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The World’s Largest Lesson: Sustainable Development Goals’ Activities

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I have a strong belief that education should assist learners in developing the desire and skills for global stewardship. I discussed this in my post, Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills

Learners, grades 5 and 6, in my gifted class do the global goals projects one hour per week. What follows are some of the activities they have done.

Introducing and Choosing the Goals

The Global Goals lesson was introduced to learners through the following videos:

They were then asked to explore each of the goals via the World’s Greatest Lesson website: using their newly constructed Global Goals glasses (template found at


The final part of their introduction and exploration of the global goals was for each learner to choose one or two goals to further explore and research; and to list these on their personal blogs. They presented their selections to the rest of the class.


Activity: Board Game Go Goals!

“GO GOALS!” board game. The purpose of this game is to help children understand the Sustainable Development Goals, how they impact their lives and what they can do every day to help and achieve the 17 goals by 2030. The game can be downloaded at


Activity: Exploring Wealth Inequalities


This was such a powerful activity. I blogged about it in Exploring Wealth Inequities: An Experiential Learning Activity

Here is a video from their activity:

Activity: Superhero to Help Rescue Climate Change

Learners completed the worksheets (1-3) found at


The learner responses were posted on the bulletin outside of the classroom hopefully to bring some awareness to other teachers and students in the school.

Creating a Website

Learners, either alone or with a partner, are creating websites about their chosen goals using Google Sites (we are a Google apps district). They are required to include the following items:

  • An overview of the problem using reputable resources and with live links included,
  • Multimedia presentations (2) using Web 2.0 tools from this list provided to them via our Google Classroom –,
  • A self-grading quiz using Google Forms,
  • A Green Screen or Flipgrid commentary.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 4, 2018 at 11:06 pm

Exploring Wealth Inequities: An Experiential Learning Activity

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One of the legacies I want to leave with my students (of all ages) is a desire to engage in global stewardship. For more about this see my post, Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills.

As part of my gifted education classes, I am asking my 5th and 6th graders to choose, explore, research, and report via their own Google Sites on one or two of the 17 Global Goals found at The World’s Largest Lesson. Here is the list of global goals selected by my students:


To supplement their online work, I am doing a series of experiential activities with them (FYI – this also supports my desire to balance technology and no technology activities, where student need to communicate and collaborate with one another without the use of devices). We began these activities with Exploring Wealth Inequalities, which I explain below.


  • Explore inequalities of wealth and better understand experiences of economic inequality.
  • To graphically demonstrate the vast differences in wealth between different areas of the world.
  • Generate ideas for action towards economic equality.

The Task

To use the supplies given to your group to create a model city.


  • Masking Tape – both for creating the boundaries and for building
  • Paper or Plastic Cups
  • Straws
  • Index Cards
  • Candy such as M&Ms, Skittles, Hersey’s Kisses.
  • Paper Bags

The Set-Up

The setting below is set up prior to the learners’ arrival.


Randomly separate learners into three different groups. Bring them to their area one group at a time and explain the task.

The Wealthy Group:

The wealthy group has more area in which to work, more supplies, and bags of candy with much more than enough for each learner. The facilitator explains the task offering lots of help if they ask for it. They can leave the boundaries of their area. If they ask for more supplies or goods, the facilitator will get it for them – taking it from another group if needed. An unspoken, hidden rule is that they can offer and give any of their supplies to the lower income groups


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The Middle Income Group:

The middle group has everything in moderation – a moderate amount of area to work in – a moderate amount of supplies to build their city.  They each get a bag of candy with a few pieces of candy per bag. The facilitator explains the task but doesn’t offer support.


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The Poorest Income Group:

This group is given a taped off area in which there is very little room to move; very limited supplies; and a few pieces of candy to share among the group members. The facilitator briefly and impatiently explains the directions to build a model city with the supplies provided.


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Students are shown the following video:

. . . and then discuss the following questions:

  • Were you treated fairly?
  • What aspects of this game represented how the world’s wealth and power are distributed?
  • How did the members of the different groups feel about their situation?
  • After playing this game do you have a better understanding of the situation or attitude of poor people/nations? Of the situation or attitude of wealthy people/nations?
  • Who are the “haves” and the “have nots” in the world today? Who are the “haves” and “have nots” in our country today? In our state or community? Why?
  • Should the “haves” be concerned about the situation of the “have nots?” For what reasons? economic? moral/religious? political? Why might the “haves” give money or resources to the “have nots”? Is this a way to solve the problems of poverty?
  • What might the “have-nots” do to improve their situation? What are some actions that “have-nots” have taken around the globe and at home to address the inequalities of wealth and power?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power in this country? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power throughout the world? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?


Here are some of the comments from my students during the debrief.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills

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Due to the interest of my post The Other 21st Skills, I decided to individually discuss each of the skills or dispositions I proposed that are in addition to the seven survival skills as identified by Tony Wagner.  This post focuses on empathy and global stewardship.

2013-05-22_1535Empathy has always been valued as an important skill to possess as a human being, so what makes it a 21st century skill?  I was recently asked by Steve Hargadon during a short video interview, “Is global education important?  If so, why?”  My response was, “Given that we are now living in a hyper-connected world, we can no longer plead that we don’t what is going on in other parts of the world.  Look at the recent incidents of the uprising in Egypt and Syria.  Global events are being streamed and tweeted in real time.  Global empathy and stewardship need to be part of the education of children.”  This is also why I have chosen to group empathy and global stewardship together.

The general hope is that teaching empathy might lead to greater social harmony, altruistic action, social justice, and interpersonal and intercultural understanding. If we’re to reverse the increasing disregard for human suffering in this country and around the world, with the growing gap between rich and poor, empathy education — if it could be successful and massive — could make a major difference.  The problem is never too much empathy. The problem is not enough. Empathy education needs to move beyond volunteerism and toward social transformation. One has to have the kind of empathy that really understands you don’t just give people handouts; what you do is transform the system so the people themselves can be transformed. While empathy is not itself sufficient, it is necessary for greater social justice to come about (Teaching Empathy to the ‘Me’ Generation).

Some of the characteristics or dispositions related to empathy include:

  • Curiosity about others
  • Observing verbal and nonverbal behavior in others
  • Active listening
  • Finding similarities between oneself and others
  • Seeing the world from another’s perspective
  • Identifying the emotions of another


I always think of empathy as this kind of sacred space. When someone’s in a deep hole, and they shout out from the bottom and say “hey, I’m stuck, it’s dark, I’m overwhelmed” we look and climb down, and say,  “I know what it’s like down here, and you’re not alone.”

This quote is taken from the following animated video, The Power of Empathy.  It provides a good introduction to bringing empathy into the learning environment.

Teaching perspectives is the best way to learn about a people and only when you teach perspectives can you teach creativity because creativity comes from exposure.  Only when you are creative can you imagine yourself in the shoes of someone different from you. Perspectives and creativity engender empathy – much needed in this world.  Raghava KK from Coloring Outside the Lines-A National Geographic Video

2013-07-28_1115The following RSA video, The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, discusses the importance of empathy for creating social change and a revolution of social relationships, which, in turn, leads to increased desire to engage in global stewardship.

Bringing Empathy into the Schools

The Start Empathy initiative shares research, case studies and inspirational stories, and is building a network of schools committed to building empathic, encouraging environments in school settings. They’ve developed a road map for navigating a course to empathy:


Empathy and Global Stewardship

As stated in the beginning of this post, empathy plus hyper-connectivity should naturally lead global stewardship.  “True and faithful stewardship resides not with the few, but with the whole community. It calls for the redistribution of power in ways appropriate to the gifts, talents, and passions of the people” (Review of Peter Block’s Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest).

The state of Washington engaged in a think tank for education for sustainable communities.  One of results was the creation of a list of characteristics that define folks who are equipped for sustainable futures:

  • As life-long, life-wide and life-deep learners, they:
    • Welcome new ideas
    • Seek new knowledge
    • Makes informed decisions
  • As community contributors, they:
    • Lead a healthy, responsible lifestyle
    • Support well-being and diversity of others
    • Contribute time and resources
  • As global citizens, they:
    • Understand how natural and human systems interact
    • Respect interdependence of life on earth
    • Solve problems collaboratively
  • As co-creators of tomorrow, they:
    • Embrace diversity, change, and communication
    • Choose life-affirming values
    • Pursue innovative productivity


These characteristics are in line with skills and characteristics of those related to empathy and global stewardship.

Integrating stewardship into learning contexts is important because it affirms that:

  • Stewardship is a fundamental part of everyone’s learning,
  • Stewardship is a form of civic responsibility and of comparable value to other primary learning such as the acquisition of content knowledge.
  • Stewardship contributes to sustainable development in real life contexts. (How Can Teachers Foster Stewardship Behavior in their Students?)

A Connection Between Empathy and Design Thinking

Design thinking and doing is entering into many educational settings.

Classrooms and schools across the world are facing design challenges every single day, from teacher feedback systems to daily schedules. Wherever they fall on the spectrum of scale—the challenges educators are confronted with are real, complex, and varied. And as such, they require new perspectives, new tools, and new approaches. Design Thinking is one of them. (

David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (otherwise known as the, believes that empathy is at the core of design thinking and being an effective designer.

Being an incredible designer isn’t necessarily about having a great aesthetic sensibility or coming up with out-of-the-box ideas. The basic premise of design thinking revolves around empathy, being understanding of what other people want, and how the world is put together from a social and emotional point of view. (

A Connection Between Empathy and Grit as 21st Century Skills

Grit as a 21st century skill was discussed in a previous post.  Criticism has been leveraged against skills such as grit and resilience stating they are hegemonic concepts.  See Katie Osgood’s post  Paul Tough Is Way Off-Base. And Stop Saying “Grit”.

Osgood stated:

They need to be taught empathy, justice, and solidarity in order to go out and refuse to participate in a social system which concentrates all the wealth in the hands of an elite few.  They should be taught of privilege, oppression, and the legacy of racism. They need to fight against a system which allows racism and segregation to continue uncontested.  They should be inspired to humbly join the communities in their fight for social justice.

But it my belief that these skills become a type of synergy where the whole is greater than the individual parts.  Grit and resilience become the foundations from which empathy can arise and be more fully actualized.  Grit and resilience are important to be able to develop the empathy skills to fight against a system that covertly (and sometimes overtly) supports hegemonic principles.

Resources for Educators

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 28, 2013 at 11:35 pm

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