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Primary Education News
News Putting the planet in pupils' own hands: ideas on student-led green lessons
From running workshops for primary pupils to promoting recycling in school, a secondary in Worthing is using the power of student voice to teach green lessons
Teaching pupils about green issues and the effects of climate change is a bit like teaching the proverbial frog in the pond about the vast ocean - a topic so far removed from their own direct experience that it is easily dismissed as irrelevant or ridiculous.
So how do you engage students in lessons about the melting ice caps and the destruction of the rainforest when outside the classroom window it's several degrees below zero, snowing and their only reference point for the destruction of the natural world is a Hollywood disaster movie? For St Andrews Church of England High School for Boys, Worthing, the answer was to give pupils a voice and pass them the baton of responsibility for saving their own planet.
Geography teacher Louise George created the school's student voice group, Sustain, four years ago. It now has 10 members dedicated to raising awareness of environmental issues, including protecting the climate, nature and, ultimately, ourselves.
"The best way to teach about environmental issues is to get the students involved; engage them, challenge them and give them responsibilities beyond normal boundaries. They need to feel that they are can make a difference," she explained.
But the year 9 and 10 pupils are not just switching off lights and unused computers. They're taking responsibility for teaching their younger peers and the wider community that going green really does matter, not just for polar bears and far flung Amazonian tribes, but for all of us, now and in the future.
These student eco warriors regularly hold workshops about renewable energy for year 5 and 6 pupils at primary schools. They also hold Fairtrade coffee mornings at their own school, opening their doors to the public, as well as the local mayor, MP, shop owners and Fairtrade steering group. It's an opportunity, George explains, for the pupils to convince the community that sustainability is not just about the farmers in the least economically developed countries, but also about preserving rainforests and ultimately protecting our planet.
George said: "I try and get outside guests in to talk to the students so that they are aware what is beyond the school gates and that people do care. For example, we were lucky enough to have a visit from Misozi Tembo, the communications officer for British Oxfam's programme in Zambia. She works in the areas of economic empowerment, essential services and gender equality. We managed to secure her for a whole school assembly and to talk to one of our GCSE classes.
"A representative from Oxfam also ran three one hour workshops with one of my year 9 classes on the subject of farming and feeding the world.
"Tackling this global subject is always going to be a battle but I feel at St Andrews we are making progress and things are improving. Students need the chance to take on projects and run with them. Our future is in their hands, so let's listen to them to see how they want to educate their peers, but we also need to get more involved as teachers and lead by example."
But there's more to St Andrews' student voice group than pupils preaching on a soap box. It's about direct action and making the little changes which can make a big difference.
"Each Sustain meeting consists of project catch ups, going about tackling specific problems that have been brought up by other students and sometimes voting on what we think we could improve about the school on a budget," explained year 9 student Dan Colbeck.
"We recently won £500 through a WWF poem competition and we have voted to spend some of the money buying some plants for the school grounds that will attract bees, butterflies and insects. We have one student and teacher tasked with completing that and hope it will be valuable to our outdoor classroom which has already been built. We're also researching whether having a battery recycling point in school is possible.
"We encourage staff and students to reuse, reduce and recycle waste and have recycling points in every classroom and around the school. We have placed energy saving posters in classes and are trying to encourage staff to switch off equipment not being used. We also took part in a national 'switch-off fortnight' where we had student energy monitors awarding teachers for teaching lessons without interactive whiteboards, lights and computers."
He added: "Every Sustain member is passionate about the future. We believe the future generations should not suffer from our selfishness and greed."
Another Sustain member, year 9 pupil Sherry Shafique, says the student voice group was influenced by an RE lesson on Buddhism, embracing as its philosophy the religion's idea that making small changes to your own environment can have a cumulative effect on the wider community.
Sustain student Ed Soal said: "I am interested in changing things because I know the impact the changing environment will have on all of us. However, I do know that first I need to start at a local level at school and change the minds of the young that are to mould and be our future.
"The best way to teach about the climate is by having group discussions, as it shows different people's views on the topic and how to reduce global emissions."