Educator Development, Global Education

Creating Community around the SDGs

By Guy Hamlin, 8th-grade history teacher in Maine

In my quest to teach kids the S.T.R.U.T. (Stuff That’s Relevant, Useful, and Timely) the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are a perfect curricular tool. It’s all there – themes that kids can buy into, topics that have multiple perspectives to consider and unlimited opportunities for action-taking.

We worked on SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production, by studying and documenting our composting efforts here at our middle school. We compared our program with one in Hyderabad, India through virtual exchange. We also took a closer look at our local fresh water supply (SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation) by inviting the water district superintendent to our classroom, visiting and taking photos of essential water infrastructure around town, and ultimately comparing our story with that of a school in Njau, The Gambia through slideshows and iMovies. These types of projects ask students to address real-life problems and to contemplate where they, as kids, fit in the bigger picture – not just as learners, but as doers.

Even though the SDGs were officially adopted in 2015, there are still many people who are unaware they exist. My students and I considered this, and decided that we should launch a local campaign to make the SDGs famous here in Belfast, Maine. The first step, of course, was to get students familiar with all 17 of the goals. As teachers, we have our favorite “go-to” methods when it comes to kids learning and retaining information. My students completed some initial fact-finding through an assignment that required them to find the following information about each of the 17 SDGs:

  • In your own words, what is SDG #__ trying to accomplish?
  • What is one way that progress has already been made on SDG #__? What else needs to be done?

Student answers to the questions above were shared out in small groups and compiled for brief group presentations to the class. When we determined that each class had accurate and compelling information about each of the SDGs, it was time for the students to prepare for their “prove its.” Each student was required to have a 10 minute face-to-face interview with me to decide if they were ready to be a “Global Goals Consultant.” To prepare for the interview, students were asked to create online flashcards, using a variety of web-based applications, and to then quiz one another for several days. Overall, the interviews went well, and in 10 minutes I was able to engage students in conversation about 4-5 of the goals. If they sufficiently explained those goals and could give examples of progress and needs, then they were each given 5 customized business cards for local distribution.

Now that they were all “experts” on the SDGs (and had business cards to prove it!), students created presentation tools so they could go into the community and spread the word about the goals. Students brainstormed ideas they thought would work for a variety of different audiences: iMovies, slideshows, classroom presentations and games, pamphlets and other paper-based handouts, etc. Their intended audiences ranged from elementary classrooms to the local food co-op to the movie theater. The actual creation of many of these SDG related products is still in the development stages, as student groups are meeting once a week to put finishing touches on projects. However, some groups have had a chance to reach out to community members for permission to display or present their SDG messages. Here are examples of what we have so far:

  • Display SDG related brochures at three restaurants, three retail shops, a dentist office waiting room, the YMCA, the hospital and the public library.
  • Present SDG lessons to kids at the Montessori school.
  • “Pitch” an SDG-related iMovie trailer to the owner of the local theater that will be shown before movies.
  • Have a display table on a Saturday morning at the food cooperative.
  • Present an overall SDGs synopsis at our school during a staff meeting.
  • Play audio PSAs on the local radio station about the SDGs.
  • Submit a proposal to the city council to display SDG materials at kiosks on the local walking and biking trail.

As I mentioned, these are all works in progress. Students are challenged to make the necessary phone calls and emails, set up dates, organize their resources and time, adapt and evolve when there are setbacks or barriers to overcome, and know where or to whom to look for help. These are the real global competency skills that kids should be learning all the time.

Want to see more of Guy’s work with the SDGs? Connect with him on Twitter!

You can also try out the SDGs in your classroom. Join this free SDG community for ideas and to connect with other educators!