By Jenny Kaste
I have been on a journey this past year learning how to be a great SDGs teacher. As I move forward and grow, one thing I have learned is that to truly create empowered youth, I must give them both a structure to look at world problems and a path to do something about them.
The SDGs are not a curriculum. There is no prescribed right way to embrace SDGs in the classroom. I don’t have students open to page 5 and read about activism. I don’t have students complete a unit or module and have an easy and perfectly impactful project. I don’t get my students to pass a quiz and, poof, they become aware, productive global citizens. The SDG’s are a framework for action and global learning. As an SDGs teacher, I need to pair them with my best practices, my professional learning, my curriculum objectives and my students’ needs to find a way that works. I need to balance the micro and macro prospective of the goals to achieve student civic understanding.
At the beginning of last school year, my colleagues and I chose a single SDG to focus on for the 2018-19 school year. We zoomed in on SDG #3 - good health and well being. This connected well to our STEM school focus and was something accessible and understandable to all kids. Our goal for the year was to create action to improve the health and well being of our community, as each grade defined it. All grade levels focused on this one goal; studied it and developed community projects to support it. Our littles learned about washing hands and avoiding germs, our 2nd graders wrote a book about making healthy choices, our 4th graders raised money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and made comfort boxes for kids in our local hospital. My 5th grade change makers brainstormed problems in the community, created PSAs, participated in large scale display at the state capitol and presented to law makers about changes they wanted to see. One of the law changes they advocated for even was passed by the state legislature after their presentation. They learned about other youth activists, connected with NGOs and discovered the power of their voice.
At the end of the year as our projects wrapped up and our impact was reflected on I asked students to revisit the 17 goals. I asked them to switch gears from our deep dive into Goal 3 and to take a more macro view. I asked them to consider what they had learned about activism, action, and the power of their voice. I asked them to think about what they would apply those lessons in the future. I was surprised to realize that outside of health and wellness, my change makers didn’t know what the SDGs were. This was a huge awakening for me as an SDGs teacher.
The next week I changed my bulletin board that had focused only on our work and study of good health and well being, to include a poster with all the 17 goals. The deeply unique and engaging visual of the goals helped, and I found the students were quicker now to embrace and understand these goals. They seemed to understand that these goals represented challenges they had the power to change. The work, the problem analysis, the impact they had made through out the year became an empowering new lens through which to view the whole of the goals. As we reviewed all the goals, the kids made connections between the goals and our learning and reading that I hadn’t explicitly pointed out to them, as well as some I hadn’t even seen. While I loved that they saw these connections on their own, I recognized my disservice to them by not allowing for those connections in the moment.
When we returned to reflecting on our learning and where their own personal passions would take them in the future, I was excited to find I had kids who felt very passionate about all different SDGs. I had several students who felt passionate about gender equality, affordable and clean energy, and ending poverty. These change makers wanted to dive deep into these goals. They were enthusiastic to explore the complex issues around these goals. They discovered a particular world problem that ignited a fire deep inside them, and I believe that our micro study of good health and well being gave them a play book of how to tackle a problem.
This summer I took these lessons I learned in my own SDGs teaching journey and added some amazing professional learning. I opened up the big, integrated, STEM unit plans we have built, use and actively improved and began looking for ways to explicitly connect our curriculum to the SDGs. I plan to leave my poster of the 17 goals up, and regularly ask students to make connections between their classwork and the goals. I also plan to dig deep into another goal. I think to create true change makers, my students must know what the world needs to be better and how to dig deep into the issues they care about.
Jenny has been teaching 5th grade since 2005. Throughout her career she has served in many leadership capacities and experienced a variety of teaching opportunities. She graduated from Elmira College in Elmira NY and loves living in sunny Yuma, AZ. She loves the opportunity to be creative and inspire passion in her teaching. She believes deeply in student centered, real world learning. Jenny is a wife and mother who enjoys listening to podcasts and hiking with her family. Follow her on Twitter @JennyKaste.
TeachSDGs Team & Contributors