Empowering Students with the Global Goals

Connecting student learning to real-world problems empowers students to realize that they can help shape their future and change the world. One of the best tools for providing students with opportunities to tackle real-world problems is with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 global goals put forth by the United Nations that aim to create a more equitable and sustainable planet for all its inhabitants. 

UN global goals

Facilitating student learning through the SDGs allows students to engage in real-world learning with a social impact for good. It also allows students opportunities for cross-curricular learning, as studying the global goals can include all subject and academic areas. When students begin to study the SDGs and look at the world through the lens of the global goals, it shows them that through their learning they can truly make a positive difference and change the world. This is the true meaning and purpose of education. 


Last year, I created a Genius Hour-style project that involved the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and design-thinking. First, my 4th grade students learned about design-thinking through an activity involving the Extraordinaires Design Studio, which involves fictional characters and opportunities for students to write a backstory and create tools, vehicles, and other accessories for their fictional characters. In a later lesson, students were introduced to the SDGs. We went through each of the goals and explained it in simple language and gave examples. The World’s Largest Lesson website has some great resources and videos to help introduce the goals to students. 

global goals group

Students, in groups of two or three or individually, chose a global goal and developed a question or problem statement related to that goal. Then they researched their goal and came up with possible solutions that addressed their question or problem statement. After that, students wrote a fictional story involving their Extraordinaire character that infused real facts about their SDG. Students then created an invention prototype that would help solve the problem related to their global goal. The invention could be made out of recycled materials, cardboard, 3D printed, or out of any other materials that the students had available to them. Finally, students shared their fictional story with the research on the global goal and their invention prototype with the class. In addition, students could also share their projects with a partner class via video conference or video message, such as through Flipgrid. 


Allowing students the freedom and opportunity to tackle the world’s problems empowers them to know that they can change the world. The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals is a vehicle for students to realize their potential as positive change-makers. I have spoken and presented on this topic the last couple years at the ISTE conference, including giving an Ignite presentation on this project at the 2019 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia. Here is a presentation on this project with more details and resources. 

ISTE 2019 6

The Fake News Challenge

“Fake news” has been thrust into the national spotlight since the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The term has since become widely used, mocked and, in some instances, abused.

That’s a problem. With an ever-increasing amount of news and entertainment sources available online, students have greater access to information now than at any other time. Anyone can create and upload content online, whether it is factual or not, and reach a wide audience. It is no wonder, then, that many students have a difficult time differentiating what online content is true and what is false. According to a recent Stanford study, many students lack an ability to think critically about information they see online. Distinguishing sponsored content and advertising from news articles, and identifying content sources, are skills that students often struggle at mastering.

How can educators help students recognize credible news sources and identify an information source’s potential bias? When teaching this topic to students, there are a number of items to discuss, according to a resource from the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Students should be able to recognize:

  • if what they are reading makes logical sense,
  • if the information is consistent with sources they already know to be reliable, and
  • if the information be verified through other sources.

It’s also wise to consider whether the source itself is well-known and widely considered reputable. Who authored and published the article? Does it have a copyright, and is it timely?


Educators should also discuss whether the article is only telling part of the story—if there is a hidden agenda (such as a political goal or financial interest), or if it is targeted to a certain group of people who may already share the same ideology. Considering these points will help the reader to better understand the author’s purpose or motivation for writing. A legitimate news article will inform and shed light on a topic for a mass audience. Untrustworthy sources of information may have stated or unstated agendas, such as to make money or perpetuate a specific ideology; these sources will often use persuasive, even hyperbolic, language and imagery.

The idea of gamification, or learning academic content through game elements, is one way to try to increase student interest in and retention of ideas concerning this topic. One simple classroom game helping students to identify false news stories works like this: First, the teacher reads an online or printed article to the class. Students will then have several minutes to conduct research, while applying the lessons and ideas from classroom discussions, to find out whether the article presented by the teacher is true or false. After the allotted research time, students communicate their findings. Points can be awarded for both a correct answer and for students justifying why they believe the article was accurate or inaccurate.

If students become adept at that game, there is another class-to-class collaborative game that my students have participated in. Last year, my 4th grade students played The Fake News Challenge, a game I helped develop with a teacher in California. Each class breaks up into small groups, with each group researching two factual news stories, and then finding or creating a third news story that is “fake.” My students decided to create their own fake news story, some groups adapting it from a real news story but changing major aspects, and other groups writing a story entirely from scratch. The students loved being creative in writing their own story. Some students, however, found that it was more difficult creating a fake news story than they had anticipated, since they had to make it believable yet false.

Fake News Challenge 2018

When the students finished researching and writing their stories, we connected with a partner class via Skype, and the small groups read their three articles, in no particular order, to the other class. The other class then had five minutes to research and figure out which article was false and give justification for why. Small groups from each class then took turns presenting their articles.

If we as educators wish to prepare our students for the workforce they will enter and the world they will inherit, we need to help them develop the critical thinking skills needed in all facets of life. A good educator teaches students what to learn. A great educator teaches students how to learn. We should prepare our students to not only read but to critically analyze the ever-growing amount of information and media they encounter every day.

This post was originally published in EdSurge on Aug. 31, 2017, and can be found here. I have also presented on this topic at the ISTE Conference, and the presentation can be found here

Cooking Cultural Exchange

Food is an excellent way to learn about a new culture. It was with that idea in mind that I created the Cooking Cultural Exchange a few years ago. The project consists of two classes partnering up in different states or countries. Each class researches the history of a traditional food item from their own state or country. Then, connecting via video conference, each class demonstrates how to make their traditional food item and then shares some facts about the food with their partner class. Teachers can then share their recipes with the other class so all students can make both food items at home. 


When my 4th graders did this project this fall, we partnered with an after-school cooking class in Uruguay. We started the project with a Mystery Skype, then each class challenged the other to do the project. My students choose pumpkin pie as our traditional food to share. Within the next two weeks when our classes would connect live again, my students researched pumpkin pie recipes, the history of pumpkin pie, and then made inferences about why pumpkin pie is considered an American dessert and why it’s typically eaten in the fall. 


The day we connected the second time with our Uruguayan partner class over video conference, I had brought in all of the ingredients for pumpkin pie from home. Each student was assigned to either demonstrate how to measure and add a specific ingredient to the bowl, or to share a fact or inference that they had researched. After students had demonstrated step-by-step how to make pumpkin pie and shared their research, our partner class demonstrated how to prepare a traditional Uruguayan dessert. 

Cooking exchange - Uruguay

After the call was over, several students had brought in pies from home so that we could taste what a finished pie was like! Each student went home with both class’ recipes so they could recreate the desserts with their families. It was a great way to share and learn about different cultures through food and cooking!