SPaRK - United Nations Sustainable Development Goals project

Leonie McIlvenny shares some insights into how to use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to deliver a fully integrated inquiry and problem-based learning program.

Resource overview

Based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,this website provides an authentic context to deliver a fully integrated inquiry and problem-based learning program. The project is also designed to support the Global Goals Challenge and the UNESCO Global Education First initiatives. In addition to an extensive collection of resources that relate to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there is also a ‘Digital passport challenge’, designed to encourage students to explore the Goals at a deep level using a range of technology tools. The program can be adapted to support students in Years 5-12.

UN Goals

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals project

Educational significance

Not only are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals a worldwide initiative to address 17 challenges facing the world today, they also provide an excellent opportunity for students to engage in, and take action about, real-world problems occurring not only in other places around the world but in their own communities. Global education initiatives and programs, as well as rich authentic resources give educators an opportunity to engage in innovative pedagogical approaches to learning, including inquiry and problem-based learning, and global collaboration. The Goals provide an authentic context in which to address learning outcomes across multiple learning areas and general capabilities.

Suggestions for using this resource

There are multiple ways that this resource can be used by students and teachers.

Students can:

  • access the carefully curated resources that support each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to research. (See the Life below water example).
  • use provided key words and focus questions for each goal to springboard an inquiry or investigation. (See the Life on land example).
  • engage in the 10 Challenges. For example, Challenge five requires students to source Creative Commons images that reflect their chosen goal and place in a photo montage or slideshow on their website or blog.
  • explore a digital tool. For example, Challenge three requires students to develop a vocabulary / key word list related to a UN goal and use a word cloud developer (like Tagxedo) to create a word cloud.
  • access the Challenge handbook that steps them through to Challenge 10 which is the culmination of the project.
  • gain extensive information from websites, articles, reports, documents and videos to inform them of the current world situation as it relates to the Goals.
  • develop skills when using a range of technology tools, such as Interactive images, to explore the goals and complete the challenges.

EarthAgain, in ‘UN Sustainable Development Goals | Life below water (14)’, (1:18) talks about the fourteenth of the sustainable development goals, which is all about supporting life below water and keeping water sources clean.

Teachers can:

  • encourage students to undertake research tasks around understanding one or more of the UN Goals. The inquiry learning and problem-based learning sections provide support in this area.
  • access one or more of the global programs or projects listed on the website. For example, on the website, groups might participate in the One day in the life project that currently has 68 countries involved where students exchange photographs/images describing days in their lives, and then make cross-cultural comparisons.
  • use the outcomes and activities listed for each goal to engage in classroom activities that they devise. For example, for the Clean water and sanitation goal, one of the activities is to ‘Calculate one’s own water footprint (WF)’.
  • target a viewing activity from the extensive range of videos – students answer teacher-generated questions or students develop one question each and combine them to make a class set of questions.
  • adopt or modify project ideas that are provided in the Curriculum and pedagogy section.

Teaching activities

Teachers can become better informed about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by interrogating the links, videos, reports and presentations supplied for each of the goals. They may then adopt one of the project ideas provided for their class, for example, ‘One day in the life’.

Focus on interconnections

One day in the life’ is a project in which students exchange photographs/images describing days in their lives, and then make cross-cultural comparisons. Students may discuss aspects of a typical day or they may document special days and promote global communication through online forums.

One day in the life

The project would be part of a case study of one place in the world. Students use the geographical inquiry process to show the recreational, cultural and/or leisure activities found there. Describe the impact of personal connections on the place now, and predict they will be in future by researching:

  • How are people and places connected?
  • What role does technology play in connecting people to people in other places?
  • What are the consequences of a globally connected world for people and places?
  • Why are interconnections important for the future of places and environments?

Report case study findings in a digital poster.

Syllabus links

Geography Stage 4

A student:

  • Describes processes and influences that form and transform places and environments GE4-2.
  • Explains how interactions and connections between people, places and environments result in change GE4-3.
  • Acquires and processes geographical information by selecting and using geographical tools for inquiry GE4-7.
  • Communicates geographical information using a variety of strategies GE4-8 (ACHGK065, ACHGK069).

Focus on STEM

SDG Assessment – Students conduct an inventory on what their school is already doing on the 17 SDG themes in education and operations. The results can be shared via social media or an interactive website and feed into other STEM projects, such as, Ambarvale High School – Improving our school (IoS.1).

Syllabus links

Science Stage 4
A student:

  • identifies questions and problems that can be tested or researched and makes predictions based on scientific knowledge SC4-4WS
  • selects and uses appropriate strategies, understanding and skills to produce creative and plausible solutions to identified problems SC4-8WS

TAS Stage 4
A student:

  • applies design processes that respond to needs and opportunities in each design project 4.1.1
  • generates and communicates creative design ideas and solutions 4.2.1
  • selects, analyses, presents and applies research and experimentation from a variety of sources 4.2.2.

Mathematics Stage 4
A student:

  • collects, represents and interprets single sets of data, using appropriate statistical displays MA4-19SP.


The purpose of the website is to encourage students to think creatively and ideate and innovate ideas on how to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It encourages students to ‘think outside the box’ and perhaps devise solutions to problems that affect their immediate community or environment. The resources provided on the website are merely a catalyst to exploring real problems in a global context.

The United Nations video, ‘What is sustainable development?’ (2:08), explains the sustainable development global goals.

As students undertake the ten challenges, they are required to build a website or blog and embed various digital elements into it. For example, videos, image galleries, word clouds, interactive images and blog posts. This could be expanded to allow students to experiment with digital tools like interactive timelines, animation tools and avatars to create information products that could be showcased on their websites.

The final challenge has the following scenario:
‘If you were given five million dollars to help achieve one of the UN development goals what would you do? In which country would you do it? and Why in that country?’

This challenge could be modified to address a local issue in the immediate community in which your students live. The project planning guide is editable and can be modified as required to suit your local context.

Syllabus links

The SDG challenges have applications across curriculum, with relevance to subjects such as science, mathematics, geography, TAS and visual arts, and the cross-curriculum priority of sustainability. They also have direct links to the general capabilities from the Australian Curriculum, including critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding, and information and communication technology capability.

References and further reading

Ambarable High School – Improving our schools (IoS.1). STEM: Science Technology Engineering Maths. © State of New South Wales (Department of Education), 2017.

Global SchoolNet. (2019). Linking kids around the world.

International Education and Resource Network. (n.d.). iEARN projects align to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

International Education and Resource Network. (n.d.). One day in the life.

McIlvenny, L. (n.d.). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals project.

UNESCO. (2016). Global education first initiative.

United Nations. (2015). What is sustainable development?

How to cite this article - McIlvenny, L. (2019). SPaRK – United Nations Sustainable Development Goals project. Scan, 38(3)

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