Review by Jason Shiroff, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2014

The Story of Stuff Project

Explore the impact of our things and get mobilized to make a difference

Subjects & skills
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: The resources promote awareness about unchecked consumerism and provide avenues for action.

Cons: Educators will need to adapt the material for their own purposes unless they use one of the pre-made curriculum options.

Bottom Line: Working toward a sustainable future is everyone's business; these resources educate and inspire action.

Teachers can choose to use or adapt the complete high school curriculum for their own purposes. The site's built-in curriculum is designed as a two-week immersion into production, consumption, and sustainability. If that structure doesn't fit your needs, another approach is to integrate the videos and other resources into your existing social studies class, perhaps as case studies. Students can use close reading strategies to analyze the annotated scripts, research other perspectives on the issues, and develop policy statements. Fact-checking the resources helps promote critical thinking and may add balance to the discussions. Due to the controversial nature of some of the content, it's important for educators to cultivate a safe and nurturing environment that honors a variety of voices when diving into these resources.

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The Story of Stuff started with one video in 2007. Since then, it's grown into a grassroots movement focused on promoting smarter consumption, sharing, and community. The website includes the original video as well as several more that explain the process of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, disposal, and more. Most videos include FAQs and annotated scripts with extensive footnotes.

In addition to the videos, the site includes lesson plans targeting teens. A 10-lesson high school curriculum called, "Buy, Use, Trash? A Closer Look at the Things We Buy" was developed in partnership with the organization Facing the Future. The lesson plans include debates, mind maps, policy, systems thinking, and prompts for reflection on personal actions and goals. There are also similar curricula available that are tailored to both Christian and Jewish teens. The site includes an informative blog and other avenues for getting involved in the movement toward a more sustainable world.

From the videos to the blog to the reference info, the Story of Stuff provides some seriously engaging resources, especially for educators and students willing to dig deeply into the footnotes and video FAQs. It's an important starting point for understanding the pressing issue of consumption. The lesson plans (especially "Buy, Use, Trash?") are thoughtfully developed, compelling, and engaging for older students. The videos provide interesting starting points for students to tackle sustainability issues. Learners can use the supporting documents, such as the sources cited in the transcripts, to dive deeper into the research processes.

The Story of Stuff is an engaging launchpad for developing the research skills that CCSS demands -- but know that teachers will have to layer on their own standards alignments and classroom connections. The content invites discussion, and the site's developers could do a better job deploying interactive tools and ideas for integrating the tools into the classroom. However, this shouldn't stop educators from initiating the conversations with their students and checking out the stellar resources scattered throughout this extensive site.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Carefully crafted videos and graphics entice users to dig deeper into the Story of Stuff. The information is difficult to ignore or forget.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Videos include annotated scripts with extensive research that backs up the claims. Lesson plans are available targeting high schoolers, as are faith-based lessons for Jewish and Christian teens.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The site offers support and encourages interaction through the blog, a Citizen Muscle Bootcamp, and carefully crafted curriculum.

Common Sense Reviewer
Jason Shiroff Classroom teacher

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