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A design-based approach to teaching sustainability

, University of Colorado at Denver, United States

University of Colorado at Denver . Awarded


We live on a finite ecological system, yet consume as though resources are unlimited. Current environmental data suggests many in the developed world are living beyond what the earth is able to sustain. The paradigms in which we operate continue to support a path of constant consumption that continues to exacerbate this problem. Technology educators can and should play a valuable role in working with students to question these paradigms through lessons that begin to engage students toward thinking about a more sustainable future.

Design-based instruction provides a framework for instructional practices that allows students to build problem-solving and critical thinking skills as they begin to understand deeper concepts related to sustainability. This study examined middle school students' understanding of sustainability after completing a design based unit. The study evaluated student work, concept maps, observations and pre-and post-tests to determine student understanding of sustainability. Instruction involved aspects of problem-based learning, design education and the use of technology.

Students were given an authentic problem of designing a sustainable home. As part of the design process, students conducted research on the factors and specific design components that would make a home sustainable. The main question guiding this study was "How can a home design project impact middle school students' understanding and appreciation of sustainability?"

The findings suggest students demonstrated significant growth in understanding concepts of sustainability and were able to apply sustainable concepts in their designs. Eighty percent of students were able to meet or exceed rubric expectations on explaining the importance of sustainability. All of the students also demonstrated considerable growth in the understanding and application of sustainable solutions to their designs. They were able to propose authentic solutions to the problem and apply their research.


Walter, K.R. A design-based approach to teaching sustainability. Ph.D. thesis, University of Colorado at Denver. Retrieved August 5, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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