Integrating Social Science Research to Advance Sustainability Education

  • Christine Jie Li
  • Martha C. Monroe
  • Tracey Ritchie
Part of the World Sustainability Series book series (WSUSE)


The development and evaluation of the instructional module, Southeastern Forests and Climate Change, provided a platform to conduct social science research that has the capacity to improve sustainability education and our ability to achieve target outcomes. In addition to conveying information about climate change and forest management to secondary science students, the module was designed to empower learners to take action and build skills in systems thinking. We applied Hope Theory in the design of the 14 activities and measured hope among high school students who participated in the evaluation of the activities. Activities helped learners understand how others are working on climate issues, how forest owners adapt management protocols, and how individuals can contribute to solutions—all of which help nurture hopefulness and efficacy. We also focused on developing systems thinking skills by providing opportunities for students to learn and practice common systems tools, such as causal loop diagrams. High school students (n = 924) from 24 schools in the southeastern United States completed pre-and post-activity surveys that assessed knowledge, hope, and systems thinking skills. Data suggest that there was a significant increase in hope concerning climate change, and a significant increase in systems thinking skills after some activities. Knowledge of forest management, carbon cycle, the role of forests in mitigating climate change, life cycle assessment, and product externalities also significantly increased. In this article, we describe the principles used to design the activities, the results, and the implications of this social science research.


Climate change Hope Systems thinking skills Curriculum development 



This project was funded by the Pine Integrated Network: Education, Mitigation, and Adaptation project (PINEMAP), a Coordinated Agricultural Project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Award #2011-68002-30185, and the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine Jie Li
    • 1
  • Martha C. Monroe
    • 2
  • Tracey Ritchie
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.School of Forest Resources and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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