Mini-Course – “Stuff”

Mini-course adaptable for Grades 5-11

Where Stuff Comes From: Systems Thinking, Footprints, and Solutions

The ability for citizens to make connections between individual actions and sustainability problems in the big picture is essential to be conscious consumers and adopt sustainable lifestyles.  In this session students apply systems thinking to discover key elements of how industrial systems operate through creating a systems map of the story of “the Biography of A Tomato,” the supply chain for a conventionally grown tomato.  The system is examined for waste production, inefficiency, and a wide range of environmental impacts.  Through this, students reflect on what contributes to the size of their ecological footprint and how to minimize it.   The tomato story is then compared and contrasted to how ecosystems function by reading and diagraming “The Strongest Tree” story.  Students discover that the ecosystem does not have the inherent problems of the industrial system, suggesting to redesign industrial systems to operate in a similar fashion to ecosystems–closed loop material and energy cycles, waste=food, integrated pest management and much more.  This discovery introduces the field and practice of biomimicry for further study.   Students conclude with brainstorming their own lists of how they can change their consumption habits to reduce the sustainability problems caused by many industrial systems.