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.
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.
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.