Student Sutainability Journals

Sustainability education and the nature of wicked problems provide a challenge to conventional thinking about educational assessment.

As a portfolio-based assessment tool, Student Sustainability Journals allow to capture students pre-instructional conceptions about the nature of causal dynamics and future of a given sustainability issue, and then have them iteratively reflect on these conceptions as they engage the lessons or units over time. Mixed methods (qualitative content analysis of student sustainability journals and quantitative measures) can then be used to track conceptual change in students in at least three core competency domains:

  • Transfer of learning: Students relate generalized principles to novel contexts by discussing similarities and differences in behavioral and cultural dimensions between everyday experiences, human science research, NetLogo models, and/or sustainability issues (e.g. Barnett & Ceci, 2002; Glynn, 2008; Goldstone & Wilensky, 2008; Kurtz, Boukrina, & Gentner, 2012 )
  • Causal complexity: Students appropriately expand the number of causal interactions within and between levels of analysis in their causal explanations of behavioral or cultural variation over time (e.g. Basu, Sengupta, & Biswas, 2014; Dickes & Sengupta, 2013; Evagorou et al., 2009; Jacobson, 2001; Jacobson & Wilensky, 2006 )
  • Adaptive flexibility : Students engage a perspective of self-and-society-as-context by expanding their view on the potential behavioral variation and diversity of conditions that shape valued sustainability outcomes (e.g. Hayes & Ciarrochi, 2015; Tenaglia, 2014; Porosoff & Weinstein, 2017; Wilson et al., 2014 )


  • Barnett, S. M., & Ceci, S. J. (2002). When and where do we apply what we learn? A taxonomy for far transfer. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 612–637.
  • Basu, S., Sengupta, P., & Biswas, G. (2014). A Scaffolding Framework to Support Learning of Emergent Phenomena Using Multi-Agent-Based Simulation Environments. Research in Science Education, 45(2), 293–324.
  • Dickes, A. C., & Sengupta, P. (2013). Learning Natural Selection in 4th Grade with Multi-Agent-Based Computational Models. Research in Science Education, 43(3), 921–953.
  • Evagorou, M., Korfiatis, K., Nicolaou, C., & Constantinou, C. (2009). An investigation of the potential of interactive simulations for developing system thinking skills in elementary school: a case study with fifth- and sixth- graders. International Journal of Science Education, 31(5), 655–674.
  • Glynn, S. M. (2008). Making science concepts meaningful to students: Teaching with analogies. In S. Mikelskis-Seifert, U. Ringelband, & M. Brückmann (Eds.), Four Decades of Research in Science Education: From Curriculum Development to Quality Improvement (pp. 113–125). Münster, Germany: Waxmann.
  • Goldstone, R. L., & Wilensky, U. (2008). Promoting transfer by grounding complex systems principles. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(4), 465–516.
  • Hayes, L. L., & Ciarrochi, J. (2015). The thriving adolescent. Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Positive Psychology to help teens manage emotions, achieve goals, and build connections. Oakland, CA, USA: Context Press.
  • Jacobson, M. J. (2001). Problem Solving, Cognition, and Complex Systems: Differences between Experts and Novices. Complexity, 6(3), 41–49.
  • Jacobson, M. J., & Wilensky, U. (2006). Complex Systems in Education: Scientific and Educational Importance and Implications for the Learning Sciences. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(1), 11–34.
  • Kurtz, K. J., Boukrina, O., & Gentner, D. (2013). Comparison promotes learning and transfer of relational categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39(4), 1303–10.
  • Porosoff, L., & Weinstein, J. (2017). EMPOWER Your Students: Tools to Inspire a Meaningful School Experience, Grades 6-12. Bloomington, Indiana, USA: Solution Tree Press.
  • Tenaglia, P. (2014). The Matrix Goes to School: Promoting Psychological Flexibility in Education. In: Polk, K. L., & Schoendorff, B. (eds). The ACT matrix: A new approach to building psychological flexibility across settings and populations. Oakland, CA, USA: Context Press/New Harbinger Publications. p. 207 - 220.
  • Wilson, D. S., Hayes, S. C., Biglan, A., & Embry, D. D. (2014). Evolving the Future: Toward a Science of Intentional Change. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(4), 395–460.