Schools world-wide are utilising inquiry, problem-based, design thinking approaches to learning in order to grow empathetic understanding and international mindedness.

Students are taking action through collaborative initiatives locally or globally focused on issues such as climate change and in the process, are developing a global mindset. That is, developing skill sets in problem-solving, creative thinking, innovation and collaboration to name a few.

The challenge is – are students only developing a shallow topic-based knowledge culminating in collaborative action that has the feel-good factor? Rather, we want students to develop a deep understanding about the global issues threatening humanity and true empathy towards those most affected leading to meaningful action.

The solution is – aligning unit of inquiry or problem based investigation with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The students not only have the opportunity to unpack all 17 goals, thereby having a full picture of all global issues facing humanity but also, they provide students with a chance to impact a global blueprint for dignity, peace and prosperity for the planet, now and in the future. 

The Sustainable Development Goals, which are sometimes referred to as the SDGs or the ‘Global Goals’ are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. 

Including the SDGs in the design of our curriculum will enable students to become positive and action participants in findings solutions to these problems, while lifting the level of challenge and relevance they experience.

So, how do we align our planning with the Sustainable Development Goals?

What follows is one school’s approach to aligning the goals with a year 8 inquiry-based Passion Project and a year 6 IB PYP Exhibition. The tactic chosen to unpack the SDGs was – what makes your heart break and what makes your heart sing?

What makes your heart break is directly connected to one of the SDGs that deeply resonates with the students. They then consider what makes their heart sing which is linked to their passions and interests. Their inquiry/investigation then becomes a merging of the two leading to sustainable, deep action.

Below is an example of some students ideas and how they were linked to the SDGs and their passions:


The culminating actions taken by the students were powerful and deep. For example, a year 8 student wrote haiku poems focused on refugees (SDG #4 Quality Education), screen printed the poems onto tea towels and raised $1500 for UNICEF.

Crammed boat,

Woken seas

Dance in the full moon.

Haiku by Evie

The impact of her haiku poems will be lasting and a constant reminder to many people of the need to:

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Utilising the lens of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is a powerful way to ensure students are developing a deep sense of global-mindedness. If you would like some more tips for teaching using the SDGs, check out this post.

Dr Lyn Bird


Selwyn House School


New Zealand

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