The Association for Science Education
  1. Home
  2. Resources
  3. Welcome to Sci-Tutors
  4. Professional issues
  5. Education for Sustainable Development

Education for Sustainable Development



This article can be read as a stand alone piece but it is the intention of ATSE to eventually have clear links to ESD in many of the articles we produce. Here, however, we focus especially on some of the current thinking about ESD in ITE within Science. Our hope is that this article will attempt to stimulate thinking and provide ideas that we hope will act as a spur to enable colleagues to extract and use some of the materials with their science student teachers so that ESD becomes embedded within all ITE Science Education programmes across the country.

This article contains:
Ideas for Exemplar ITE Module Outlines which focus on ESD including :
1.An ESD Elective module with a science element available to all trainees - Here you are provided with a full outline of an elective module undertaken in the fourth and final year of a BA Primary Honours programme available to all trainees following this programme some of which included science specaialists. This exemplar includes, session outlines, module assessment details as well as an indicative reaading list so that readers can see the whole context within which the module was taught. 

2.A Science Leadership module with an ESD perspective available to only science specialist trainees - Here again a fourth and final year module of a BA Primary Honours programme is given . This Leadership module was only available to specialist science trainees. As above a full outline is given and includes session outlines, assessment details and an indicative reading list. This module has ESD as a standalone element within the module assement forming a substantial Directed Task which all trainees had to carrry out.

An Exemplar science session which focuses on ESD specifically from the Elective- You are provided with a Powerpoint presentation and Session notes for you to adapt and use as you wish in ITE.

An Exemplar science Inset Session with ESD embedded from the Science Leadership module- A lesson plan for use in ITE is given for tutors to adapt and use as they wish.

Standards Addressed Include: Q2, 14,15,17,21,22 and 30- More details of how these are addressed can be found in the learning outcomes section in the main article.

Keywords: ESD and Science, ITE, Skills, Attitudes, Values, Assignments and Directed Tasks

1.0 Rationale

Education for Sustainable development (ESD) is a concept that we believe should be embedded into every aspect of the work undertaken by ATSE on this Sci-Tutors site. The necessity of a focus on ESD can hardly be denied and it now seems that we must enable the ESD agenda to permeate every aspect of our current thinking in Science Education. It is useful when examining any issue to look at what has been said /written about it, thus in this section we will provide some significant quotations which might be used when considering the rationale for ESD with student teachers. There are many opinions and viewpoints which can be presented, below a selection of those used in ITE is provided and demonstrates that ESD is now a cultural and social imperative. If we agree that schooling is an expression of society then we must pay it due attention.  It seems that ideas about ESD are cross cultural since we are all inhabitants of this planet and as such must all share in our responsibilty for it.

The Earth is green and beautiful and God has appointed you his stewards over it 
(The Prophet Mohammad, PBUH ) The Quran

Our biggest challenge in this new century is to take an idea that sounds abstract - sustainable development - and turn it into reality for all the world's people.
(Kofi Annan2001)

Education for sustainable development has come to be seen as a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long term future of the economy, ecology and equity of all communities...This represents a new vision of education, a vision that helps people of all ages better understand the world in which they live, addressing the complexity and interconnectedness of problems such as poverty, wasteful consumption, environmental degradation, urban decay, population growth, health, conflict and the violation of human rights that threaten our future. This vision of education emphasises a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to developing the knowledge and skills needed for a sustainable future as well as changes in values, behaviour, and lifestyles . (UNESCO on the nature of ESD,  2003, p.4) 

Professor  Hicks, invited us all to act because, The current state of the planet requires that exploration of just and sustainable futures becomes a major priority at all levels of society' (David Hicks, 2002, p.5).

It is really, really important that citizens learn to value their environment and to understand the science behind the great ecological dilemmas which face all of us. Never before has there been so much talk of education about sustainability, about biodiversity, and for citizenship.(Professor Lord May of Oxford - President of the Royal Society)

2.0 Exemplar ITE modules focussing on Education for Sustainable Development

2.1 Introduction

The following two module outlines demonstrate how ESD might be introduced into ITE. Both Modules presented were part of a four year BA in Primary Education undertaken at a University in the Midlands. Both modules are based on those followed by Y4 trainees and are presented here so that the reader is able to see what might be possible at their own institutions. The first module is based on a Year 4 Elective offered to all student teachers and which was undertaken by some science specialists.The second was part of the Science Programme for Year 4 student teachers and was undertaken only by science specilaists following a Leadership course.  The length of modules is only indicative of what is possible as it was felt that readers should be directed to focus more on the content which would be of most value to them if they are beginning to consider how to incorporate ESD into ITE courses especially if we are to make these relevant to those undertaking science as a specialism within Primary.  The first exemplar could be undertaken over a period of 10 weeks, each session being approximately 2 hours in length. Of course, there are numerous timetabling issues which will need to be taken into consideration. A commitment is required on the part of the management of the programme within which such an elective might be made possible as to how much time can be allocated to it. As this exemplar module is based on one that builds on three sessions one undertaken in each year of a  four year course (minimal time was allocated previously), it could be that management feel that a final year elective might warrant such a relatively large proportion of time. Whatever decision is taken will depend on the structure of the whole programme and the vagaries of the course thus these modules are by no means definitive and it is felt that they are relevant to those trainees in Secondary too given that the knowledge and skills required are not dependent on the phase and could be equally applicable. 

Below you will find two exemplar module outlines. Each will provide

  • Introduction
  • Aims
  • Outcomes
  • Module Content
  • Module Assessment and Criteria
  • Indicative Reading Lists 
  • Exemplar session outline- usually a ppt with some session notes.
2.2 Education for Sustainable Development Elective

2.2.1 Introduction to the Elective Module for Trainees
This module seeks to build on your prior learning about sustainability and extend your understanding of the issues in terms of both personal and professional development.  It seeks to build on the work done in:

  • Integrating the Curriculum
  • Values week
  • Subject specific inputs -  science, geography etc.

It seeks to extend insights and understandings in ways which will support you in engaging with the issues through the subject curriculum, through the wider school context and through the impact your own value systems have on the children you teach.  It seeks not only to enhance knowledge and understanding but also to challenge and promote active involvement with what are difficult ethical issues.

The module will be session based and incorporate opportunities for visits, sharing of experiences and discussion. The ten sessions will be structured around key questions for exploration and these will be organised into a coherent sequence.  However each session will also have the capacity to ‘stand alone' and be on offer to tutors who may wish to take the opportunity to learn alongside students.  Given the increased focus on sustainability which is going to permeate the school curriculum over the next few years and the impact of the government white papers, this aspect of our course will need to grow.  It is hoped that this module will be a stepping stone to whole course engagement with sustainable practice and that in the future, aspects of this module will be embedded in each year of the course. We will welcome your suggestions and ideas about how to improve and develop this module in the future.

2.2.2 The Aims

  • To develop students' understanding of the concept of sustainability
  • To develop students' understanding of the relationship between sustainable development, environmental education and citizenship
  • To develop students' ability to plan for sustainability across the curriculum
  • To develop students awareness of the contribution made by specific subjects - in particular  science, design technology and Geography - to education for sustainability
  • To develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes which will enable students to take action for change in their personal and professional lives

2.2.3 The Learning Outcomes
On successful completion of the module you will:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the concept of sustainability (Q14;15;21;30)
  • Reflect critically on the nature of sustainability and demonstrate an understanding of its application in local, national and global contexts (Q14;15;21;30)
  • Demonstrate an understanding of children's conceptual development in relation to ideas of sustainability and environmental education (Q14;15;21;30)
  • Demonstrate an understanding of appropriate teaching and learning strategies for the development of education for sustainability in the primary curriculum (Q14;15;21;22;30)
  • Demonstrate an understanding of relevant resources(including ICT) to support education for sustainability (Q17)
  • Demonstrate a willingness to engage with complex issues and reflect on their own values and attitudes(Q2)

2.2.4 The Module Content
The module content is approached in a way which will develop your subject knowledge, allow for discussion and reflection and enable you to develop understanding of school based approaches.

(11th Jan)
What is sustainability?
Personal reflections, personal lifestyle audit.

(18th Jan)
What is happening to our world? Historical background; global warming - causes and consequences.
How are we responding? Local, national and international legislation Educational initiatives.
Please bring a newspaper article relating to a sustainable issue.
Agenda 21 -
Kyoto Protocol -
DfES (2006) Sustainable Schools - for pupils, communities and the environment  DfES
(25th Jan)
The sustainable curriculum in practice 1 Visit to Richard Bonington Primary School or Edwalton Primary School
(1st Feb)

Practical classroom strategies

Cooper et al 2006 Geography 3-11 - a guide for teachers   David Fulton Ch 4

(8th Feb)
The sustainable curriculum in practice 2 Local Authority Initiatives
(15th Feb)
(22nd Feb)
What does a sustainable curriculum look like? Whole school organisation and practice You will need a copy of your SBT school's policy on the environment and sustainable education
Birmingham DEC/Tide 2002 Educating for Sustainability
(29th Feb)
Developing higher order thinking skills through cross curricular approaches. Guest presenter : Janice Sutcliffe
Awesome Athletes Project Co-ordinator
How can we approach sustainability through Science and/or D&T/ Geography?
FS - KS2
Practical classroom strategies
(14th March)
What have we learned? How have we changed? Evaluations and reflections
Discussion will draw on your DLT Tasks and support your ideas for the assignment.
Module evaluation.

In most sessions , we will allocate time as follows:

  • 1 hour 30 minutes on the main topic as identified in the programme
  • 30 minutes of group discussion on a key issue identified by a student who will lead the discussion.

2.2.5 Module Assessment Criteria

  • Demonstration of an understanding of education for sustainability


  • A clear and analytical discussion of the nature of sustainability and its role in the curriculum
  • Demonstration of an understanding of strategies to support and develop sustainable practice in the primary school
  • Demonstration of the ability to reflect on your own personal and professional practice and how this may influence children's learning
  • Reference to particular examples of school based strategies to enhance sustainability
  • The assignment should be coherently written, observing the conventions of written English and of orthodox spelling and punctuation.  Accurate use should be made of the Harvard referencing system.

Further briefing will be given in sessions.

2.2.6 Module Assessments
There are three areas in which trainees are assessed both informally and formally throughout the module and at its' conclusion. These areas are described below. 
1.Directed Learning Tasks
There are two directed learning tasks associated with this module and each will help you prepare for the assignment.

  1. Sustainability audit of your SBT placement school
  2. School visit - to a designated Forest or Eco school

Briefing for these will be given in Session 1

2. Independent Learning time
This should be spent on wider reading and writing the final assignment
You will also be expected to watch the film: An Inconvenient Truth.
If you have not been able to see this, you will be able to borrow a copy from me.

3. Module Assignment
The assignment will take the form of an action plan for your first year in teaching.
Title:  How can I become a sustainable teacher?
The assignment will have two parts:

  • An introductory section providing a rationale for the inclusion of education for sustainability within and across the primary school (1000)
  • An action plan for your first year in teaching, indicating the features of sustainable practice that you would want to include. (2000) You need to think about
  • The classroom environment, resources and organisational strategies
  • The curriculum in terms of content and process
  • Your self as role model
  • Extra curricular possibilities

For each point in your action plan you need to refer to reading, statistical data, guidance documentation, legislation, your own values, to support the practice you are proposing.You will need to be selective and give clear examples.


2.2.7 Indicative Reading List
Ashley M (Ed)(1999) Improving Teaching And Learning In The Humanities Falmer Chapt.10

Beeley, Colwell&Stevens(2006) Planet Earth:  the future- what the experts say  London: BBC

Chambers B (1995) Awareness into Action - Environmental Education in the Primary Curriculum  GA

DfES (2006) Sustainable Schools - for pupils, communities and the environment  DfES

DfID (2003) Lessons in Sustainability TIDE /Birmingham DEC

Fisher C and Binns T (2000) Issues in Geography Teaching London Routledge

Hicks D and Holden C (1995) Visions of the Future- why we need to teach for tomorrow Stoke; Trentham

Hall G (Ed) (1992) Themes and Dimensions of the National Curriculum - Implications for Policy and Practice   Kogan Page  Chapt.2

Hoodless et al (2003) Teaching Humanities in Primary Schools - Learning Matters

Huckle J and Sterling S(ed) 1996  Education for Sustainability  London Earthscan

Kimber et al (1995) Humanities in Primary Education  David Fulton Chapt.. 5

Louv R (1995) Last Child in the Woods North Carolina: Alonquin Books

NCC (1990) Curriculum Guidance 7 Environmental Education

Nottingham City Council & Notts County Council(1998) Establishing and Maintaining an Environmental Education Policy

Lovelock J(2006) The Revenge of Gaia London: Penguin

Palmer J (1998) Environmental Education in the 21st century: theory, practice, progress and promise  London; Routledge

Palmer J and Neal A (1994) The Handbook of Environmental Education London:Routledge

Pearce F (2006) The Last Generation London: Transworld Pub.

SCAA (1996) Teaching Environmental Matters Through the National Curriculum

Shalcross et al (2006) Creating Sustainable Environments In Our Schools Stoke on Trent; Trentham

Stone M&Barlow Z (Eds) 2005) Ecological Literacy - Educating Our Children For A Sustainable World  San Fransisco  Sierra Club Books

Symons G (1998) Making It Happen - Agenda 21 and Schools  WWF

2.2.8 An exemplar science session from this elective which focuses on how ideas about ESD might be taught
The session provided here could be a standalone session. It is useful to note that within this elective it forms the penultimate session since it was felt that students teachers needed to be given a broad based understanding of ESD issues/ideas prior to focussing in on a specific curriculum area such as Science, D&T or Geography. It is of course just as valid to start with what ones know best and begin by looking at the various curriculum areas and what potential they offer for ESD ideas to be drawn out. Either way the focus needs to be what links the curriculum areas to ESD naturally or ways which maybe contrived.

Here is a downloadable PowerPoint and accompanying tutor notes for the session

Download p5.0_2.2.8a_esd_and_science.ppt
Download  p5.0_2.2.8b_esd_tutor_notes.doc  

Published: 17 Oct 2008