Sustainability Education Spring 2017, STSS 4280 Communications Intensive

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

Professor Kim Fortun,, x2199, Sage 5112.Office hours Thursdays 3-4, and by appt.

This course examines needs for and challenges in delivering environmental education in different settings. Working off an evolving list of literacy goals – drawn from anthropological research on environmental problems – we will critically review existing environmental education curricula, then design and deliver our own to K-12 students in our area. We will work with young students both on campus (in a nine-week research program for students in grades 4-9), and in local schools.

Our goal in working with young students is to enhance and interlace their knowledge, analytic capacity, and sense of purpose and possibility. Through this work, we will experiment with ways academic research findings can be translated for different audiences – extending what the National Science Foundation calls the “broad impact” of the research. You will also have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate your own educational and environmental values.

The course should have five learning outcomes. Upon successful completion of the course, you should:
  • 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 20%
Teaching 20%
Curriculum Innovation or Illustrated Eco-Story 20%
Field Essays (8 200 word or 4 400 word) 20%
Collaborative Research (with younger student) 20%

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


attendance and homework
Class 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,

In addition to scheduled class times, please also plan to participate in class-related events during RPI Earth Week 2017 (April 23-30). Our key events (outside class times) will be Friday, April 28 4-6pm (when we will serve as reviewers at an undergraduate poster session), Saturday April 29 (please plan on 4 hours, which include the poster session for students in our research program), and Sunday afternoon April 30 (4 hours, for oral presentations by students in our research program). I will adjust the overall workload of the course to credit the time you spend at these events. If you have a scheduling conflict and can’t attend, you can make up the time as you would an absence for a regularly scheduled class.

In managing and pacing your work for this class, keep in mind that you should expect to spend 3-4 hours a week per credit hour of a college course, including class meeting times. Standard classes meet for 4 hours a week, and should have about ten hours of homework. In this class, your “lab” time on Wednesdays (when we will go off campus to local schools) will count toward our total, as will the extra scheduled hours you will put in during Earth Week -- aiming for about 12 hours a week total. Most weeks, you’ll thus have about 5 hours of homework. Some weeks, I’ll cancel class to give you additional time for your assignments.

academic honesty
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 me 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 I 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, please talk to me. Per RPI rules, the written statement goes first to your instructor, then to the Department Head, then to the HASS Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs.

Our class and lab meetings will be focused in different ways. Many Wednesdays, we will go off campus to work in local schools. Our schedule for this is still being finalized, and will depend on access to transportation. We will work out details in class. Our school-based work will be part of an EcoEd program we call “Putting Schools in Their Place.” Beginning in February, Thursday class times will be spent with young students in our research program (see the program description below), working together on a life cycle analysis. Our other class meetings (most Mondays) will be spent preparing for our engagement with younger students, or discussing what we have observed and learned about environmental education and education in general.


20% Curriculum Innovation or Illustrated EcoStory For this assignment, you’ll either design 3 30-minute curriculum modules, or write your own children’s picture book that teaches environmental lessons. Curriculum 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, using the EcoEd curriculum template. Picture books should creatively teach an eco-message, cultivating at least three specific EcoEd literacy goals. Story structures and examples for this assignment are on the course wiki. Also see Curriculum Innovation Assignment Details

20% Field EssaysYou can write either 8 very short (200 word) or 4 longer (400 word) field essays. In these essays, you will record your observations, reflections and analysis of the educational settings and events we observe (some on film) and participate in. These essays will be due Sunday evenings by 9pm. 800 words are due before spring break, and another 800 words are due after spring break.

20% Collaborative Research: Life Cycle Analysis
This assignment will be done collaboratively with a young student in our research program. Each research group will develop a life cycle analysis of a particular type of product (food, electronics, clothing.)

Excused Absences and Film AnnotationsExcused 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).