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Our Community Geoscape: Living Sustainably

Originally appears in the Winter 2008-2009 issue

As teachers, we hope that with a strong knowledge base our students will act in environmentally responsible ways in their daily lives. Yet an understanding of the processes by which environmental degradation occurs does not ensure this. Educator David Orr states, “The conventional wisdom holds that all education is good, and the more of it one has, the better. This view can be challenged from an ecological perspective. The truth is that without significant precautions, education can equip people merely to be more effective vandals of the earth.”1 How, then, can we shift our teaching to foster in our students some form of understanding so that they are stewards, not vandals, of the Earth? How can we diminish the talk of environmental destruction and engage students in ways that might inspire them to think differently about their actions?

The two activities described here are intended to make teaching ecological sustainability a personal and local exploration that begins with background knowledge of the environment and then extends students’ understanding in a relevant way. The first is a role play in which students explore ecosystem models and the sustainability of various actions; the second activity has students put knowledge into practice by designing a sustainable building. Approximately eight hours of class time are required for the two activities.

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Tom Harding teaches science and biology at Rockridge Secondary School in West Vancouver, British Columbia. He thanks Bob Turner of Natural Resources Canada for his collaboration in the development of the ecosystem models and activities, and Arlene Anderson of Rockridge Secondary School for her helpful editing.