Educators from each of the three campuses developed nine teaching modules for sustainability features, three from each campus. While each module is unique, they all have a suite of elements in common, including definitions of sustainability, how the feature supports sustainability, and assignments to assess student learning. These modules are designed to be "plugged into" courses and to provide the basic background and materials an instructor would need. Each module gives students a hands-on, out-of-classroom experience in sustainability.

The nine modules are as follows.  See the brief summaries of each module below, or click on the module of interest in the table to download the full teaching module:

San Jose State

De Anza College

Foothill College

Sustainable Agriculture Garden (Organic Food)

Kirsh Environmental Center (Green Building)

Composting Site (Recycling & Organic Food)

Martin Luther King, Jr. Library (Green Building)

Campus Food System (Recycling & Waste Management)

Waterwise Plants (Water Conservation)

Cogeneration Plant (Energy Sustainability)

Cheesman Ecological Area (Native Plant Communities)

Phenology of Plants (Climate Change)


DeAnza Module 1 Summary:  Food, Environmental Justice and Integrated Waste Management

Tour the De Anza Dining Services to learn about food systems, environmental justice and integrated waste management. Additionally, tour the food garden at the Kirsch Center for Environmental Studies (KCES).

Students will learn about sustainability as it relates to food, environmental justice and integrated waste management. For example, environmental justice issues like access and affordability to healthy food choices will be explored. After a brief introduction, students will visit the campus Dining Services at De Anza. Students will analyze where the food is sourced from and the health properties of available meals. Additionally, students will look at the waste management program including packaging, disposable items, signage and methods of disposal.

Next, students will visit the food garden at the Kirsch Center for Environmental Studies on campus to learn about how food is grown. Sustainable farming practices and healthy food choices will be explored and discussed. Students will complete questions about what makes for a sustainable food system. Critical thinking will be utilized to brainstorm more about food, environmental justice, and sustainable integrated waste management.

Key Concepts:

• Sustainable multiple-use management of food resources, following food from production to consumption (i.e. resource use, zero waste vs. disposal).

• Environmental impacts of food production and how production methods affect the nutritional content of food.

• Improvement of public health through environmental justice, good nutrition and healthy food options.

• Pollution prevention through integrated waste management practices, such as rejection, source reduction, reuse opportunities and recycling methods.

DeAnza Module 2 Summary:  Green Building, Design, and Environmental Health and Justice

Visit the LEED-certified Kirsch Center for Environmental Studies (KCES) to learn more about green building design, environmental health and justice, and working toward mitigating climate change through sustainable design in all of our institutions.

Take students on a tour of the Kirsch Center for Environmental Studies (KCES), a LEED-certified building designed by Eco-Architect, Dave Deppen. Students will begin by learning the elements of green building such as passive solar design, sustainable building materials and landscape design. Students will also participate in a hands-on activity that uses our latitudinal position, the 37th parallel, as a basis for tracking various paths of the sun throughout the year and for learning how green buildings are designed according to particular climates. Students will then investigate and communicate the relationships between environmental health and justice, climate change mitigation and sustainability through applying the elements and principles of green building design.

Key Concepts:

  • How elements of green building apply to sustainable, environmentally healthy, equitable and just societies
  • How green buildings utilize nature to reduce energy consumption and mitigate climate change
  • Passive solar design
  • Students will assess model green building policy and guidelines including LEED™ (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
  • Students will identify and understand the value of green building to society and to the individual

DeAnza Module 3 Summary: Native Plant Communities and Environmental Protection for All

Take a field trip to the Cheeseman Environmental Study Area (ESA), a 1.5 acre urban oasis located adjacent to the KCES on the De Anza College campus. Learn about the importance of protecting natural spaces for people and all living beings. All people deserve access to natural spaces for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.

Take a field trip to the Cheeseman Environmental Study Area (ESA), located adjacent to the KCES on the De Anza College campus. The Cheeseman ESA is a 1.5 acre urban oasis, home to approximately 500 species of native plants representing 12 California native plant communities. Students will study sustainability as it relates to the biological significance of the California Floristic Province (CFP). Students will identify and assess the dominant components within native plant communities in the California Floristic Province. Additionally, students will learn about the environmental parameters that affect the presence of these communities. Students will also learn about the importance of environmental justice as it relates to protecting natural spaces for people and all living beings. All people deserve access to natural spaces for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

Key Concepts:

  • Assess native plant communities, ecosystem diversity and biological significance of the California Floristic Province (CFP). For example, what is a biodiversity hotspot and how many plant species are vulnerable, threatened, endangered, etc.
  • Appraise the relationship of topography and species distribution and the role that these relationships play in species endemism in the CFP
  • The importance of protecting natural spaces for climate change mitigation
  • Introduction to invasive species and their effects on native plant associations
  • Environmental justice and the fact that all people, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, deserve access to natural spaces for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health


Students will learn the connection between soil health and plant health, and the resulting benefits of maintaining soil health for growing plants that produce food, cleanse the atmosphere, and provide a more beneficial and rewarding environment. A healthy soil can also store, rather than repel water and will reduce erosion. Soils of any conditions, poor or healthy, can benefit from the application of compost as a regular amendment, and understanding those relationships and the methods for compost production on a home level will improve overall community sustainability. This feature is a working example of an action that is ecologically sound, economically feasible and socially responsible. It is a process that can be maintained without any compromise of the future and, in fact, address a key issue in helping address the disposal of residential waste without overwhelming landfills and waste disposal facilities.

The Compost Demonstration Area at Foothill College Horticulture facility provides students with an opportunity to observe and participate in one of the most viable methods for creating soil amendments for the typical homeowner. Soil science has proven the benefits of regular addition of soil amendments, particularly compost, to soil that is challenged in supporting plant growth. By understanding how compost is created and how it can be added to the home garden, lawn, planting beds, and orchard as a soil amendment, the student will discover the benefits of creating a healthier soil. Students will receive instruction in the benefits and methods of composting in a home setting. Scientific presentations will include the process of component degradation, conditions necessary for adequate decomposition, and activities that increase and/or support the process of decomposition. Lab related activities will include measuring and performing maintenance on an active compost pile, creating a new compost pile, or measurements of compost and native soil samples to allow the students to compare and contrast the differences between native soil and the soil amendment created through the composting process. Students will be expected to know how the different methods for creating compost and the process for creating and maintaining a compost pile.

Activities prepared for the instructor include lecture material on home composting, lab activities at three levels, beginning (measurement of temperature and soil moisture), intermediate (maintenance and creation of a compost pile) and advanced (using soil test kits to measure the humus/organic matter levels of compost and a native soil).  Support for the activity includes contact individuals for gaining access to the facility and lab supplies, expected outcomes for the activity, a grading rubric and reference materials. A section on preparing for the module will help prepare you for teaching the subject regardless of your experience with the composting process.


This module will help students to learn about and observe ecological processes in non- destructive research activities. The module will also help students/observers to relate their observations to differences at other sites regionally and nationally.  Using protocols created by the National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) and/or Project BudBurst, students will engage in monitoring of phenological (for example: timing of fruiting, flowering, leaf break, nesting, dispersal behaviors) processes of plants on Foothill Campus to investigate the effects of climate change.  Their data will be submitted to a national database to contribute to the scientific understanding of climate change effects on animals and plants.  There is the potential to create a phenology trail which would be an interpretive walk through natural parts of the campus available to anyone interested in learning more about native plants and how they change with the seasons and over time.

Either small groups of students or individuals will be assigned one species to monitor for phenological changes during the module. If they are assigned a plant species, they will be required to monitor 3-5 individuals to monitor; if they are assigned an animal species they will be required to spend a set amount of time weekly observing the species. For example, if the student(s) are assigned coast live oak to monitor, they will be able to investigate questions involving timing of flowering within a population, environmental factors that affect timing, interactions with pollinators or seed/fruit dispersers. If they are looking at animal populations they could examine the relationship between food source availability, and nesting success.

Students will be required to collect data, maintain work logs and observation journals.  In the majors Biology course, students will be required to develop a research project that investigates change over the quarter culminating in a presentation of their findings in poster, presentation and/or paper format. Grading would be on quality of data collection, conclusions and presentations of research findings. Students will be expected to formulate hypotheses regarding the subjects observed, and draw conclusions from testing and communicating results of those test and critically evaluation the results. Students will also be expected to apply evolutionary theory to explain the unity and diversity of living organisms.


An important component of sustainability is an understanding and appreciation of the environment and the natural resources it provides, which includes an understanding of local biodiversity found in natural communities. Students are introduced to common chaparral plants present in the Foothill College Native Plant Garden. Through a combination of lecture, direct observations, small group and class discussions, students learn about features characterizing chaparral communities and adaptations typical of chaparral plants, particularly adaptations associated with water conservation. The activity focuses on evolutionary processes and biodiversity as a component of sustainability, and considers the merits of using native species in sustainable landscaping with an emphasis on water-wise plantings.

  • Discuss the concept of sustainability (social equity, economic vitality, environmental integrity)
  • Define biodiversity.
  • Explain how the evolutionary process of natural selection generates biodiversity.
  • Recognize and identify the chaparral community and representative plants.
  • Discuss the potential merits of landscaping with native plants
  • Contrast regions of campus with native, water-wise plantings to those with water- intensive lawn plantings

Students will review the environmental conditions of the region, learn about plant physiology and morphology and then make field observations of plants to identify what they feel is an adaption for water conservation. Students will also be expected to compare and contrast the water use of a chaparral area and a typical landscaped area on campus. Students will be required to collect data, maintain work logs and observation journals. Students will be expected to formulate hypotheses regarding the subjects observed, and draw conclusions from testing and communicating results of those test and critically evaluation the results. Students will also be expected to apply evolutionary theory to explain the unity and diversity of living things.


The Sustainability at the King Library module introduces the major LEED categories that buildings applying for LEED certification for Operations and Maintenance are reviewed.

The goal of the module is to provide a basic overview of criteria used for each LEED category. The module’s goal is to have students’ rate the library’s features via a physical tour and an online tour to discover sustainable features. The module asks the students to explore the building, discover how people use it and to apply their understanding of LEED’s categories to sustainability in their own lives and living environments.

The module is an online tool available from the SJSU King Library’s Research Guides. Anyone can access the guide on and off campus. The module can be linked to from your course management system, or you can provide the url to students in your class. The module covers three sessions of class time: an short introduction to the topics of sustainability and the 3 E’s, a student self-tour of the King Library, and a final session (lecture or student presentations) to summarize the aspects of the King Library that apply to each LEED category. Students use a sample worksheet that approximates the official checklist used by LEED certified professionals to evaluate the library’s LEED features. The length of the module varies depending on whether you want to present a group lecture as the final activity or if you choose to have students present their discoveries about the King Library’s LEED features.

Length of time for Module: 2 hours 2 1/2 hours

Modules Summary: There are nine sections in the module.

  • Introduction: Sustainability and the 3 E’s: A basic overview of the definitions of sustainable and the 3 E’s.
  • Introduction: LEED Certification: A basic overview of what LEED is through websites and a video.
  • LEED category: Sustainable Sites: Links to the history of the SJSU Library and the San Jose
  • Public Library history. An introduction to sustainable transportation.
  • LEED category: Water Efficiency: Link to the SJSU’s webpage on water use and recycled water that contains data on the library’s recycled water use.
  • LEED category: Energy & Atmosphere: Students begin the inside tour of the library from the 8th floor to the lower level evaluating the library’s energy use and atmosphere.
  • LEED category: Materials & Resources: Students are directed to take the online tour of
  • Mel Chin’s Art and then a physical tour to identify where the recycled art is located.
  • LEED category: Indoor Environmental Quality: Students take a physical tour as they evaluate the library’s features that fall in this category.
  • LEED category: Innovations in Operations. Link describes the ways that buildings can meet the criteria for innovative operations.
  • Additional resources: The Green Ninja and more info: Links to other resources for classroom instruction or additional resources: links to LEED information, California LEED groups and buildings, library sustainability links and blogs


Student Learning Objectives:

• All Campuses: GE Area B2, Student Learning Objective 1: Students should be able to use the methods of science and knowledge derived from current scientific inquiry in life or physical science to question existing explanations

• SJSU Only: SJSU Studies Area R, Student Learning Objective 2: Within the particular scientific content of the course, a student should be able to distinguish science from pseudo- science

Lesson Overview:

Using the Sustainable Agriculture Garden at SJSU as a small-scale, local example of sustainable food-growing practices, students will discover how these methods differ from those used in conventional farming, all within the context of and relation to closed-loop material cycling and biodiversity. Discussion will also center on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the risks they can pose to the environment. A selection of journal articles on GMOs from the academic, scientific literature will serve as the foundation for evaluating whether information is sound science or pseudoscience. Several potential assignments and writing activities are provided, along with links to scientific journal articles and other related materials. The lesson plan is written to help the instructor learn about the topics and provide a detailed plan for delivering content. The lesson can also be modified to suit different subject areas. Contact the Lesson Mentor for suggestions.

Lesson Location:

  • Brief introduction in the classroom the week prior to field trip
  • Main content and activity presented in the Sustainable Agriculture Garden at San José State  

(see full lesson for list of materials)

Lesson Duration: Approx. 1 hour 15 minutes, with options to increase.

Key Concepts: (subject to instructor’s choice of material)

  • Students will learn about closed-loop materials cycles in nature and how these apply to human food system.
  • Students will learn how biodiversity and species interactions apply to human food systems.
  • Students will learn definitions of sustainability.
  • Students will learn basic principles of sustainable agriculture, with focus on it being a closed-loop system.
  • Students will learn the definitions of conventional, organic, and genetically modified food in context that highlights their differences and varying environmental impacts.
  • Students will learn how to decode food labels and ingredient lists and determine which may be genetically modified.
  • Students will learn how to gauge sustainability of a food item, with emphasis on where and how it was grown.
  • Students will learn what types of food can be grown in Santa Clara County and how to read seed packets to determine this information.
  • Students will learn how to distinguish between unbiased, objective articles and clearly biased ones in the academic, scientific literature.


Student Learning Objectives:

GE Area B1, Student Learning Objective 2: Students should be able to demonstrate ways in which science influences and is influenced by complex societies, including political and moral issues

Lesson Overview:

In preparation for a tour of the Central Energy Plant at San José State, this pre-field trip lesson serves as an introductory overview to the topics of renewable vs. non- renewable electricity sources, basic units of energy and power, energy equivalents and efficiencies, electricity production and consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to global climate change. A brief introduction to SJSU’s Central Energy Plant, namely their co-generation plant and cooling towers and what makes each sustainable, is provided. A variety of assignment options is included, some geared toward performing calculations and some not. The lesson plan is written to help the instructor learn the basics about the topics and/or augment existing knowledge as well as to provide a detailed step-by-step plan for content deliverance. The lesson can also be modified to suit different subject areas. Contact the Lesson Mentor for suggestions.

Lesson Location:

Main content presented in the classroom via a PowerPoint Presentation the week prior to the field trip to the Central Plant at San José State, serving as an introduction to the topic. Internet access needed.

Lesson Duration: Approx. 1 hour 15 minutes

Key Concepts - Students will learn:

  • the basics about different sources of electricity, including whether they are renewable and/or sustainable or not;
  • basic units of energy, power, and energy equivalents;
  • the basic differences between levels of efficiency of different energy sources;
  • about production & consumption of energy in the US, with a special focus on
  • California;
  • that different energy sources produce varying amounts of emissions;
  • the basics of what the greenhouse effect is, what greenhouse gases are, and what is their
  • contribution to global climate change;
  • the basics about SJSU’s Central Energy Plant, highlighting both its co-generation and
  • cooling tower facilities;
  • about the Cheng Cycle;
  • how the co-generation plant and cooling towers are considered sustainable and how they might change as technology improves;
  • how to research and evaluate potential solutions to the plant’s aging technology.