Tagged: Sustainability

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.

6th World Environmental Education Congress, Brisbane, 2011

Between the 19th and 23rd of July, I had the great privilege to be able to attend the WEEC Conference, held at the Brisbane Convention and Entertainment Centre. I was invited to participate in a workshop by RMIT University, who were part of the School Community Learning Partnerships for Sustainability research project which included Hawkesdale College and 17 other schools on Victoria and Queensland. Our school was one of the case studies, identified as a successful example of school-community partnerships that work towards education for sustainability.

The conference was inspiring, challenging and dynamic, with academic researchers, teachers, government representatives and other stakeholders in environmental education from all over the world. I met people who had attended the 4th WEEC in Durban when I was there four years ago and made some new connections with like-minded educators. One of the highlights was meeting a couple of ladies who work in conservation education in PNG, who explained that, instead of the usual two coffee seasons in a year, a warmer climate has resulted in three or four harvests per year. Which means more money for highland communities, but it also means that some children are taken out of school to help with the coffee picking and more money is spent on alcohol. In addition, mosquitoes are becoming more prevalent in the highlands, due to the changing climate, which has brought malaria into areas that previously were free of the disease.

Another story I found very moving was from a keynote speaker from the Carteract Islands, which are being inundated with seawater as the sea level rises. They have built levies, but the soil is salty and many of the farmers can no longer grow their subsistence crops. So most of the men on the islands have moved to the mainland to find work and left their families behind. In some cases, the only men that visit are from the fishing boats that pass by. Significant numbers of young women on the islands have become pregnant and been disowned from their families, giving birth alone in the city hospital. When a particular young girl was given some money to buy some clothes for her baby, she did not return, leaving the baby in the hospital, because she had no means to look after it. This was a harrowing story and just one example of the unexpected social costs of climate change.

The conference was a timely and informative opportunity to discuss the national curriculum “Earth and Environmental Course” with experts in Education for Sustainability from many different countries and levels of education. On Monday I have been invited to review of the second draft of this course, and I attend with the knowledge gained from the WEEC conference, including perspectives from around the world, and the confidence to put forward my opinions.

Last week we have also had meetings with representatives of the Moyne Shire and AGL Energy, regarding the Macarthur Wind Farm Project – the ‘largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere’ being constructed about 14km from the school. We are proposing a partnership that will provide opportunities for site visits, incursions by expert speakers, work experience, traineeships, apprenticeships and perhaps annual scholarships for students to complete tertiary studies in renewable energy technologies, environmental engineering or similar. There are several large projects planned for the Moyne Shire and surrounding areas, including the Origin Energy gas-fired power plant near Mortlake and another proposed for Tarrone, the Penshurst and Ryan’s Corner wind farms and “Hot Rocks Ltd” are exploring possibilities for geothermal energy in the Hawkesdale and Koroit areas. I am keen to explore opportunities for corporate links and believe that school community partnerships can enhance student engagement and learning outcomes.

Maths In Nature

fibonacci sunflower

Photo Source

Maths is often considered boring or difficult by many people, but I am looking forward to showing this video (Nature by Numbers) to my Year 6/7 students after the holidays – it captures the simple beauty of maths in nature, using magnificent images created by Cristobal Vila. Thanks Denise, our art teacher at Hawkesdale, for this link. Another friend, colleague and mentor (Marg) has sent through a link to an article about Learning Media, a New Zealand company who produce web resources and CD-roms with interactive learning experiences for students, suitable for the NZ and Australian curriculum.

Another interesting link came through from the Victorian Association of Environmental Education, to an article by Sue White, “Teaching for the Future“. This article outlines Sustainability initiatives in a couple of great Australian schools and links to teacher’s resources. Victorian schools now have a two week break, with Easter in the middle, before returning for Term 2. I will be busy planning Maths, Science and Biology classes, as well as preparing for the Ultranet, an Education Department initiative to “connect students, parents and teachers” with a “21st century, online learning platform”.

ResourceSmart Biodiversity Awards

Hawkesdale P12 College was nominated in Sustainability Victoria’s ResourceSmart Awards this year, for the work students have done during the year to promote biodiversity within and beyond the school. Many of the primary classes have contributed to the vegetable and herb gardens, as well as learning about the importance of water to living things. Year 7 students designed and constructed a “Bush Food, Fibre and Medicine” garden using indigenous species valued by koorie tribes. Year 7 students also particiapted in the Waterwatch program, which gave them the opportunity to identify aquatic macro-invertebrates and complete habitat surveys. Year 9 students repotted woolly tea-tree seedlings for the Orange Bellied Parrot Recovery Program and planted over 1,500 trees, shrubs and grasses at two locations (along the Port Fairy Rail Trail and along a creek at Greenills, Minhamite). Year 11/12 students completed quadrat studies at the Hawkesdale Racecourse Reserve and monitored nesting boxes that have been installed to prevent infestation by feral species.

Over 70 school were nominated for the awards and we were succesful in becoming finalists in the Biodiversity section, although we did not win the overall prize. Students have enjoyed the ‘hands-on’ nature of the program and become aware that theuy can make a difference in their ‘own patch’. I travelled to Melbourne with eight students who were very excited to be part of the awards ceremony and experience a day in the city. We took the opportunity to visit the Melbourne Aquarium, which has a diverse range of exhibits from the giant Murray cod and deep sea crabs, to tiny fluorescent jellyfish and colourful anenome fish. Thanks to Firestarter Ltd and other sponsors who supported the event, which was a magnificent show case of the sustainability work being undertaken in schools around Victoria.

On Borrowed Time

Photo Source

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”.

Youth Food and Thought Mela

Carlos Zorilla

Today we welcomed a group of international visitors to Hawkesdale College – guest speakers from India, America and Ecuador. Mela is a sanskrit word for large gathering, festival or celebration. These visitors have come to Hamilton to participate in an international,  intercultural event; and we had the  opportunity to hear international community activists, researchers, scholars and practitioners talking about the sustainability of local communities across the world. Their presentastions were about the practical local responses to food production, climate change and a sustainable future.

“Carlos Zorrilla is the founder and executive director of DECOIN – a grassroots non-government organisation dedicated to the conservation of the cloud forests of the Intag region of northern Ecuador. Carlos is a 30 year resident of the region, and has dedicated his life to the pursuit of ecologically sustainable human inhabitation of one of planet earth’s most important biological niches. He is an active promoter of critical water-shed projects, organic crops, a shade-grown coffee cooperative, eco-tourism, and economies built around local production and consumption. Carlos has lectured at universities in Japan, Canada and the United States. He has presented before the OECD in Paris on corporate ethics, and is recognized as one of the world’s leading ecologists.” Carlos showed a powerful presentation about the local community response to a copper mine in Ecuador. You can help Carlos here.

Robin Nicholas, a Health and Safety expert, worked in the computer room with the 9/10 ICT class. He has produced video and print media for a diverse range of employees in different industries. He explained to students how to draw together ideas for stories about a town or farm and how to produce a profile of themselves.

 “Venkatesan Kaviyarasan (Kavi) is a mushroom expert, a professor of mycology from Madras University, Chennai, South India. Kavi spends much of his life, when he is not teaching, identifying and protecting fungi species for biodiversity and sustainabilityn of fragile environments. He works with local communities in the Tamil Nadu area, and particularly with a tribal community whose livelihood has been impacted by large-scale resource extractions.” Kavi spoke about his relatives and friends, people who live in a small group of villages that have been affected by deforestation and mining.


“Thangavelu Vasantha Kumaran (TV) is a Professor of geography and head of the Geography Department at Madras University, Chennai, South India. TV has done substantial research and community work, particularly in areas of traditional ecological knowledge systems, sustainable development and community development planning in South India. He has also conducted several workshops and training programs on issues relating to the fields of medical geography, natural resource management, geographical information systems and their applications in water resource analysis and management; particularly irrigation and irrigation management, and community development planning.” TV spoke about how the village temple is the centre of the community in India, where religous ceremonies are frequent and colourful. Town planning documents over 3,000 years old have dictated the pivotal importance of the temple.