Preparing teachers to weave sustainability concepts into their elementary, middle and high school classrooms has led Jared Stoltzfus to combine his doctoral studies at Arizona State University (ASU) with part-time work developing curriculum at two high schools.
Stoltzfus is one of six ASU students who co-created “Sustainability Science Education for Teachers.” It’s a new course that aims to ground teachers-in-training in sustainability issues and to give them the tools they need to integrate these issues into their classroom instruction, explains Stoltzfus, who graduated from Eastern Mennonite University in 2005 with a major in biology.
The Sustainability Science Education project started under the auspices of ASU faculty member Leland H. Hartwell, a 2001 Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine. Hartwell came to the conclusion that the best way to spread understanding of sustainability issues through society was through better-prepared teachers.
“Dr. Hartwell met with each of us developing content for the course on a regular basis, defined the objectives of the course, and worked with us to ensure a high-quality, engaging output,” said Stoltzfus. “He is still involved with the course, researching ways to improve student learning [and] make the material more engaging. He hopes to develop a library of resources to provide teachers with when they’re out on their own.”
The project uses online, documentary-style presentations, combined with classroom discussion sections. “We explore complex local and global problems and sustainable solutions through a refined mix of artfully crafted video segments and relevant scientific data with an emphasis on the kindergarten to eighth-grade classroom,” says Stoltzfus. “Our mission is to empower future teachers to educate the next generation to succeed in a rapidly changing world.”
Stoltzfus is also working with a program funded by the National Science Foundation, called GK-12, which has the similar goal of integrating sustainability concepts in high school classrooms. One of the objectives of the GK-12 program is to help teachers meet state and national standards.
“Our course attempts to give them the skills to weave sustainability concepts into existing lesson plans, rather than have to teach it ‘on the side.’”
In the spring of 2012, Stoltzfus spent 15 hours a week in two high schools, teaching, helping teachers to prepare grants and sustainability projects, and working with student clubs.
Stoltzfus says his work in the schools has been “very rewarding,” as has his experience of working under Hartwell. Stoltzfus expects to earn his doctorate in sustainability in May of 2015.