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Lesson 3: Sustainability in United States History
Lesson Overview:

From 1865 to the present many of the choices Americans have made have impacted upon the sustainability of our future. As the chronological units are taught throughout the year, there is an opportunity to view sustainability within the curriculum. During each time period guiding questions are raised; students create a T-Chart showing attitudes and choices of the people during the time period studied; and, as a culminating activity, students have the opportunity to reflect on the role of sustainability in their journals. Readings and videos connecting the period to sustainability are used. This lesson models the period of Imperialism. Other periods that might be used along with their guiding questions are:

  • Industrialization
    • What is evidence of unsustainability and sustainability in this time period?
    • Can you think of an invention whose popularity trumps its sustainability? Explain.
    • What motivated people to create or invent during Industrialization? What motivates people today? Is creation driven by necessity? Or, what are the drivers of creation and invention?
  • Great Depression and Dust Bowl
    • How did poor agricultural practices lead to the Dust Bowl?
    • What is evidence of unsustainability and sustainability in this time period?
    • What sustainable practices were implemented during the Great Depression? (Henry Wallace, Civilian Conservation Corps)
  • Cold War Era/1950’s
    • How did the desire to compete with other nations for weapons and energy superiority effect our past and present?
    • What is evidence of unsustainability and sustainability in this time period?
    • How did the Highway Act and suburban sprawl contribute to an unsustainable current reality?
    • What drove the government’s decision to create the Highway Act? How could we build a highway system that contributes to sustainability? How can we build a sustainable suburb? (North Carolina)

    Number of class periods: 1 in addition to those normally used for each unit


Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/ Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

  • L.8.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
  • SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • RH.6-8.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

Education for Sustainability Core Content

  • Cultural Transformation
Overarching Question:
• How can we all live well within the means of nature?
Essential Question:
• As global citizens, how will our attitudes and choices impact our sustainable future?

Guiding Questions:

  • Why did the United States look outside of North America to find natural resources rather than create sustainable solutions locally, regionally, or nationally?
  • Why is Hawaii a perfect example of American imperialism?
Resources/Materials for this lesson:
  • Sustainability Journals
  • Chart paper
  • Classroom textbook

1. At the beginning of the unit on imperialism pose the guiding question, why did the United States look outside of North America to find natural resources rather than create sustainable solutions? Have students brainstorm possible reasons and record them on a piece of chart paper. Hang it somewhere in the classroom.

2. Have students create a T - Chart showing attitudes and choices of the people during the period of imperialism.

3. Proceed to teach the imperialism unit. When attention is turned to Hawaii, include the following questions in the discussion:

    • What was the relationship between the native Hawaiians and the land before the Americans arrived?
    • What was the role of the fruit and sugarcane companies in relation to the native people and land use?
    • What happened to the lifestyle and economy of the native Hawaiians?

4. Show the video clip, “Evaluating the Effects of Colonialism and Imperialism” and discuss why Hawaii is a perfect example of American imperialism.

5. In their sustainability journals students are to respond to the following prompt: How do fair-trade practices change the political, social, and economic impact of world trade compared to 1900’s imperialism?

EfS Assessment/Scoring Criteria:

Performance Indicator
Assessment Instrument
Scoring Criteria
Cultural Preservation and Transformation


A3 Journal Response Questions

Answer pertains to given era: Possible Points: 0, 1

Provides evidence of their knowledge of sustainability: Possible Points: 0, 1

Student demonstrates critical thinking by connecting the historical topic with sustainable/unsustainable practices: Possible Points: 0, 1



  • imperialism - the actions by which one nation is able to control other, usually smaller or weaker, nations
PNW/BOCES Curriculum Center
Revised 11/23/14