Integrated Studies: Sustainability and Cross-Curricular Connections (Transcript)
Tom: The social, economic, environmental needs of this generation, that in and of itself is important to teach. From an education perspective, we are experiencing increased engagements across a variety of disciplines.
You can trim both of these right there. You still have, right, the leaf. This is the leaf, photochloroplast will be photosynthesis. This though is the shoot and it's going to keep growing, make sense?
Tom: When I first got up here, we weren't even using the term sustainability, but we were recycling, we were composting. And then we started tying in a little more into the classes. Then I realized, if we were to really look at all the different facets of sustainability, certainly the social and economic in a biology class, we wouldn't get to all the other things we had to teach. So we put out an email to teachers to see who was interested in having a conversation around using the concept of sustainability to make cross-disciplinary connections. About a dozen teachers came together after school on their own time to start talking about, what can we do here on the campus to really model sustainability? The idea of food production came up pretty quick. We use the overarching theme of sustainability to provide this context.
Sam: We have greens, and what eats our greens other than us?
Sam: Aphids consume some of that, and ladybugs eat the aphids.
Tom: We use the food system as a vehicle to generate these experiential lessons; they're standards-based. So teachers were involved from the beginning on a voluntary level. Then we started to find different ways to tie in other classes, other teachers and said, "Hey, while we're doing this, you know, in biology, you're looking at maybe these ecological implications, maybe you can look at some of the economic pieces that are driving it."
Heather: What's cool about public banks is that they're not just a way to reduce inequality, but they're also a way to promote sustainability in our state, so--
Sustainability is really important to me and it's sort of surprising to me that it's not important to all economists because economics is the study of how to use scarce resources to fulfill infinite human wants and needs.
A priority of a public bank would be to make low interest loans to small businesses. Imagine that TJ and Tabitha decide to start a business growing and selling wheat. They could then get a small loan from the public bank, so you get that wealth creation but you don't have the wealth extraction because the interest ends up staying right here.
Tom: We were going to do this irrigation system, so we wanted some type of alternative energy to power the pump that was out there. So I tossed that over to Anne Watson, the physics teacher, and said, "Hey, this is what we're looking for. You want to tie this into your curriculum?"
Anne: And I said, "Well, maybe we could make this a feasibility study for my students."
We need to write a table of the data that you're going to collect.
And so we, as a class, came to some conclusions, one of them being that the school should look into getting photovoltaics or solar panels.
Tom: They raised the money for it and ultimately worked with the company to install those panels.
Anne: Now for my physics classes, we're looking at what the production rate is, and is that space sustainable in terms of electricity? Are we producing enough to meet the needs of that space?
Sam: So you've got biomass weight. What's the third one?
Sam: Yeah, heat and respiration, right?
Tom: We introduced students to the greenhouse in biology, focusing on nutrient cycles, as well as plant physiology, anatomy.
Sam: Make a flow chart of that energy that's coming into the greenhouse.
Right now we're doing a unit on the biosphere and we're looking at energy transfer.
We can use something from...?
Student: From the biomass, from those consumers when they die goes into the ground. They can be used by the producers and their nutrients from their body.
Sam: Yeah, the key word there is nutrients. Decomposers are really good at returning these things back to the system.
Tom: Over the years, though, we've worked hard to give them a number of different options of classes from AP Spanish to algebra, in which they would have a broader experience with sustainability and food production.
Sam: It doesn't matter how long I stand at the front of the room and talk about photosynthesis and cellular respiration if they have no context in which to think about those things. Being able to go out to the greenhouse and really see those things in action makes the learning that much more meaningful.
Anne: I would encourage teachers to find those ties between what they're doing and someone else's class or curriculum. We can create these opportunities for each other as teachers.