Glossary of Commonly Used Terms

backwards design—A curriculum design philosophy that begins with identifying the end goals (student outcomes such and knowledge, understandings, skills, as well as learning standards or big ideas), then developing assessments aligned to these goals, and finally outlining the learning opportunities (lessons) necessary for students to achieve the desired outcomes.


Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—  A set of curriculum standards, covering English/language arts and mathematics, based on what all students need to know to be college or career ready upon graduation from high school.


education for sustainability (EFS)— “The content, learning methods, and outcomes that helps students develop a knowledge base about the environment, the economy, and society. It helps students learn skills, perspectives, and values that guide and motivate them to seek sustainable livelihoods, participate in a democratic society, and live in a sustainable manner.”  (Source:  McMillan & Higgs, 2003)  (Read the US Partnership's White Paper on Educating for Sustainability.)


economy—The system or range of economic activity in a country, region, or community;  the management of the resources, finances, income, and expenditure of a community, business enterprise, etc.  (Source:  Collins English Dictionary)


environment—All of the biotic and abiotic factors that act on an organism, population, or ecological community and influence its survival and development. Biotic factors include the organisms themselves, their food, and their interactions. Abiotic factors include such items as sunlight, soil, air, water, climate, and pollution. Organisms respond to changes in their environment by evolutionary adaptations in form and behavior. (Source:  American Heritage® Science Dictionary )


environmental education—Teaches children and adults how to learn about and investigate their environment, and to make intelligent, informed decisions about how they can take care of it. (Source:  North American Association for Environmental Education, )


equity—The state, quality, or ideal of equality and justice between economic classes, ethnic and cultural groups, and the fair distribution of resources. (Source: US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development )


expeditionary learning—Learning through expeditions, including long-term investigation of important questions and subjects that include individual and group projects, field studies, and performances and presentations of student work. 


place-based education— Place-based education (PBE), or place-based learning (PBL) immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, using these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum. PBE/PBL emphasizes learning through participation in service projects for the local school and/or community. (Source: Promise of Place, )


problem-based learning—Engaging students in investigating problems or challenges in order to build understanding and skills.


project-based learning—Students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).  (Source:  Buck Institute for Education,


service-learning—Actively engages participants in meaningful and personally relevant service activities that meets learning goals as well as community needs. Service-learning projects work best when they fit the ages and developmental abilities of the participants, include interesting and engaging service activities, explore the context of the underlying societal issues the service addresses, and address needs that are important to the community being served. (Source:  National Youth Leadership Council, )


standards—A set of content knowledge and skills that define what students should know, understand, and be able to do that guide curriculum design and assessment; standards are developed at the state and national. (see Common Core State Standards) levels, as well as by other educational organizations


standards-based—Curriculum or assessments that are designed to meet the learning objectives stated in the standards, which are state or national guidelines for minimum competency in a subject area or discipline.


sustainability— There is no one agreed upon definition for sustainability.  SSP defines it as “improving the quality of life for all – economically, socially, environmentally – now and for future generations.” 


sustainability education— Teaching and learning about the content of sustainable practices and processes (eg “green design” or “recycling”).


UbD—Understanding by Design ® is a “backwards design” curriculum design framework process developed by Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe (see ‘backwards design’).


Download a PDF of the glossary here.

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