Understand that we live and work within systems of cause and effect in which actions may have multiple origins and consequences.

Project Based Learning Lesson: Greening San Diego
Project Files:
: EDTEC 570
Going Green PBL  

One of the main projects for EDTEC 570 was an extensive multi-week process that involved developing a Project-Based Learning (PBL) Unit. Since the class was offered over summer, which has 12 weeks of instruction instead of 16, professor Wendy Parcel gave each student the opportunity to do the project on her own or as a group. I decided to do the project on my own and it was quite a learning experience. Up until that class, I had never designed a class lesson, let alone an entire learning unit. I gained some experience from designing the Telecollaborative Lesson earlier in that semester, however, the PBL was much broader and all-encompassing. I used the examples Professor Parcel gave us along with the rubric to develop the PBL from scratch. Ultimately, I developed an environmental lesson called “Greening San Diego” for 9-12 grade students. This PBL requires students to redesign a city department as a green department, while also challenging students to understand the cause and effects of the human-environmental systems.

While researching environmental science standards, I was surprised to learn that many of the standards addressed the idea that nature, humans, and their connections are all interrelated through systems. I was expecting standards like “demonstrating how to reduce, reuse, recycle” and “explaining the benefits of eco-friendly products.” However, the standards were focused on the relationship between people and the environment. For example, one of the standards was: There are no permanent or impermeable boundaries that prevent matter from flowing between systems (Principle IV). This standard includes the example of using pesticides on foods contaminates the groundwater, which then contaminates the drinking water. This example illustrates how people affect the environment (pesticides contaminate groundwater) and how the environment then affects people (contaminated groundwater leads to toxic drinking water).
Inspired by learning about the human and environmental connections in systems, I chose to develop a PBL that challenges students to understand these systems of cause and effect. In the PBL, students are assigned to groups and each group is given a San Diego City department (i.e., city planning, park and recreation, special events). They must research the efforts that department is taking to “go green” (i.e., be more environmentally friendly), explore worldwide examples of that same city department to learn how others are going green, and then present their ideas for improving the environmental efforts of their specific department. Throughout this process, the students are asked to understand how each department is part of a bigger system (San Diego City) and that the decisions the department makes affects the entire system. The students also have to weigh the pros and cons of each decision based on its effects on the system before making the final decision. For example, students in the “transportation” department may have to choose between increasing mass transportation incentives and buying new cars/buses that run on natural gas or electricity. They need to understand which will have the greatest benefit for the entire system (both the environment and humans) in order to make that decision.

Problems and Opportunities:
I think that including the human-environmental systems as part of this PBL took the project to the next level. Instead of having students explain examples of how they could be more environmentally friendly, the PBL asks them to think critically about how their actions affect a variety of things (i.e., if I use a reusable water bottle, how does that affect the environment and, in turn, how does that affect humans?). Meanwhile, I also learned the value of understanding the complexity of the systems that I live and work in.
The main problem for this project was my lack of knowledge about lesson plans. Fortunately the class textbook and the preparation materials that Professor Parcel gave us were very helpful. I learned that I needed to address the project step by step – starting with the main idea, coming up with key skills the students would learn, writing learning objectives, deciding on the projects, and then piecing everything together. It was a big undertaking, but I enjoyed the challenge and feel that it pushed me to create something outside of my level of knowledge and comfort. I now have an even greater appreciation for teachers!

Personal Development:
This project opened my eyes to the value of addressing and understanding systems. It taught me to keep in mind that each thing I do to help the environment, in turn, helps humans. I wanted to share this with other students and I hope that teachers use the PBL I developed in their classroom.
I also learned how to develop a project-based learning unit from scratch. The key things I learned were to start small (step-by-step) and to use the examples and project rubric to make sure the PBL covered all requirements. I also solicited feedback from my sister, husband, and dad (all are teachers at different grade levels). They helped me improve my project in many ways (lessening the scope of the project, making certain areas more specific, adding more tools to the teacher’s toolbox section). This was one of the first projects in the EDTEC program where I was a little overwhelmed with the scope and felt that it was out of my league. However, I knew that I could count on help from Professor Parcel and my family to complete the project successfully.

Field of Educational Technology:
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from this project, as I mentioned earlier, is that every action affects an entire system. In relation to the field of Educational Technology, it is important to understand that there are many systems in place and each new program/idea/action will affect these systems in a variety of ways. The key is to understand each system before changing it. For example, if I were to work on a project to implement technology in classrooms in low-achieving schools, I would need to recognize that it would affect the administration, teachers, students, and their parents. I would need to understand that computer use in the classroom may benefit students, but it also may take away from their nonfiction writing time, which is one of the things directly related to student achievement levels (Reeves, 2006). The next step would be to find a way to implement technology as a tool to help nonfiction writing. This is just one example of the thinking that will prepare me for working in the field of Educational Technology. Keeping the cause and effect of systems in mind will help me excel in any career.


Reeves, D. (2006). The learning leader: How to focus school improvement for better results. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.