covers introductory concepts of ESD and sustainability at the beginning of the guide and is fully illustrated with vivid and modern images.  The guide is written for, uses resources from and provides correlations to national standards for the United Kingdom, but the remainder of the materials should prove useful to the global early elementary (primary) school teacher seeking ideas on how to explore sustainability concepts with young children in a school setting in a positive way.  Lesson titles in the guide include Growing schools, Food and farming, Forest school, School grounds, Sustainable energy and Travelling to school.  The lessons are not so much lessons in the traditional sense of a lesson plan, but provide examples of student outcomes and schools already working on similar projects at their own schools and what elementary students might be expected to learn through similar experiences.  The guide provides specific case studies and examples of outdoor classrooms and student work created as a result of student experiences learning in an outdoor environment in schools throughout the UK.  The guide excels in providing elementary teachers with a solid introduction to ESD and is appropriate for the age group.

The Geographical Association has also published a more comprehensive and detailed set of curriculum guides for teachers of older students.  The resource seems best for high school (secondary) students (ages 13-17) but may be useful for younger or older students as the situation allows.  Discussion during lessons requires a broad sense of global awareness and cultural sensitivity that may be more apparent in older students.  The GCSE Geography Teachers’ Toolkit consists of six different volumes by multiple authors focusing on unique aspects of sustainability education.   Three volumes are reviewed here including: Is the Future Sussed? by John Widdowson, Going Global? by Catherine Owen and For Richer and Poorer? by Paula Cooper.  Probably the greatest advantage to these materials is the online resource availability.  Each lesson has all the slides, images and handouts for students available online for teachers to print out.  All that is needed for access is the code provided in the front cover of each guide.  Each curriculum guide has ten lessons per book that could work consecutively or individually depending on the desire of the teacher.  Teachers are provided with everything they need to complete the lessons plus links to additional resources, a glossary at the end of the curriculum guide and comprehensive correlations to education standards in the United Kingdom.  Again, many of the resources are quite specific to the United Kingdom, but would be relevant for student audiences worldwide.  Correlation to local educational standards would be required for use in locations outside the UK with a bit of a re-write of some of the specifics.

Each curriculum guide covers a different topic.  Lessons in the first book, Is the Future Sussed? cover sustainable urban living.  Focused on cities and specifically British cities, students explore the concept of sustainability and what that means in terms of urban areas and communities.  Two lessons even focus on the 2012 Olympic Games.  The second book, Going Global? covers the interconnectedness of our world.  Geography and economics play heavily into this curriculum guide, which includes lessons on trade and discussions of three separate countries as case studies, the UK, China and Kenya.  The third book of the six part series, For Richer and Poorer? includes a discussion of uneven development, specifically between the developed and developing world.  The first lesson includes extended discussion of student perceptions of rich and poor.  Using images to evoke emotional responses from students is both powerful and clever but requires a strong, unbiased teacher to lead in discussion.  This activity sets up the rest of the lessons from this curriculum guide.  Overall these materials are comprehensive and a smart buy for any teacher of social studies, science or geography looking to expand their lessons with a more in depth discussion of sustainable development.  Even though the lessons are UK-based and correlated, some of the materials focus on more global issues and could provide a unique perspective to students and teachers in other countries.

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