How Success Works

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“How Success Works” is an ideal lesson to teach what EcoTipping points are and how they work within the context of science, social studies, or English classes at any grade level. This lesson is based on five flagship cases. While each case deals with a different environmental topic, all the cases display the same basic ingredients for success. Students watch a short video about one of the cases to introduce the idea of decline and restoration. They read a short narrative for each case and identify ingredients for success in that story. They review the ingredients with a teacher-led PowerPoint,or they review independently using Student-Centered PowerPoints. The same case can be used to understand the vicious cycles driving decline, and what it takes for an EcoTipping Point lever to overcome the vicious cycles. Then students see how vicious cycles are transformed into virtuous cycles that drive restoration.

All of the materials are easy to modify for the needs of your classroom. Below is one way to approach this multi-faceted lesson! Most instructional materials include the following:

  • Suggested Procedure (Lesson Plan)
  • Narrative Handouts
  • Ingredients for Success Handouts
  • Feedback Diagrams (Vicious Cycles)
  • Student Worksheets
  • Teacher Keys
  • PowerPoint Presentations
  • Short Video

The cases can be used individually or as a group, depending on teaching goals. Once students have been introduced to the main ideas, they can also explore the cases independently through Student-Centered How Success Works PowerPoints.


Suggested Procedure for “How Success Works”

The lesson plan below provides a full menu for use from primary school to high school. Depending on the grade level and the unit of study that provides the context for a lesson, teachers can pick and choose from the steps below, tailoring the style of the lesson to the circumstances and changing the order of some of the steps if they wish. For example, if a lesson emphasizes “systems thinking,” it might proceed directly from a video or narrative handout (Steps 3-4) to feedback diagrams for that success story (Steps 8-9), and then create a “negative tip” feedback diagram for an issue that students identify from their local scene (Step 11), covering Ingredients for Success (Steps 5-7) later if desired. A very simple lesson, appropriate for primary school, might proceed directly from a story (Step 3 or 4), and reviewing the story, to exploring briefly what might be done about a local problem.

Step 1: Have students write a journal responding to the following prompt:
“Think of a time when something you or your family cared about was falling apart, or falling into decline (You can give examples: friendships, a project, a class, a job…) What did you do to try to turn things around? Did it work? How or how not? Do you think doing something else might have worked better?”

Step 2: After students have written their journals and shared back with the class, introduce the idea of communities being in decline, or falling apart, because of their relationship with their environment. Explain how these communities must change in order to sustain themselves, but knowing what to change is rarely clear or simple. Tell students that you will use the experience of a community that turned things around, from decline to restoration and sustainability, to learn lessons about what it takes to achieve that kind of success.

Step 3: Show a short video on one of the success stories to quickly introduce students to the basic concept of EcoTipping Points. The Apo Island case is a good choice to start. It is a compelling story with a simplicity that clearly reveals the basic concept. An effective way to introduce the video is to briefly:

  • Explain the story setting and what will happen during the “negative tip” portion of the video, emphasizing what set decline in motion and what changed during decline.
  • Ask students to watch for what the people in the story did to turn things around (what they did first, what they did next, what they did after that, and so on).

After seeing the video, students can work in small groups to list what the people in the story did first to turn things around, what they did next, and so on. The entire class can then go over it together. If the lesson will be continued in further detail, the teacher can tell students now that they understand what an EcoTipping Point is, they will look closely at a success story – perhaps the same as the video or perhaps another story – to identify the ingredients for success in that story and determine how decline was reversed. If the story selected for further study is a new one, the video for that story can be shown at this time, or it can be shown at the end of the lesson to pull the lesson together. The New York City community gardens story is a good one for American classes.

Step 4: A narrative handout can also be used for the selected story. There are two levels of the narrative available: a short version and an extended version, depending on the level of your course. The student worksheet comes with frontloaded vocabulary. Review the vocabulary with them to improve student comprehension and introduce key concepts of human ecology. It may be useful for students to underline those words when they read them. The vocabulary is also useful for assessment.

Step 5: Pass out a copy of the “Ingredients for Success” handout and review the meaning of each ingredient. There are two levels available: a short version and an extended version, depending on the level of your course. They come with frontloaded vocabulary for student comprehension. It may be useful, as you go over each ingredient, to ask students to share real life examples of what that ingredient might look like. This will help them, later, when they try to identify those ingredients in the case studies.

Step 6: Either individually, or in groups, have students read a narrative handout for the story and write bullet points onto their Ingredients for Success worksheet, listing examples of events, actions, or conditions in the story that they associate with each ingredient for success.

Step 7: When students have completed their work, it can be reviewed as a whole class with the teacher-led Ingredients for Success PowerPoint presentation. The PowerPoint presentation has comprehensive bullet-points that can be used as is or modified to meet your needs. On each slide there are also several photographs to help illustrate the information. There are also additional background notes for the instructor on the notes section of each slide, as well as the Ingredients for Success Teacher Key, which describes examples of each ingredient in the selected case. If you prefer to use a PowerPoint without any pre-written notes on the slides as your point of departure, an editable slide show (with photo captions in the notes section but no text on the slides themselves) is available for your use.

Step 8: After students have seen success in action, they can learn systems thinking to understand what drives decline, how turnabouts from decline to restoration work, and what drives restoration. Explain the following ideas:

  • Tipping point – A “lever” (i.e., an action that sets dramatic change in motion).
  • Negative tip – The downward spiral of decline.
  • Negative tipping point – The action or event that sets a negative tip in motion.
  • Positive tip – The upward spiral of restoration and sustainability.
  • Positive tipping point (also called EcoTipping Point) – The action that sets a positive tip in motion by leveraging the reversal of decline. An EcoTipping Point is typically an “eco-technology” (in the broadest sense of the word, such as the marine sanctuary at Apo Island or community gardens in New York City), combined with the social organization to put that “eco-technology” effectively into use.

Step 9: Pass out a feedback-diagrams worksheet for the students to map out the vicious cycles driving the negative tip in the story, and the virtuous cycles driving the positive tip. There is also a Teacher Key for feedback diagrams with notes for teachers. Fill out the “negative tip” diagram together, noting the negative tipping point, drawing arrows between boxes, and writing the direction of change (increasing or decreasing) in each box. Then, turn to the “positive tip” diagram. After noting the EcoTipping Point as a starting point, let the students fill out the “positive tip” diagram on their own, and review the results as a class. Students should understand that they are not expected to come up with diagrams identical to the Teacher Key. While most of the arrows showing “what affects what” are obvious, others are a matter of interpretation. When students compare their “negative tip” and “positive tip” diagrams, they will discover that:

  • One portion of the “positive tip” diagram is identical to the “negative tip” diagram,” except change is in the opposite direction (i.e., transformation of vicious cycles to virtuous cycles).
  • The rest of the “positive tip” diagram is new virtuous cycles created by the positive tipping point. Those virtuous cycles help to lock in the gains.

Feedback diagrams look complicated at first glance, because most of us are less accustomed to looking at cause and effect cyclically. But students of all ages catch on very quickly. After you have gone through one worksheet together, most students find it no more difficult to understand than the basic cause and effect diagrams they already know. This diagram is just cyclical instead of linear!

Step 10: While this lesson plan suggests how to teach one success story at a time, the lesson can easily be modified to teach the stories collectively. For instance, small groups could be designated to identify the Ingredients for Success in different stories and then teach the “Ingredients for Success” PowerPoint for their story to the class. Students could jigsaw the stories, or use the Student-Centered How Success Works PowerPoints to explore the cases independently. For each of the How Success Works flagship cases there is an editable PowerPoint slide show containing photos about the story. These PowerPoint files contain no bullet points or other text information on the slides themselves, but in the notes section of each slide there is a caption that briefly describes the photo and its role in the story. These Student-Centered How Success Works slide shows can be used for any level of K-12 and beyond as a base for students to explore and teach a success story within the parameters of their grade level and the teacher’s content focus and desired outcome. Students can build their own presentations for (a) teaching other students about the case, (b) using the photos as background for a creative retelling of the community’s experience, or (c) another task that suits the specificity of your classroom. The notes already in the slides can serve as a guide for students to research additional information from that case’s video, written narratives, “Ingredients for Success” PowerPoint, and feedback diagrams.

Step 11: The same procedures that were applied to investigating EcoTipping Points success stories can be applied to an issue that students identify from their local scene:

  • Students think of issues, involving things in decline, and select an issue for EcoTipping Points analysis.
  • They prepare a “negative tip” feedback diagram for the issue to clarify what is driving decline.
  • They examine their “negative tip” feedback diagram for elements that could be modified to set positive change in motion. They brainstorm possible actions (i.e., EcoTipping Points) for leveraging the change.
  • They run through the Ingredients for Success to consider how each ingredient might contribute to making the actions more effective, and they devise additional Ingredients for Success that could be helpful for dealing effectively with their issue.

As with lessons built around EcoTipping Point success stories, it is not necessary for students to follow all of the steps above when exploring a local issue. They can focus on feedback diagrams, Ingredients for Success, or both.


Case Studies for How Success Works

Marine Sanctuary: Restoring a Coral-Reef Fishery (Apo Island, Philippines)

A marine sanctuary at Apo Island in the Philippines set in motion community fisheries management that reversed a vicious cycle of destructive fishing and depletion of fish stocks, restoring the island’s coral reef ecosystem and rescuing a fishing village’s livelihood and wellbeing. Apo Island’s success has inspired 700 other fishing villages to establish marine sanctuaries.


Green Guerillas: Revitalizing Urban Neigborhoods with Community Gardens (New York City, USA)

Community gardens in New York City reversed a vicious cycle of urban decay, crime-ridden empty lots, neglect, and population flight, while producing food, flowers, and wildlife habitat. These gardens nourished the bodies and souls of 800 neighborhoods, and inspired urban community gardening across the nation.


Reversing Tropical Deforestation: Agroforestry and Community Forest Management (Nakhon Sawan Province, Thailand)

Agroforestry and community forest management in Thailand reversed a vicious cycle of deforestation, watershed degradation, expensive agricultural inputs, debt, and population exodus. Community action simultaneously restored the local forests and ecological health of the watershed, securing people’s livelihoods with sustainable agriculture and reducing carbon dioxide emissions due to deforestation.


Water Warriors: Rainwater Harvesting to Replenish Underground Water (Rajasthan, India)

Traditional rainwater catchment dams in India reversed a vicious cycle of depleted aquifers, dried-up wells and rivers, fuel wood depletion, agricultural decline, and population exodus in an area the size of Delaware. This traditional technology was replicated in 800 villages and brought back water, trees, wildlife, family breadwinners who had sought income elsewhere, and a healthier life for the people.


Non-Pesticide Management for Agricultural Pests: Escaping the Pesticide Trap (Andhra Pradesh, India)

“Non-Pesticide Management” by cotton farmers in India employed ecological pest control methods to reverse a vicious cycle of pesticide resistance, heavier pesticide use, human pesticide poisoning, debt, and the highest suicide rate in India. This ecological technology has spread throughout Andhra Pradesh state, restoring household budgets and human health along with birds and insects that provide natural pest control.

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