What is Sustainability Education, anyway?

One of the most interesting things the Green Education Foundation (GEF) has learned about sustainability education in 2011 is that nobody knows what it is. It’s not defined in the traditional sense, and if you research keyword searches on Google you’ll find that people around the globe are searching ‘what is sustainability?’ This gap allowed the GEF team to define sustainability education in a way that also defines the education we develop: Sustainability Education provides educators with the real-world applied learning models that connect science, technology, and math education with the broader human concerns of environmental, economic, and social systems.

Everyone is talking about green jobs and the new green economy. What about the education that gets you there? Why is it only in higher education that students are given the opportunity to begin comprehending the basics of sustainability and the complex global systems that allows our planet to continue surviving? The education GEF is developing is designed to prepare K-12 students to be informed, conscientious global citizens and to be successful in the new green economy.  By incorporating hands-on learning strategies that make deep connections with what students are most familiar with – their school, their homes, and their communities -  the outcomes become more meaningful and lasting. This type of education demands critical thinking, analytical writing, and multi-dimensional understanding that is often absent in traditional curriculum. These skills, developed by studying topics like energy technology or the economics of sustainability, put students at an advantage when entering the workforce or enrolling in higher education.

After many months of content development, research, and outreach, we launched our first online professional development course pilot in November 2011. The course is designed to introduce educators to sustainability education concepts and effective teaching methods. In doing so, the principles and practices of sustainability become a foundation for STEM learning as well as a basis for community and school based initiatives. The course was an overwhelming success with over 700 pilot participants, and has provided the impetus for GEF to forge ahead with a student version of the same course, and more. In 2012, GEF will continue to meet the demand for sustainability education online and in classrooms nationwide with at least 10 new courses based on green building topics and strategies. We’ve found the demand to be from a variety of sources including career tech schools, educators of all levels, and traditional K-12 institutions. As such, the curriculum in development is designed to meet the needs of a diverse stakeholder group. To be successful going forward we must:

  • develop engaging, multi-format courses that include hands on lessons, live narration, and participant interaction
  • provide the opportunity to earn academic and professional development credit for those who pass course assessments
  • engage with our stakeholders to understand and meet their evolving needs
  • create agile products that can easily adapt to stakeholder needs for length and subject matter areas

2011 has been a year of growth and strategic development at GEF. 2012 will be a year where sustainability education becomes a term associated with driving sustainable development and the economic growth in the U.S. and abroad.

Post by Molly Hislop, GEF Marketing Staff
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About Green Education Foundation (GEF)

Mission Green Education Foundation (GEF), a non-profit organization, is committed to creating a sustainable future through education. Sustainability Education provides educators with the real-world applied learning models that connect science, technology, and math education with the broader human concerns of environmental, economic, and social systems. GEF provides curriculum and resources to K-12 students and teachers worldwide with the goal of challenging youth to think holistically and critically about global environmental concerns and solutions. Visit www.greeneducationfoundation.org to register for free and to gain full access to GEF’s comprehensive library of standards-based lessons and activities.
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