Sustainability Education Spring 2016, STSS 4965

M/R 4:00-5:50, Sage 4112 W 9:00-12:00 Sage 2707

Professor Kim Fortun,, x2199, Sage 5112.
Teaching Assistant Alli Morgan,, Sage 5114
Office hours Thursdays 3-4, and by appt.

What is happening with kids and schools in the United States today? What kinds of literacy are needed to advance environmental sustainability? How can sustainability educators reach kids of different ages, and different kinds of communities? This course will examine these questions through review of varied ways environmental education can be conceptualized and delivered. We will also develop and deliver our own educational materials, experimenting with ways social science and humanities research findings can be translated for different audiences – extending what the National Science Foundation calls the “broad impact” of the research.

We will examine the history of public education in the United States, factors shaping contemporary children and the education they receive, various approaches to environmental education, and the complex challenge of “backward design” of curriculum to produce educational outcomes that enhance and interlace students’ knowledge, skill and sense of purpose and possibility. Working off an evolving list of literacy goals – drawn from anthropological research on environmental problems – we will critically review existing environmental education curricula and modules, then design and deliver our own to k-12 students in our area.

The course will have five learning outcomes. Upon successful completion of the course, you will:
  • demonstrate understanding of key factors and stakeholders shaping US children's education today.
  • demonstrate understanding of how environmental education is developing in the US, and internationally.
  • demonstrate understanding of how (environmental) research findings can be woven into educational outreach programs, broadening the impact of the research.
  • demonstrate your own teaching, curriculum design and mentoring skills.
  • be able to articulate your own environmental and educational values.

Grades will be based on the following percentages:
Active Participation (including homework, class exercises and work with k-12 students) 40%
Curriculum Reviews 10%
Curriculum Innovations 10%
Illustrated Eco-Story 10%
Two Essay Exams 30%

Required reading will be accessible through the wiki for Rensselaer’s EcoEd Research Group:

Attendance is required. Unexcused absences will result in a 2% reduction from your final grade. An excused absence (for illness, emergencies and approved Rensselaer activities) can be made up through submission of an extra film annotation (see details below). Documentation for excused absences should be obtained from the Student Experience Office, 4th floor Academy Hall, x8022,

Printed copies of assignments are due in class as indicated on the class schedule. All assignments should also be posted in your wiki portfolio. For each day an assignment is late, you will lose 1% from your overall (cumulative) grade. If your midterm essay is a day late, for example, it can contribute at most 14% to your overall grade.
Computers should be brought to class but should only be used for class-related activities. Other forms of electronic communication are not allowed.
Academic honesty of the highest order is expected. It is not acceptable to submit work done for another class in this class, though it is acceptable to build on previous work. Talk to your instructor if you have questions about this. Nor, of course, is it acceptable to submit work done by someone else as your own. Citations must be included for both indirect and direct quotation, providing clear documentation of sources. Special care must be taken to properly cite digital resources. Please see the Student Handbook for complete guidelines on academic honesty. If we am able to confirm plagiarism or another form of academic dishonesty on any assignment in this course, you will fail the entire course.

You may appeal a grade through a written statement describing the grounds on which a change of grade should be considered. Before initiating a formal appeal of a course grade, you must talk to your instructor. The written statement goes first to your instructor, then to the Department Head, then to the HASS Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs.

* This class is somewhat complex logistically. To pace yourself, think in terms of spending at least two hours out of class for every hour in class – so about 10 hours a week on homework, out-of-class K-12 outreach.

40% Active Participation Attendance is required, but attendance alone does not guarantee a high participation grade. This part of your grade is based on homework and in-class exercises (eco-sketches), contributions to class discussion, class presentations, and your work with K-12 students. Your participation in RPI's Earth Week Festival Community Day on Saturday, April 16 is expected, as is your participation in the EcoEd Research Symposium on Sunday afternoon, April 17. If you have scheduling conflicts, please talk to me about options.
Most Wednesdays, we will work at Tamarac Elementary, about 10 minutes from campus. On Thursdays beginning February 25, we will host (at RPI) grade 4-12 students into the EcoEd Research Program. You will mentor students in this programs. Their work will be presented as posters on Saturday April 16 (during the Earth Week Festival Community Day), and as oral presentations in a symposium (at RPI) on Sunday, April 27.
10% Curriculum Review Memos You will write four memos that evaluate environmental curriculum modules now in circulation, evaluating what they accomplish (with specific reference to the evolving literacies goals of EcoEd), commenting on how they could be improved. You can review curriculum modules available at sites like this: PBS, National Geographic, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and many museums also post k-12 environmental teaching materials. Your review should address these (and possibly additional) questions:

  • What organization developed the curriculum module you are evaluating?
  • What is the overall mission of the organization?
  • What is the educational mission and philosophy of the organization?
  • What does the curriculum module aim to teach? In other words: what are the learning outcomes supposed to be?
  • Is the curriculum appropriately designed to produce the intended learning outcomes?
  • Does this curriculum teach the kind of literacies advocated by EcoEd?
  • What could be layered into this curriculum so that it addresses more of the learning outcomes advocated by EcoEd?

10% Curriculum Innovation Memos You will also design two EcoEd curriculum modules (for 60 minute time blocks). These modules can build on modules already developed by others; they should be structured to contribute to the cache of modules being built by the EcoEd Research Group. Please use this curriculum module template.

10% Illustrated Eco-Story This assignment is to write and illustrate a children’s book that creatively teaches an eco-message, cultivating at least three specific EcoEd literacy goals. A draft of the story is due Feb 22; the final, illustrated version of the story is due March 28. Structures and examples for this assignment are on the course wiki.
30% Essay Exams You will have two essay exams, one due just before spring break (March 7) and one near the end of term (May 9). Each will have five essay questions’; each response should be about 500 words long. Exam questions will be posted well in advance, and essays will be written out of class. Some questions require reading or watching a film. You should complete about an essay a week throughout the semester to stay on track. You are free to discuss the exam questions with others, but should write independently.

Excused Absences and Film Annotations Excused absences can be made up by writing film annotations for any sustainability-related documentary. You cannot re-submit annotations submitted in other classes.
Credit will depend on complete coverage of the annotation questions, use of concrete examples from the film to illustrate points and high quality writing. Annotations can be in essay form, or can answer each question separately, but must be in complete sentences and paragraphs. Each annotation should be approximately 1000 words long. Address these questions.

  • Title, director and release year?
  • What is the central argument or narrative of the film?
  • What sustainability issues does the film draw out?
  • What parts of the film did you find most persuasive and compelling? Why?
  • What parts of the film were you not compelled or convinced by? Why?
  • What kinds of corrective action are suggested by the film (either overt or implied)?
  • What kinds of literacy are cultivated by the film?
  • What would improve the environmental educational value of the film?
  • What additional information has this film compelled you to seek out? (Describe what you learned in a couple of sentences, providing at least two supporting references).