The Story of Stuff remains one of the most viral videos to have spread across the internet.  Annie Leonard, with the help of some simple animations, talks about the materials economy – how it works, how our consumption patterns feed into it, and the impact is has on our environment.

The video remains popular because it takes a relatively complex, systems issue and makes it understandable to the average learner.  As a result of it’s accessibility, a lot of lesson plans and and learning units have been built around this short film.  Check it out and think about what kinds of lessons you might see within this film.



The organization, Facing Our Future, developed one of curriculums that is promoted on the Story of Stuff website. Pick one of the lessons to read from the interdisciplinary, high school curriculum, Buy, Use, Toss? A Closer Look at the Things We Buy.

“Consumption is by nature an inter- disciplinary concept. Students can build math and science skills while calculating the carbon footprint of shipping blue jeans across the ocean, or they can engage in civic discourse during a discussion of how we dispose of our waste…

“Thoughtful consumption can play a part in creating a sustainable future. Knowing the story behind the things we buy, use, and toss can help us to consume in ways that improve our lives and the lives of others. The intent of this unit is not to discourage students from buying “stuff ” but rather to equip them with knowledge and skills to help them be informed and empowered consumers.”

Reflection Question: What lesson plan did you choose to read? What aspects of the lesson plan did you find particularly creative or innovative in how it engages students in issues related to environmental sustainability? What is one adaptation you would make on the lesson plan to give it your own twist?

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24 thoughts on “8.4

  1. I read Lesson 4: The Cost of Production. I found the readings/worksheets, discussion questions, and extension activities very interesting and engaging. The reading, “Working for a Living?”, breaks down why items are inexpensive and explains why workers aren’t properly paid so that students understand the issues of corporate policies. It uses a picture of teenage factory workers napping on the job to help students connect to what might be an abstract concept for them. The worksheet, “You’re the Boss”, gives students an opportunity to think about, create, and explain the importance of sustainable business practices. The discussion questions are very interesting and force students to question their beliefs and behaviors. For example, “One business professor says that trade is “an instrument of peace and understanding” because it requires countries to cooperate with each other. Based on what you know, do you agree? Does it change your opinion about globalization?”. The writing extension encourages students to think about production through a product’s point of view; and, the action activity, has students explore company policies and take actions to voice their opinions.

    One adaptation I would make is to connect students with a person working in similar conditions to those described in “Working for a Living?”. I think this communication would help students be more apathetic and realize how their actions affect others, even a person living outside of their community. This would also offer students an opportunity to formulate and ask their own questions and, possibly, build respect for another culture. If making a face to face connection is unavailable, I would try to find an autobiographical account that students could read.

  2. In our culture, which focuses all too often on labels and extravagance, and in many indirect ways teaches its youth that value is ascribed more freely and tangibly to high priced heavily advertised and talked about items, the lesson titled The Cost of Production. I like the idea of having students consider working conditions and corporate sourcing, and the impacts of those things on their lives and the lives of others. I think this would reshape what they think and feel about their consumption and our consumer culture. I found the examination of worker conditions and its relationship to costs innovative and thought provoking. This is a high minded ideal but one that students can certainly relate to and assimilate into existing schema.
    I might tweak this lesson and expand it to include a debate to give students an opportunity to inject their new and previous perspectives and to question the ideals presented. This could have written and oral components and would allow the lesson to cover more academic ground and more firmly cement the social benefits.

  3. I chose to read the chapter called “mapping the impact.” I can see this chapter being used in a future geography class or U.S. history class. One of the elements that I found engaging was drawing the hamburger on the board and having the students come up with the different elements that make up that burger. I liked how this allows the student to think of really what goes into the food that they are eating. By coming up with the ingredients and concepts themselves one can see the effort that it takes to make the hamburger.

    One adaptation that I would make is add some sort of multi-media element. Maybe show a video that shows the process from start to finish. What I would also want the video or media element to provide are ways/solutions that we can make better smarter choices in improve the way that we live.

  4. I read the lesson,” Why Buy”. In my opinion, no aspect of this lesson is particularly creative or innovative in how it engages students in issues related to environmental sustainability. I would give it a twist by showing one or more ads for products pre-1950. (i.e. Florsheim shoes) and facilitate discussion as to which best demonstrates the general atmosphere on product longevity and how that impacts sustainability (focus on key descriptive adjectives) or the life cycles of fad vs. fashion vs. basic products using Cornell University’s Cutting Edge Apparel Business Guides look at the cycles (https://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/cuttingedge/lifeCycle/03.htm) and discuss which products best supported environmental sustainability and why.

  5. I decided to use the lesson plan Garbology lesson 1. I like the lesson plan layout. I was amazed at how the lesson was very thorough and well planned to reach students with a clear understanding about the value of engaging in a critical analysis of
    consumption. I like how the lesson is differentiated for various learning styles.
    I can tweet the lesson to meet my needs in the classroom when we are discussing earth day in April. We would have a whole entire theme for the week Garbology and protecting the earth to join the movement. I would have the classes create a project that is based how to protect the earth. They would have to create something from used particles/trash/recycled materials.

  6. I read “Why Buy?” I like the idea of having students critically analyze advertisements. In the past I have done a few activities with my Graphic Arts class having to do with the theme of advertising and media literacy and have had students deconstruct print advertisements, meditate on their own shopping habits, and finally create their own advertisement (this would be my modification, because it would allow them to practice their graphic art skills). I could see myself implementing the Ad Diary extension activity as well.

  7. I’d like to adapt the “Mapping the Impact” lesson for my English-language learners. I like the idea of figuring out what it takes to create a consumer product, using input from people around the world. I think ELLs could identify with this because they come from many countries that have a role in producing products that Americans buy.

    I like the reading about what it takes to create a hamburger and Cola and could use it with my advanced ESL class. But I would need to explicitly teach some of the vocabulary so they can understand the article. I would pick out some reading strategies as well to help them get what the article is saying.

    Also, I’d like to adapt the activity of filling out a chart about what’s behind the creation of a particular item into a research activity. I could sign out laptops and have them research what it takes to produce an item.

    I skimmed a number of activities in the guide and I think the activities are quite creative and engaging.

    Interestingly, many of my ELL students are in the process of adapting their lifestyles to become greater consumers. They are influenced by teens in the U.S. I recall a student from Cambodia who after returning to his home country for a month and then coming back to the U.S. commented about how he appreciated it that people in Cambodia spent a lot of time together face to face. ELLs have a point of comparison to a less-consumer-driving lifestyle that some American teens lack.

  8. I chose Garbology because I myself am a very hands on person and I feel that students are more productive when they are up and active and have a hands on approach. In my class we mostly do group work and this is a great project for that. You also get to look at how others live, what you think is trash might not be trash to someone else. They get to use their creativity in this lesson. To give my own twist on this lesson plan I would ask them to find 2 things that they think is luxury and 2 things that are essential items and bring them to class and explain. Then I would ask them how can I tie this into my class subject. Everyone would have a rubric and know what exactly I am looking for.

  9. I chose the lesson Garbology. This lesson caused the students to be active with each other. It was creative to put the student in different group and ask them all the same questions. This particular lesson plan allow creative thinking. One man trash is another man treasure. People see value in different things. The lesson asked the students what does the items in the bag have in common and what items were luxury and essential. If this is not a engaging subject, I don’t know what is.

    I would make my class walk in the school and in the community around the school and each group would have to find three things that they agreed was a luxury item and three things that they agreed was essential items and explain why?

  10. Pingback: Week 5 – Environmental Sustainability (Summer 2013) | Peace Learner

  11. Maria Schneider–I chose the “Mapping the Impact” lesson because I thought that from the listed lessons it had the most inclusive topic for any subject area (social studies, economics, global sociology, human rights etc). The part I liked the most about that lesson was that it gave a lot of ownership to the students and valued their opinions, experiences related to productions, impact, human footprints and globalization. It is a simple though complex enough lesson for students to takeaway something valuable, realistic and memorable that they can apply to their life outside of the classroom.

    If I were to use this lesson in my own classroom I would make this lesson longer and have students make a video about their object, or a blog page to have more of a social justice, activist approach that empowers students to take action on their own. If they didn’t have access to the technology needed I would have student organize a panel, event, movie screening, discussion about their chosen object.

  12. What aspects of the lesson plan did you find particularly creative or innovative in how it engages students in issues related to environmental sustainability? What is one adaptation you would make on the lesson plan to give it your own twist?

    I read the lesson plan “Why Buy?” I loved how this lesson plan introduced the idea of externalities to students. It showed students are advertisements are marketing tools that don’t show consumers the full cost of what they buy. I might add a discussion on other costs of advertisements such as the objectification of women.

  13. I looked at Lesson Plan 10: Analyzing the Message. I found the entire plan which asked the students to question, listen carefully, challenge, and understand/recognize the biases of the video “The Story of Stuff ” to be quite good for a more serious discussion/debate on environmental sustainability.

    I would introduce a story/case where the issues of extraction, production, consumption, disposal is viewed from the perspective of unemployment/employment; income generation and growth, revenue, investments in health and education etc. A story from the perspective of a poverty stricken person in a developing country.

  14. I read lesson 4, “The Cost of Production”. This was a well formulated, comprehensive lesson to help students realize the process of production of items we take for granted in the US. They allocate 45 minutes to this lesson which I think is a pretty short amount of time and only allows a shallow understanding of how the system works. Depending on the class and amount of time the teacher has, I would use this subject incorporated into more lessons, activities and projects throughout a few days, not just one class period.

    One adaptation I would do is to have my film students create public service announcements, PSAs, concerning responsible shopping. These could perhaps be played with the morning announcements at school, spreading awareness beyond their class.

  15. I chose to read lesson 6: Why Buy? It immediately peaked my interest because it can fill in the gaps in a young consumer’s education. It’s not often that any of us, especially not children, are asked to think about the link between advertising and our consumer choices. I think it’s particularly interesting that the lesson has the teacher encourage students to recognize the negative and positive effects of advertising – it can be a good introduction to critical thinking, and could even lead to a discussion of the role of government, regulations, and consumer protection. An adaptation I would make is to emphasize the “dramatic” part of the lesson – kids have seen so many TV advertisements that they’d have no problem being super creative with acting them out, and gradually identifying the messages they contain.

  16. I read ‘The Cost of Production’. This is a very interactive project. I liked the small group component and the students were able to report their findings to the class. I also thought that it was a very tangible way to learn as the students had to examine their own clothing and their peers’ clothing to see where it was made. The two most valuable components from my perspective were that the class got to choose their preferred #1 policy and that they were given resources to address the problems of production in their own way.

    I might adapt the assignment a bit. I do not think I would give as much attention to China as other places. Perhaps each group could look at a different country and one of the countries could be China. I think looking at domestic production is also very important because the U.S. does have some production standards that are harmful. I think I would also have the students work individually or in pairs to appeal to a U.S. company to change its practices and follow that company’s progression and policy changes throughout the year.

  17. I chose lesson 1 because it creates a tangible and hand-ons learning experience for students. Being able to track your own impact is crucial to understanding and altering one’s actions. One adaption that I would provide would be for students to see how much pollution is in their neighborhood in comparison to others. From there, I would have students analyze what groups and type of communities create the most waste and have the most pollution. In this, students could compare and see if there is any correlation with consumption and pollution, or if there environmental impact is being pushed on to another community or even country.

  18. Lesson 6 – “Why Buy?”

    In this lesson plan, students bring in advertisements to analyze. From there they investigate the production of the product. The intent is to have students be cognizant of the non-monetary cost associated with the goods they buy.

    Students not only analyze advertisements, but they create dueling advertisements for a selected product. In this activity they are forced to think about what might be washed over in the advertisements we see.

    For my students, I would like to adapt this lesson so students can analyze other texts (i.e. song lyrics) to see what values they reflect towards the environment, economy, and interpersonal relationships.

  19. Daniel Knoll – I chose Lesson 7, which focuses on “Defining Happiness” by providing students the chance to identify the core aspects of happiness and analyze how they spend their daily free time. I think this lesson is particularly engaging because it asks a lot of reflection from students, giving them a chance to share what’s really important to them and their happiness. It’s a lesson everyone can take part in, and reflecting on how students spend their free time is something that affects students every day. I particularly enjoyed the writing extension that challenges students to spend one hour a day that they would normally spend watching TV, and instead do something else. Then have students write about that experience and how it made them feel. A remix to this activity is to ask students in groups of 4 to draw out what their 5 core values of happiness would look like, and then hang up their drawings around the room as a reminder of what happiness looks like in visual form.

  20. I chose to read the lesson, “Garbology.” I thought it was a neat lesson because it forced students to consider the impact of the waste they create everyday by actually looking at garbage and categorizing it. I thought this lesson did a good job of making students reevaluate their views on what is considered a luxury and what is essential, and it also gave them tangible evidence of how their garbage habits contribute to a larger environmental problem. One adaptation I would implement is I would ask students to bring in trash from their own trash cans in their bedrooms or kitchens, and then ask them to keep track of what they put in the trash for the rest of the week. I think have students go into their own trash might be more impactful than the teacher bringing in specimens.

  21. I chose to read the lesson about Defining Happiness. I thought it provided an engaging lesson that encouraged students to ponder what makes them happy, and what contributes to their quality of life. I think providing them with a survey (that they take anonymously) gets them thinking about things that contribute to a better quality of life, and then comparing their answers to those of their classmates and other American youth can put this notion into greater perspective. I think it’s a great idea to create a visual chart so that they can see how they spend their time each day, and then compare this chart to their survey so that they can evaluate whether or not they spend their time and energy according to ways that will improve their quality of life.

    One adaptation I would make would be to divide students into groups and have them brainstorm and create a bucket list of “free time activities” that do not use resources or money, and that contribute to a sustainable environment. Then I would challenge the students to replace less beneficial activities or ones that decrease their quality of life with one of their new sustainable practices.

  22. I looked at the first lesson ‘Garbology’. I like the idea of analyzing what someone could learn about you by looking at what garbage you produce. The idea of luxury and necessary items immediately reminds me of teaching human rights and the ideas students have about what is a human right versus what is a privilege. As there are extensions with geography and science, these concepts could be applied to human rights. The lesson could also be extended to analyzing their own garbage throughout the week and challenging students to cut down the amount of ‘garbage’ that they produce.

  23. I read the lesson on “Why Buy?” (lesson 6). I think advertising is fascinating. I think anything that manipulates people’s choices is fascinating. I especially want to understand what motivates my students today. There is so much we have in common (or, the teenage version of me), and yet so much that feels foreign to me because of the technology that impacts our kids’ daily lives today. One of the questions in the lesson is asking the students to consider why advertising to youth has boomed so much in the last 30 years. The first answer that came to my mind was “technology” and the second was “parents spoil their children.” The 80s were the primo primo in terms of consumerism, yet it was the adults making all the purchases. Now, because of technology, young people rule the roost of trends and making everything “viral.” Advertisers are no dummies. They see the golden goose and it’s not with my generation, who, when they find something they like they keep it private for fear it will get ruined by mass consumerism. Advertisers know that teens are the ones to target because teens are all about promoting their fashion, name brands, what’s cool, where they go, and making virtually everything a commodity. I think this topic will engage the students for minutes beyond the bell. And that’s a triumph.

    In terms of adaptations, I would scaffold the debate a bit more. Make it more nuanced with 4 corners instead of “agree” or “disagree” – giving the milquetoasts in the middle a place to stand and an opportunity to voice their mugwump nature. Other than – impressive lesson.

  24. I chose the lesson on defining happiness. I found the pieces of the lesson that compared students’ responses to other age groups relevant in that students could examine how their views may change. Every time we have a classroom guest that speaks about his/her job, the first questions students want to ask are usually, “How much money do you make, do you have big house, do you drive a nice car, etc” and we have conversations about why those aren’t appropriate questions to ask and why they want to ask those questions in the first place. I also liked this lesson for its obvious tie-ins to math, with multiple representations on graphs. I would – and I think I will try this – incorporate probability into the data that my students collected from their discussions and compare the probability from their data to data of other age groups.

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