How to bring the world to your students and support sustainable development

Two elephants gather near a tree at sunset.

The United Nations is dedicated to promoting cooperation and collaboration at local and global levels, which means it’s fundamentally aligned with what we hope to achieve in modern education. Established in 1945, the UN has dedicated efforts to maintaining world peace, promoting human rights, and protecting the spaces of our world, including our environment.

In 2015, the UN set an agenda in support of sustainable development by the year 2030. Seventeen goals – the Sustainable Development Goals – offer the direction for positive change for people and planet. In education, it can guide action for development of key global competencies and mindsets for our students.

The UN's 17 sustainable development goals.Bringing Sustainable Development Goals to the classroom

From Jennifer Williams, a professor and literacy specialist who serves on the Board of Directors for the International Literacy Association:

We see the great importance of both bringing the voice of the educator into conversations with the UN and bringing the Sustainable Development Goals to our classrooms. At local and global levels, teachers of our world together have the power to make achieving these global goals a reality. In 2016, the Global Goals Educator Task Force was assembled to advance and strengthen the work of the United Nations.

Through research, advocacy and mobilization, we meet the call to action of the Sustainable Development Goals. We also work to amplify and support the voice of the educator as a contributing member in a partnership for positive change through educational initiatives.  Ultimately, with #TeachSDGs, it is our goal to create a pathway and space for every educator to add his or her own voice and passion, and to take part in a collective movement to make the world a better place.

In our minds, each classroom and each student will and should have different experiences with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  We believe, for these experiences to be impactive, all points need to be meaningful and authentic. Teachers can look to issues that impact students and their communities and create spaces for them to explore their own passion, and in their own style of learning. Some students will be inventors creating solutions to problems of global significance. Others may be innovators, identifying needs through research and evidencing. And some students may look to advocacy through campaigns that allow them to share their voices with the world.

Through use of technology, students as global collaborators can work together with international “classmates” to create digital artifacts to document and spread learning for greatest impact. We have a very special and unique responsibility as educators and, by responding to the call of action of the SDGs, we can empower our students to becoming not only participants, but active solutions for today and for tomorrow.

Using Skype to make the world less abstract for students

From Amy Rosenstein, a Skype Master Teacher and author of 10 Fresh Ways to Incorporate Technology into Your Classroom:

For years, students in my school have taken part in donation drives for various causes and have given willingly and happily.  But nothing has impacted them more than learning from and helping people across the world – after getting to know them first, on a personal basis.

In one project, my students established friendships with children in Uganda. The children on both sides learned each other’s names. They sang songs together. They shared artwork. They asked questions about each other’s lives.  Skype sparked this magic. By actually meeting these children, my students felt a personal connection that made all the difference.

The magic of Skype is pervasive in my classroom, as we’ve met people on every continent, even Antarctica. In that case, students spoke to a researcher who Skyped with us live, out on the ice with the penguins. Imagine that: Penguins waddling across the screen in front of my elementary school. My third graders learned about the impact that climate change could have on the birds, and they’re not likely to forget it.

By meeting people live and making personal connections, students are learning in a way that really wasn’t possible years ago.  The ease by which this can take place is unparalleled. The learning is no longer abstract.  It’s right there in front of them.  Something as simple as a Skype call has made all the difference.  Pure magic.  Period.

With that magic in mind, the #TeachSDGs Global Goals Skype Collaboration becomes a great way for educators and their students around the world to work together around one or more of the United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.  All they need to do to get involved is to register for the lesson and fill out the Microsoft Form.

Once completed, they’ll be connected to a partner classroom somewhere in the world.  Collaborations can be as simple as sharing posters about the goals with another class, to working together creating projects and solving problems from start to finish.  One example of a recent collaboration is between a school in Kenya with another in Macedonia. They are working together on solar lamps, which connects with Goal 4: Quality Education and Goal 13: Climate Action, among others.

9 ways to get involved with Sustainable Development Goals today

Teachers can take the pledge to join the #TeachSDGs movement by visiting www.teachsdgs.org and can follow @TeachSDGs to learn more about projects, resources, and events as shared each day.

  1. Tweet “I just joined the movement to bring #globalgoals to education! Learn about #TeachSDGs at www.teachSDGs.org or @TeachSDGs on Twitter! “
  2. Add the #TeachSDGs logo to your social media accounts or email signatures with message, “I #TeachSDGs. Join me by taking the pledge at www.teachSDGs.org.”
  3. Download the free SDGs app from the App Store: https://sdgsinaction.com.
  4. Learn about the World’s Largest Lesson at http://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org.
  5. Be a part of a UN or global event! Register here: http://www.teachsdgs.org/events.html.
  6. Print and display the global goals in your classroom: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs
  7. Join or create a Sustainable Development Goals Classroom project: http://www.teachsdgs.org/projects.html
  8. Become a featured blogger for the TeachSDGs website by complete this form: https://goo.gl/forms/0pAx7i3Vk6b1lPj72
  9. Check out our Teaching Sustainable Development Goals on Microsoft Educator Community: https://education.microsoft.com/courses-and-resources/courses/SDG.