Featured Activity: 10 Things You Can’t Live Without

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Diane White Husic, this week’s Educator of the Week, shares an engaging activity to get students thinking about the consequences of their consumption patterns and life choices. Read more about this activity and other ideas for incorporating geo-education into your classroom.

Activity: 10 Things You Can’t Live Without
Grade Level: 6 – 12, Undergraduate
Time Commitment: 2 weeks

I have students spend about five minutes creating a list of 10 things that they can’t live without and list them on the board. Then students choose three consumable items from their list and try to identify what natural resources go into the product and where these resources come from. Next, students search for social and environmental implications of the resource extraction and processing into their chosen product. We talk about renewable and nonrenewable resources, conflict metals, and water issues in class. They choose a company site—either their favorite brand or a representative company that makes the product—and examine the website for any production information and the company’s sustainability statement.

After their research, students think about how long they keep an item, what happens after they are done with it or replace it. They research whether the components are recyclable, if parts can be reused, and the social and environmental implications of recycling or disposal. Finally, they use this information to create a report on what they learned, which includes maps of where the resources came from, where the production occurred, and travel routes (the equivalent of food miles). I give them two weeks to complete this assignment, and then we have a class debrief about what surprised them as they did their investigation.

How did this activity impact your students?

Students compare their lists with other students to find things in common and immediately realize how “stuff” is important to them. They soon learn that there are all sorts of consequences to their consumptive patterns and life choices. Most have no idea ahead of time the global connections to their stuff. It has led to many important conversations about social justice issues, food miles, pollution and externalities. It really helped to have a similar concept covered on NPR this year—Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt.

Diane teaching at the 2013 Rocky Mountain Science and Sustainability Academy in the Grand Tetons. Photograph by Yifan Zhang
Diane teaching at the 2013 Rocky Mountain Science and Sustainability Academy in the Grand Tetons. Photograph by Yifan Zhang

What’s a simple activity to get students thinking about their world?

Hold classroom “competitions” for students to find maps, especially interactive ones, that teach about interesting national or global connections. To get started, the Views of the World site and this article on The Economic Impact of Climate Change have some great gridded cartograms that stimulate class discussions.

What are you looking forward to in the coming school year?

I will be attending my 6th United Nations climate conference in December—in Peru. Not only will I get to use this as part of my teaching—through my blog and the first-hand information I garner while abroad and interacting with people from over 180 countries—but this year, we will be sharing our lessons learned in climate literacy with students and teachers in Lima. And, I can share this with the Geo-Educator Community this year!

Do you have a favorite book, blog, or website that inspires your teaching?

The inspiration for the activity that I described was Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff by Fred Pearce.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you in your life or in your teaching?

I have been long inspired by Wangari Maathai’s telling of the hummingbird story.

Diane White Husic works at Moravian College and is an environmental science, conservation biology, climate change, and biochemistry teacher. She’s taught at the undergraduate level for the past 25 years and has great ideas on getting students to care about the planet.

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The Educator of the Week series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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