Teaching And Learning For Sustainability: Prepare Your Science Classes In A New Way!

‘Sustainability’ is not an unfamiliar word for most Chinese people. Since the Sustainable Development Strategy was put forward in the 1990s, this word has often appeared in the news, television and government reports. However, it is rarely presented from the people’s daily life and their behaviors. The main reason for the problem is that the platform of building the value of sustainability has been marginalized for a long time in Chinese education system (Xu, 2013). Science courses, which are designed to foster people’s scientific and environmental worldview in their early years, have been neglected by most people for many years in China.

The reasons why the science course has been slighting are complex. On the one hand, the science curriculum is very flexible and the outcomes are difficult to assess. On the other hand, the subject is not included into the middle school entrance examination. Hence, most students facing huge academic pressure choose to pay more attention to other courses.

I remembered, I had just few class hours of the science course when I was a primary school student. Additionally, other teachers who taught core subjects like Chinese or math always took up science courses to teach their lessons which even became a tacit tradition in my school.

Actually, my personal experience is a typical example which presented the low-status of science classes in Chinese primary education sector. Unfortunately, the disappointing situation lasts to recent years. When I did my education practice in a primary school as a student teacher last year, I found the situation mentioned above still persisted.

Additionally, the long-term frustration had a negative influence on the status of science teachers in primary schools and as a result, some science teachers gradually took a perfunctory attitude towards teaching (Xu, 2013). Therefore, the science course has lost the important role of nurturing people for a period of time.

However, in 2017, Chinese Ministry of Education enacted a new national science curriculum for compulsory education which made the long-neglected course re-emerge into the public. The new curriculum emphasized the importance of science course in primary schools, formulated the curriculum objectives and clarified the course content, which reestablished the status of science course in primary schools (MOE of PRC, 2017).

Moreover, compared to other changes, I am very excited to notice that this government document added a new teaching goal: science, technology, society and environment, which aims to encourage students to consider the relationships between science, technology, ethics, environment and our life. More importantly, it suggested that science teachers should involve more knowledge about education for sustainability into their teaching practice.

However, the teaching and learning reality was far from intended outcomes. Some teachers still employed the traditional lecture-style teaching method which reduced the educational effect of shaping children’s worldview (Qian, 2018).

When I was obsessed with this problem, the lecture given by Dr. Tippett about Roundview inspired me. At first, the teaching method which was applied by Dr. Tippett demonstrated the benefits of inquiry-based learning approach. She led us to do puzzles with cards and jigsaws and passed the knowledge through the process of playing games. Students were divided into different groups and enjoyed discussing and sharing opinions to do puzzles. Besides, we could make mistakes, question the tutor or argue with others, which are almost unthinkable in Chinese classrooms.

Furthermore, the theoretical basis of the RoundView which focuses on the ecosystem, social-system, human beings and how they interact with each other, could be closely related to the learning content of primary science courses in Grade 3 and Grade 4. I was shocked when I firstly heard about the RoundView, because I could not believe that the idea could summarize the extraordinary complicated causes of unsustainable world into 3 points.

Consequently, it is more accessible and clearer to guide people to make contribution to the sustainable society by reducing the physical damage, poisoning and overwhelming. More information about the RoundView could be found on the website: http://www.roundview.org.

In my opinion, it is beneficial for both teachers and students to integrate the RoundView in primary science classes and teach kids about the 3 causes through the process of learning in Grade 3 and Grade 4. Firstly, the combination could promote all participants to establish a sustainability worldview through teaching and learning, they could take enough time to learn each element of the ecological system and the human influence on the whole system.

Secondly, teachers could develop their professional knowledge and skills by practising some new powerful pedagogies, which could enhance the students’ qualities of sustainability, like collaborative small-group learning or inquiry-based learning in class (Nolet, 2016). Thirdly, students could learn the basic knowledge efficiently, be aware of the responsibility to the environment and society, develop their creativities and comprehensive abilities. Finally, parents of students could be affected by their children from the interaction after school so the sustainable perspective could be spread and have a greater impact among people.

In conclusion, sustainability is not just an issue related to governments, scientists or environmentalists, and actually, it is about everyone. In Chinese context, the primary science course must be responsible for establishing the sustainable concept of students. Hence, it is the time for science teachers to rethink your pedagogies and do your jobs in a new way!



The Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, (2017). Primary science national curriculum in Compulsory education. Beijing: People’s Education Press.


Nolet, V. (2016). Educating for sustainability: Principals and practices for teachers, New York: Routledge.

Qian, C (2018). Research on the effective teaching strategy of primary science course. Curriculum and Educational Studies, 04, pp. 157-158.


Xu, J. (2013). Research on education for sustainable development permeated in primary science. Curriculum, teaching material and method. 33(1), pp. 72-76.

(徐敬标.小学科学教育中渗透可持续发展教育的研究[J].课程·教材·教法. 2013.33(1):72-76.)

Related link:

  • The RoundView:


l   An interesting video about: How Gardening Helps Students Grow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlK4hdk4I2M

  • Some good examples of how to teach a science class in Chinese context:



Image sources: