Category: Sustainability

Actions for Earth Global Youth Summit

In January 2014, VCE Environmental Science students have the opportunity to participate in a four-day international conference in Singapore, the “Actions for Earth – Global Earth Summit”. The “Actions for Earth – Global Youth Summit” is a youth-led global platform for students to network, discuss and initiate innovation for sustainable solutions to protect children, fresh water and the natural environment from further destruction. The theme, “Waste Not” empowers young people under the guidance of environmentalists, educators, entrepreneurs and researchers to collaborate locally and globally to plan and implement innovative initiatives to overcome the natural environment challenges. We would like our students to have the opportunity to share their learning and achieve collective knowledge construction by attending this conference.

In order for our students to participate in this valuable learning experience we are seeking financial assistance. Including flights, conference registration, meals, accommodation, transfers and travel insurance the cost will be $2500 per student. We have received a generous sponsorship from AGL Energy Limited – Macarthur Wind Farm, that will enable ten students to participate, with each student contributing $500. However, we have eighteen students enrolled in VCE Environmental Science in 2014, who would like to attend. I genuinely believe that our rural students would receive enormous benefits from travelling to Singapore and participating in this exciting event, including developing an international perspective on sustainability, meeting and working with students from a variety of cultures and experiencing a very different way of life to rural SW Victoria. It will be a memorable experience that will benefit their VCE learning by opportunities to learn about ecologically sustainable development, waste management, renewable energy and environmental management.

If you can assist me to provide this wonderful learning experience for my VCE Environmental Science class of 2014, I (and my students) would be very grateful. I have posted the project on the new crowd-sourcing site for education in Australia, @ProjectEdAust. You can contact Hawkesdale P12 College at (03) 5560 7225 or use my email at brittgow (at) gmail.com.

 

National Curriculum for Senior Science: “Earth and Environmental Science”

I write to you having just returned from the Australian Science Teachers Association annual conference, held in Canberra over four days. This was a fantastic opportunity to hear about contemporary science in action from experts in a variety of fields. However, my observations and discussions over the past few days have been of great concern with respect to the state of education for sustainability in Australia.

I have been the member of several expert panels to provide feedback to ACARA regarding the national senior science curriculum for “Earth and Environmental Science“. Only one of these meetings was attended by equal numbers of stakeholders with experience in contemporary Environmental Science teaching – all other meetings have been dominated by geologists, earth science advocates and others with very little understanding of contemporary education for sustainability. ACARA’s framework is that there should be four senior secondary science courses, of equal cognitive demand. However, I believe that Earth and Environmental Science, although they have been taught together historically, cannot be deemed equivalent to the major sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics).This belief is detailed by Prof. Annette Gough who writes as follows: “Environmental education cannot and should not be confined by the conventional curriculum jigsaw frame – the jigsaw needs to evolve as the field continues to evolve and our understandings about the environment and sustainability evolve.” (Gough, 2011)

One of the arguments against a separate Environmental Science course is that education for sustainability is a cross-curricula priority, as demonstrated in the Foundation to 10 national curriculums. However, until the ideal of an environmental ethic underpins the “whole curriculum and indeed the life and practice of the school and educational system…. environmental subjects need to exist to exemplify what environmental education is” (Fensham, 1990 p.18). In addition, until students with sufficient understanding become teachers, or those teachers are supported by free and convenient professional development, the enacted curriculum will be quite different to the written curriculum, as teachers will teach what they know best from an overcrowded, content-heavy document.

The EES course arose through ACARA and the Federal Government from lobbying by principally NSW and WA, the mining industry and environmental groups that a course in addition to physics, chemistry and biology should exist to cater for the “fourth” traditional science of Earth Science. It was thought this would satisfy everyones needs as the 4 “science disciplines” were covered. Therein lies a major concern, teaching authorities and schools grab whomever is available to teach courses such as EES, that requires a multi disciplinary approach, a broad understanding of the systems involved and whom are missing part of that knowledge base, so teach to their respective strengths and in so doing do not give a full account of the course material.

To clarify, this is my understanding of a contemporary education for sustainability:
“Education for sustainability is a critical component of 21st century learning, to allow our future leaders to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will allow human society to develop in ways that meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their needs. In addition to the content knowledge of the way that the earth’s systems work, students also need opportunities to engage with the issues of how humans impact on their environment and how these impacts can be reduced. They need to be able to think critically, be ethically and environmental aware and have the knowledge and ability to participate effectively in decision making. Contemporary education for sustainability should prepare students to live and work in ways that minimize their impact on the planet that sustains us – they will need to be able to engage in the debate about carbon emissions, understand the life cycle of products they consume and make choices about the energy and water they use and the waste they produce. An Environmental Science course should include aspects of all the other sciences and Maths, including evaluating evidence and developing communication skills.”

Due to global scientific research into climate change over the past few decades, we have a vast amount of information and the development of new techniques to investigate issues such as the greenhouse effect, ocean temperatures, currents and acidification, measurement of biodiversity and changes in biotic distribution, renewable energy technologies, carbon sequestration, the effects of land use changes etc. It is crucial that we provide students with the opportunity to investigate these issues so they can be informed and aware global citizens. These issues, and more mentioned at “Science Teachers for Climate Change Awareness“, are vitally important to the understanding of climate change. They are very appropriate, if not indispensable, for a senior secondary science curriculum. By attempting to combine the traditional earth science course with these new areas of environmental science, we have a very content-heavy curriculum that cannot be taught in sufficient depth to engage students. Teachers attempting to balance the two will have great difficulty providing opportunities for students to investigate, analyse, synthesize and evaluate the key concepts in a two year course. Hence, parts that teachers have less understanding of will be omitted, in favour of areas that teachers have current experience with.

In addition, I believe there is a conflict between the philosophy and values of advocates of these two sciences. Students selecting an Earth Science course may be primarily interested in careers such as geology, engineering and mining – of course they should also have an understanding of erosion, pollution sinks and sources and land rehabilitation. Students selecting an Environmental Science course, in my ten year experience (confirmed by the Victorian Association of Environmental Education VCE Teacher’s network) are passionate about conservation, wildlife, renewable energy, effects of pollution and sustainability issues. These students are interested in careers in the emerging “green collar” sector. It is time that we put students at the centre and give them opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills to realize their goals of working towards a sustainable future.

It seems to me that the majority of teachers in all other states, apart from Victoria and Tasmania, have a strong bias towards Earth Science, due to the prevalence of mining industries in those states. Extensive free professional development opportunities have been provided by the mining sector in those states, enabling a high level of expertise in the earth sciences and consequently a focus on earth science and the search for and extraction of finite resources. My deep concern is that these same stakeholders do not have the same knowledge of sustainability issues that enable them to provide a balanced and contemporary education to our future leaders. In addition, many of the stakeholders have a vested interest in the status quo, in terms of textbooks, employability and convenience. For example, the textbook for “Earth and Environmental Science” in WA is sponsored by Woodside Petroleum and the ESWA (Earth Science Western Australia). This text has 19 chapters – 16 of which are traditional earth science topics and 3 that include climate change, ecosystems, human activity and biodiversity. In addition, the Minerals Council of Australia and Teacher Earth Science Education Program (sponsored by Exxon Mobil, Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia, Australian Institute of Geoscientists and the Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists, amongst others) provide free or low-cost professional development.

Popular media has also influenced attitudes of the vast majority of Australians, ranging from the dismissive to the blatantly skeptical of the dangers of human induced climate change, biodiversity loss, human population issues, salinity, waste, an economy based on finite resources and more. This destructive influence is documented by Keith Burrows in his presentations at VicPhysics. It is the responsibility of science teachers, who have the knowledge base to understand climate change and the communication skills to explain it, to increase community understanding of this most crucial issue.

If these concerns are of interest to you, you may like to give feedback to ACARA, either by registering and completing a survey or by email, with a cover sheet. More information at the National Curriculum Consultation site.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this lengthy appeal. I hope I have made my concerns clear and that you can offer some advice as to what actions can be taken to inform ACARA, the State Science Associations and relevant Curriculum Authorities of these important issues. I look forward to discussing this with you, if you have the time and the willingness to engage in what may be a battle against the odds, but with morality on our side.

Junior Landcare Conference in Lorne

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We are just back from our three day trip to Lorne, via the Otway Fly Treetop Walk and the Great Ocean Road, where we saw two mother-and-calf pairs of Southern Right whales. My own calves are still aching from the 47-metre climb to the top of the Otway Fly tower, where you can view through the treetops of the mighty mountain ash, native beech and blackwood trees to the forest floor of tree ferns and bracken.

Our students presented their very entertaining “Flash News” multimedia presentation with confidence and good humour and then attended two other “kids-teaching-kids” workshops in different groups. Some of the presentations included “What’s cute, grunts like a pig and needs our help?” (koalas), a school restoring their local creek, a giant snakes-and-ladders board game and an interactive drama about a picnic by the river.

Today we participated in hands-on environmental activities including:

  • building nesting boxes
  • investigating macro-invertebrates with Waterwatch
  • testing salinity with Estuary Watch
  • indigenous games
  • netting in the Erskine River
  • weed removal and tree-planting
  • recycling – how and why?
  • Rock-pool ramble

The post-conference reflection session allows students from each school to express their thoughts for the future – what they can do differently in the future to improve their home and school. The conference aims to give students opportunities to connect with their environment and with their peers, and instil a sense of hope and optimism for the future. By the end of this year, 15,500 students will have attended a Riverhealth/Environment conference, since their beginnings in Mildura in 1999. These students are our future decision-makers and hopefully they will spread the sustainability message in their homes, schools and communities for many years.

Arron Wood, the managing director of Firestarter Ltd, heads a team of passionate environmentalists who are dedicated to “environmental and educational credibility, applied and innovative work commitment, respect for social responsibility and the choice of ethical projects only”. Arron has just recently started blogging (Arron’s blog), so drop by and give him some encouragement to continue comunicating using this media by commenting on your experiences at Lorne.  Let Arron know what you learnt at the conference, what you enjoyed most and how the conference will affect the way you think, feel and act in the future.

Human Toll of Climate Change

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Reece Rushing and Sarah Dreier have produced an interactive world map that provides scientific information about the threats faced in different parts of the world due to rising global temperatures. Scientists project more frequent and severe natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires; the spread of infectious disease such as the West Nile virus; rising sea levels that could wipe out coastal cities and towns; and declines in crop production and fish catches.

The map is compiled from a variety of sources, and plots this information geographically to show areas of concern. To view this information, select the desired category or categories from the key beside the map. This will display icons on the map in locations where scientific research indicates there may be problems. Click on an icon and a box will appear providing relevant data, as well as the source for the data.

Climate Change refugees

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These children are from the Carteret islands, a few hundred kilometers north east of Papua New Guinea. “The Carteret Islanders are amongst the world’s first ‘environmental refugees’. An entire cultural group is facing relocation due to the impacts of climate change. The islanders have fought for more than twenty years against the rising ocean, building sea walls and planting mangroves. However, storm surges and high tides continue to wash away homes, destroy vegetable gardens, and contaminate fresh water supplies. On November 24, 2005, the Papua New Guinean government authorised the evacuation of the islands, 10 families at a time, to Bougainville. The evacuation started in early 2007 and this could continue up until 2020, depending on how inhabited the islands remain. It has been estimated that by 2015, the Carteret Islands could be largely submerged and entirely uninhabitable. Carteret Islanders are on the frontline of climate change.” You can find out more at: http://www.tulelepeisa.org/

You are invited to the Café Regal (Warrnambool, Victoria) on Sunday December 14th at 3pm for a public forum where Ms Ursula Rakova, spokesperson for the Carterets community, will share the story of her family and their home. Gold coin donation kindly requested.

Climate Change and Poverty


Kenya, 2007
Kenya, 2007

“The impact of climate change will fall disproportionately on the world’s poorest countries….Poor people already live on the frontlines of pollution, disaster and the degradation of resources and land. For them, adaptation is a matter of sheer survival” Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

We passed many of these charcoal sellers on the side of the road during our trip to Kenya in 2007. Women, with no other way of earning an income, would walk far into the bush and collect wood. They would then arrange it in a pit and burn it slowly, covered with soil. This makes the wood lighter to carry and quicker to set alight when used in cooking fires. They would then stay with their bag of charcoal until they could sell it, often to passing safari travellers, before they walked home again. The irony is, that by burning the wood, they are destroying habitat for the animals that the safari tourists are coming to see, and without the animals and therefor the tourists, many would not make a living.

By supporting these women in small business (perhaps with a sewing machine, art materials or a solar cooker) we can improve the lives of whole families and contribute to the solution to environmental degradation.

Watch this YouTube video “The Girl Effect– the powerful social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate in their society. “]

The Climate Project

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Helen Lane, trained by Al Gore to deliver the Climate Project presentation, attended Hawkesdale P12 College today and spoke to over 100 of our students from year 6 to year 12. She presented the most up-to-date scientific data about carbon dioxide concentrations and corresponding temperature increases as well as amazing images of our beautiful planet. She was one of the 170 people sponsored by the Australian Consevation Foundation to spend two days with the ex-vice president of the US, learning about climate change. Helen spoke about how climate change may affect us and our children in the future and how we, as individuals, can make a difference.

On Borrowed Time

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Similar to my last post, this is another on-line resource for learning how to manage our environment. The CSIRO has developed two interactive eco-challenges for students, under the heading “On Borrowed Time”. You can play the role of a farmer managing a sustainable farm while still making a profit or be a forest ranger balancing the needs of five vulnerable species while preserving the jobs of local people.

There are four inquiry-based teaching and learning units (Adaptations, Forests, Fire and Farming) each with English, Maths and Science activities. David Lindenmayer has based this learning resource on his book titled “On Borrowed Time”.

National Science Week and “Catchment Detox”

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We have all heard about the tragic state of the Murray/Darling River Catchment and the challenges faced by the government and community to restore it. Can you develop the skills necessary to assist river catchments? This year’s project for National Science Week (August 16th to 23rd) is called “Catchment Detox”, where you are challenged to develop and maintain your own catchment area. It’s an amazing online game where you manage a virtual catchment and try balancing three basic factors: the health of the environment, the economy and population growth.

The game is designed to help Australians better understand and manage the environment we live in. Starts Saturday August 17th at http://www.catchmentdetox.net.au/.