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5 — What does sustainable living really mean?

In the next few sequences the students will explore the concept of sustainability more closely. They will participate in activities that will aim to access their prior knowledge of this concept and help to illustrate the concept further as they interrogate a range of texts to shape their ideas in relation to sustainability. The students will develop a deeper understanding that will allow them to create texts that inform and persuade others to take action for sustainable futures.

In this sequence, the students will form a working definition of sustainability. They will participate in some activities drawing on the following General Capabilities: Literacy, Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking and Ethical Behaviour. They will also begin to plan an ‘art from trash’ group project with the intention of personally investing and involving students in the creation of a social message using their own recyclable materials.

Activity 1: Defining sustainability

The Australian Curriculum defines sustainability as: ‘Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’. Explain to the students that we will look at this definition further and use a well-known fable to situate our thinking. Read the Aesop fable ‘The ant and the grasshopper’ with the students. Use the fable as a starting point for forming a workable definition of sustainability.

Discussion questions:

Ask the students to reflect on the definition of sustainability and create their own working definition (with examples if needed) to add this to their glossary of terms for this unit.

Activity 2: Sustainable versus unsustainable

White goods at the rubbish tip

Above: White goods, image by Erika Boas

Share a number of images gathered from an internet search and displayed on the interactive whiteboard, or images that have been cut from magazines. Ask students to work in groups to sort these into two piles: sustainable and unsustainable and remind them to continually draw their thinking back to the definition of sustainability.   

After a given amount of time, open up the discussion to the whole class. Which images were easy to categorise; which were harder and why?

The students can then aim to categorise the images by labelling each stack according to, for example:

 Activity 3: Spreading the message – the Dunkin Donuts example

Dunkin Donuts: stop using styrofoam cups and switch to a more eco-friendly solution.

In 2012 a campaign was mounted to pressure the big international chain Dunkin Donuts to stop using styrofoam cups because of revelations of the amount of styrofoam waste produced by the company, which is one of the largest international coffee chains in the world. The message above was posted onto social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Draw the students’ attention to the use of persuasive language. The campaign was personally directed to the company, urging it to stop and make a change. ACELA1543

Discussion questions:

Note: For a comprehensive treatment of functional grammar approaches, see Beverly Derewianka’s A New Grammar Companion for Teachers.

The online petition goes on to urge the company to switch to a more eco-friendly solution, including: the use of more expensive, but environmentally friendly products; opting for in-store recycling measures or encouraging customers to bring along reusable cups.

Using the Dunkin Donut example as a starting point, ask the students in their groups to search for a campaign or petition that has been mounted that draws attention to an unsustainable practice. Students can begin their search by looking at the Story of Stuff Project website. Drawing on the content of this website, some talking points could include how humans have shaped and changed the planet in relation to the use of products that damaged the environment but the damage was not immediately known to the general public at the time.

Discussion questions:

Ask the students if they can think of companies that market newer, faster, better versions of products and which aim to encourage us to buy these before previous models become obsolete.

 Activity 4: Setting up a classroom wiki or blog site

Students can share their searches by creating a list of useful weblinks and summaries to display on a blog site or wiki under the title ‘How are we shaping and changing the planet?’

Students can be encouraged to list and share relevant apps, web 2.0 tools, useful YouTube clips and images from popular games as a way of contributing to community learning. They can also be encouraged to take their own photos as commentary to be shared on the wiki; including images of their artworks that will be introduced in the art from trash project.

Art from trash project

The students have thus far explored how artists like Chris Jordan have used the idea of trash to inspire their creations as well as their social commentary. Explain to the students that on completion of the unit, they will display an art exhibit. Students will create their own art from trash piece that will aim to provoke thoughts in viewers. This can occur through the art piece itself or through the caption that will accompany the piece. The catch is that they need to use recyclable materials in their art, or represent rubbish or waste in some way.

Working in their inquiry groups, each group must first devise a way to collect materials for the project. They must also think of what they will aim to represent through their art (a problem or issue, a found statistic and so forth). They will present their artwork to their peers and share more widely via a wiki or blog set-up. For example: 

Note: Students can send out email invitations to local organisations and groups to come along to an art viewing.  Likewise, they can choose to share the link to the blog or wiki with a wider audience.

To accompany the pieces, the students are to present a plaque or caption to describe the artwork and the message behind the art. The message will be an informative one and in some cases a persuasive one. As the students use and repurpose their own recycled materials, they will be connecting with their own place on the planet. The message that they choose to share as a group can be based on a local or more global statistic.

The intention of this project is for students to celebrate their learning at the end of the unit. This task can be altered to become more of a formal assessment piece or students can be asked to reflect on the process of collecting their trash along the way.

Track my thinking

At this point in the unit, encourage the students to complete a further entry on one of their Track my thinking charts.