An educator's journey exploring the UN Global Goals - Part 3: Activate!
I ended part 2 with a promise to share how I planned to get 180 student projects organized while not going insane as their teacher! I will share my tips and resources on how you could do the same!
This is part 3 of a blog series of my journey as an educator exploring and embracing the UN Global Goals in the classroom through impactful, project-based learning. In part 1, I talked
about how I came across the goals and the idea for Innovation Hour. In part 2, I go into detail about the world's largest lesson, so be sure to check out these pre-requisite articles to get the full picture!
I will share what I did to help kids narrow down their passions and how I emphasized the importance of organized project-based learning in the classroom and having students hold themselves accountable toward making measurable differences. I will also share more of the resources I created to help me, along with new techniques and resources that I created after-the-fact that I wish I had from the beginning!
By now, (see part 2) I have introduced the UN Global Goals via the World's Largest Lesson approach and videos. I also mixed in the theme of the year, innovation, so that students saw a connection to what they were doing with the curriculum. You can connect the SDGs to any topic, so if you're an economics teacher, it would be very easy to connect this project of the SDGs through the lens of the economy or being pro-active members of society. See what global goals stand out to you as an educator, you are the expert in your subject, so use that to your advantage to find a way to make the SDGs work for your specific learning environment.
The next step was to help students find a UN Global Goal they were very passionate about. Some kids figured it out immediately, but I wanted to make sure they not only had a passion, but a problem to solve so the end product would be an invention, innovation, or movement to solve that problem. I defined "solving" the problem as evidence they have made a measurable difference. For example, if a student was working on an invention, their measurement would be their scientific trials from experimenting. If a student wanted to create an innovation of a product, they would need to measure and prove the impact is more
than the previous existing idea. For a movement, they would need to measure the number of people they have influenced. Click here for a breakdown of the difference between innovations, inventions, and movements.
17 Goals are a lot to go through, and if I were to do it all over again, I would take more time with each goal as a lesson and have the kids really get a good grasp of what each goal meant. At the time, I had them explore the goals rather briefly on the SDG website, and then they filled out a tournament bracket. The students put 16 out of the 17 goals tournament style in the bracket, and would slowly compare and eliminate global goals that did not reach out to them on a personal level. I would still do the elimination bracket, which was fun and
engaging for the kids... what I would spend more time on are lessons about each goal in detail leading up to this assignment so the kids were making educated and well-thought-out decisions. The bracket is also great because you can see the top 2 an top 4 goals of interest, which increases flexibility on what kinds of ideas they can come up with. For a copy of the elimination bracket, click here or on the image. (want this resource for free? For a limited time you can get it to your inbox if you sign up for the email list).
OK! So the students have taken the time to learn about each goal and have a good idea of what global goal they are most interested in (or passionate about). Now what?? The end objective is to have students create either an invention, innovation, or movement that takes measurable action towards a global goal of their choice. In order to reach this objective, students need to find a specific problem to solve within that goal, but in reality, even telling 13-year-olds to do this independently was not realistic. What I told them to do (which is not what I suggest unless you are teaching high school or older) is to have them look at the targets of the goals (they can be found if you scroll down on the SDG website, see the video in this post). Each goal has a number of targets to reach, and each target has a
measurable outcome. Common sense told me if I guide them to the targets, that the problems they could work on would magically jump out at them! Well, I was wrong and the language of the targets was way above the comprehension level of my 8th graders. I stumbled through this with many reflections afterward (hindsight is 20/20 right?). I wished I had a procedure that they could all go through step by step, and if they still needed help, then I would be there for support, so that is exactly what I did and it's ready!
I created these step-by-step resources (you may have noticed it already in my store). The general step-by-step for this project-based learning is called the A.C.T.I.O.N. Method. This takes what seems to be a large, overwhelming task, and simplifies it into steps that students can independently follow. I then created a more detailed resource with links for students to fill out and track their steps along with this method in what is called the Sustainability Community Project Planning Sheet (or Global Goals Project Planning Sheet). The letters in the A.C.T.I.O.N. Method expands to... activate, collect, tackle, interact, observe, and next.
Right now, the students are still in the ACTIVATE stage, where they engage with a Global Goal and identify problems to solve in the world specific to that goal. It's an exploration phase, and in the project planning sheet, there are 3 approaches I highlight to identify a problem... Global Goal Interest, Action Interest, and Location Interest.
The "Global Goals interest" approach is a nice segue from the tournament bracket, but as I mentioned before, just looking at the targets was difficult for students, but the resources have improved since 2016. After going to the Global Goals website, they can explore the "winner" of their bracket by scrolling down and seeing not only the targets but "things to do" and ways to take
action. A new and super valuable resource that I didn't have at the time (or know about at least) is the SDG Target Tracker. This charts the targets and gives an amazing visual on the
progress made and how much needs to be done. I wish I knew about this before when I was having the students search for problems within the SDGs, as this also re-words and explains the targets in a more student-friendly manner. I encourage students to take ownership of their project, many wanted me to tell them what problem to solve, but I always redirected them to dig further into what they are interested in and to try and keep it simple.
Let's say that students know what goal they want to work on, but have no idea on how to take action for a measurable difference, the data hasn't reached out to them and they feel a bit lost. I encourage students to think about what they enjoy doing out of the choices of innovations, inventions, or movements? If it is the beginning of the school year, you may not know their personalities too well, so they will have to share with you, but the more you get to know your students, the easier it is to encourage them with something you think they could excel with and feel comfortable. Some kids have special talents and skills, I try to find ways to help them see how they could use those to take action. For example, a student who is very artistic and wants to work on life on land could create artwork to sell (or bid) and all the money goes towards an organization to help animals on the planet. That would be an example of a movement and the measurable difference would be the amount of money donated from the efforts. Students who like to work with more hands-on projects and
building prototypes could be more interested in innovation or inventions. The inventions are great for me being a science teacher because I could emphasize the scientific method for testing, but you could also use it for improvements in products (innovations). I did have some kids whose ideas were so big and amazing, it would have been hard to create a life-size prototype. In those situations, I encouraged them to draft and draw out their ideas and get feedback from professionals in the field. They could also make "mini" versions of their ideas, for example, one student created a model of the most sustainable city, she calculated how much power
would be produced by the number of renewable energy she planned for, and then compared that with the average power use of city today with a similar size and population. I counted that as showing a "measurable difference". One more resource I feature in the planning sheet is the SDGs in Action app. Sometimes kids need inspiration on what they can do and then can focus on a specific problem that relates.
Let's say, you have a student who is completely lost. The bracket didn't really work for them, they care about all or too many goals to focus, they lack the confidence to pick an action that they would be skilled in, and they just feel frustrated. This is where the "location interest" excels because it takes a break from the goals themselves and has the kids focus on something else, a place they are interested in. It could be someplace they have been before, it could be their home town, it could be a completely new location that they saw on a TV show and thought, oh! I want to go there! Now you can't send all your students off to different countries, the field trip budget is usually not that good, but this fresh approach to taking action could be just what they needed to re-set their brain and get re-engaged, plus, there are plenty of ways to take action remotely with the internet nowadays. Narrowing
down a location means that you can also narrow down a problem that needs solving, and therefore can match the problem to be solved with a UN Global Goal (it is kind of a backward approach to this whole project, but works just as well). Allow students to generically research the area of interest to see what struggles they may have, and since data is awesome and out there for you to take in, don't forget to encourage them to visit the UN SDG Database by country, where students could also pinpoint areas of improvement for that country!
If you made it this far in reading, I hope it was of value to you! Step A (activate)in the A.C.T.I.O.N. Method is now complete! Join in next time where I will go more into detail with the next step of the method (Step C), about collecting the information once a problem to e solved has been established. As mentioned before, a guide for students that helps students apply this method to their project can be found at the Sustainability Community Project Planning Sheet (or Global Goals Project Planning Sheet). If you want to be notified of the next post, click here to sign up for the email list, where you also get information and tips on even more sustainability teaching resources!