Author Spotlight: Nansi Kunze – Make the Future! Hands-On Sustainability Lessons
Hands up if you think what students do in class should be relevant to their lives as a whole!
Yes? How about this, then: Do you think class work should include critical thinking and practical skills? Should it address multiple learning areas wherever possible? Should it allow for a range of developmental levels, group and independent learning, and community engagement? Should it provide students with tangible, useful evidence of what they’ve learned?
Excellent! I see we’re on the same page. Now, just one more question … do your students feel they can change the world around them for the better?
Sadly, very few of us could answer “Yes!” to that one. As adults, it can be difficult enough to maintain the belief that we can enact positive change. Children – lacking the rights and financial power of adults – feel even more disempowered. After reading some research that highlighted how many school students care deeply about their world, and yet feel powerless to solve any of its problems, I decided to do something about it. The result is the Make the Future! Hands-on Sustainability Lessons series.
I worked on the series with three main guidelines in mind. The first was that the resources should be easy to implement in the classroom. Primary teachers had told me they were keen to incorporate the Australian Curriculum’s Sustainability cross-curriculum priority into their classroom practice, but that knowing exactly how to do that was difficult. To this end, I designed each book to consist of a set of topic pages, each introducing a concept, followed by worksheets that help students transform that concept into practical skills and actions. For example, a Year 2 food waste topic leads to an allergy-friendly recipe that uses up leftovers and a worksheet to help students design their own waste-reducing recipes. Teachers don’t need any special knowledge of sustainability issues to use the resources, as all the information is contained in the topic sheets and teachers’ notes.
My second guideline was that Make the Future! should be genuinely empowering and positive. The existing resources I found in schools seemed to be saying: “Sustainability? Well, it’s a Humanities topic, isn’t it? Pollution, cutting down trees, that sort of thing. What can students do about it? I don’t know … make a poster, I suppose!” I used a different philosophy to shape my approach: the Sustainability Curriculum Framework’s statement that “sustainability is about reducing our ecological footprint while simultaneously improving the quality of life that we value”1. I chose STEM-rich topics and activities from seven learning areas to demonstrate that sustainability is a concept that applies to many different aspects of life, from what’s in our lunch boxes to what we can do with that old pair of socks. When, for example, students know how to pack a yummy lunch that not only uses less water and produces less greenhouse gases, but also saves money and provides them with better nutrition, their ecological footprint is reduced and their quality of life is improved.
Thirdly, I wanted Make the Future! to be fun for students. I found that the hands-on element of many activities was an important aspect of this. Perhaps the most astonishing experience I had while trying out activities in class was seeing students who were struggling academically and behaviourally absolutely shine at making shopping bags from old T-shirts! Three years after I began this project, students who participated in my first classroom upcycling trials still come up to me in the yard to ask whether my outfit is upcycled, and if I can come and teach them to sew something else. I’ve tried to make every topic in the series have that potential to engage students’ interest.
So can primary students actually change the world? You bet. The research I’ve read over the last three years – United Nations reports, CSIRO papers, ABS statistics and much, much more – shows that a kid with a shopping list can reduce their family’s environmental impact more effectively than an adult with an electric car.
Hands up if you want to try it! I hope some of you will. I’d love to hear if Make the Future! helps your students have fun while they’re making the world a better place.
1 Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2010). Sustainability Curriculum Framework: a guide for curriculum developers and policy makers. Retrieved from http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/9b2e74ca-c909-4d57-bae3-c515c20957de/files/curriculum-framework.pdf