Cashing in on cross-curricular opportunities for social good
22 June 2023
Improving financial literacy was the major educational mission of what was a multi-purpose market day in Botany
Marlborough is home to many industries that rely on the land and sea, such as viticulture and aquaculture. An environmental sustainability course at Marlborough Girls’ College gives students an opportunity to take a hands-on approach to environmental challenges in the region.
The cross-curricular environmental sustainability course at Marlborough Girls’ College has been taught as a combined Year 12 and 13 course since 2018. Since then, a teaching team has seen the programme go from strength to strength.
The Year 12/13 course is based around five areas: conservation, farming, marine, school and viticulture.
“We know that students need to understand what sustainability is. We know there’s an issue with the decline in biodiversity. Yes, there are issues with climate change, but the decline of biodiversity is bigger in my mind; they go hand in hand,” says Melynda Bentley, who leads the course.
Originally primary school-trained, Melynda switched to teaching secondary school science in 2014 and is quite comfortable with a student-led cross-curricular programme, co-designed and co-constructed with students.
“We designed our Year 12 and 13 course so that in the first six to eight weeks, there are guest speakers and field trips. Everything is based around sustainability and the theme of ‘Marvellous Marlborough’.
“The students then choose the sustainability issue they are interested in. We encourage them to go for their passion because it is all student-led. Year 12 and 13s can work in the same group but they work on different assessments for two terms.”
If teaching like this for the first time, Melynda suggests keeping the Year 12s and 13s separate, so you can understand the process first.
“We have a structure for them to work through where we focus on the learning and then we bring back NCEA standards at the end. If you’re teaching that way you’ve got to know your standards and where it fits, because that’s how you can guide them,” she explains.
Students learn a myriad of skills that go well beyond science. For example, they might hear a range of perspectives on a trip with a Māori eco-tour to a commercial salmon farm in the Marlborough Sounds.
“We’ll have a guest with one opinion and then another guest negates it. We talk about it afterwards and we break that down. When they are doing their projects, especially Year 13s, they have to find out those perspectives. They interview different people, find out what they think and bring that into how they design their actions. It’s powerful stuff,” says Melynda.
Mentors from the community are happy to be involved and occasionally involve friends or colleagues from further afield. Melynda says people who work in environmental fields can deal with lots of negativity and are often refreshed by the enthusiasm and positivity the students bring.
“In our first year  we had a team of students who wanted to focus on our marine environment and form a marine reserve in the Marlborough Sounds. Through this process, and our coastal scientist from Marlborough District Council, two university professors who are involved with the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge came on board.”
The eight students (the marine team) looked at previous management of the Marlborough Sounds and argued there was an urgent need for better protection.
“They proposed a new way forward – a collaborative group of different stakeholders with powers to protect and manage the marine area,” says Melynda.
They drafted special legislation and won support from the Marlborough District Council to present it to then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who spent 40 minutes discussing the issues with the students on a trip to Marlborough.
The marine team won the marine section of the Cawthron Marlborough Environmental Awards in 2019.
The winning citation said: “They’ve worked with the community, coastal scientists, university academics, the media, and Cabinet ministers to create political pressure and raise awareness about the Marlborough Sounds. The judges were impressed by their persistent and game-changing approach and congratulate the college for encouraging students to look beyond the classroom and connect with the broader community.”
After the marine study was complete, many of the students took up opportunities such as attending the Sustainable Seas national science conference, presenting their work to the Nelson Conservancy, and a whale watching trip to Kaikōura hosted by the Department of Conservation (DoC).
Through a board scholarship, Melynda had the opportunity to learn about ecosystem-based management (EBM), a holistic and inclusive way to manage marine environments. Students can use the principles of EBM as a tool in the course. While it originated overseas, a version unique to Aotearoa includes Te Tiriti o Waitangi articles and mātauranga Māori.
“EBM is a way we could be managing marine space, but you could apply those principles on land. Our students understand collaboration and getting ideas from different perspectives, but this gives them a structure to work within to make environmental decisions. It’s a really good tool to use, especially when they’re making a decision about their action,” explains Melynda.
She argues that many environmental policies are ‘set and forget’, and designed to address a broad-brush stroke issue which may have become out of date.
By using EBM as a guideline, she hopes her students can develop more flexible solutions.
“EBM is designed so that you might make a decision in a particular area, for example part of the Pelorus Sound. That decision and how you manage it might be different for the Queen Charlotte Sound, depending on the ecology and what the issue is.
“Monitoring is understanding what’s happening with ecology. While you are monitoring, if things change, you will change the way you manage it – that’s adaptability. The beauty of it is that it’s tailor-made for the environment to suit the conditions, not bureaucracy.”
Ākonga interest in marine environments has continued through the years. In 2021, another team of students collated all the work done in 2019 and looked at values.
“They said the sea doesn’t have a voice, animals don’t have a voice, plants don’t have a voice. All the policy legislation is about people and their voices. The students said, ‘Hang on – turn it around!’”
The students presented a document to the Mayor and the Marlborough District Council coastal scientist seeking inclusion of te taiao values in their policies. They also included mātauranga Māori, wairua, mauri and te ao Māori concepts in their proposal.
Further marine studies have included underwater noise monitoring, studying microplastics in the ocean, and monitoring and collecting rubbish. This year a group is looking at the impact of overfishing in the Marlborough Sounds.
“They are looking at kina barrens and restoration, and they have been working with another Sustainable Seas Science Challenge project. If you get a lot of overfishing, kina populations boom, eat all the kelp and there’s not a lot of life. So how do you restore that back? That’s a big problem in the Sounds,” explains Melynda.
Students are also learning about environmental impacts in their own backyard, which includes Fulton Creek on the school’s boundary.
“Each year the Year 12s and 13s learn about climate change. Our Year 13s go and monitor the creek. They have to understand what kind of habitat a kōura would like to live in, then they have to decide if it’s a creek that’s suitable for kōura to live. If it is, what do you have to do to maintain it? If it’s not, what do you have to do to make it suitable for them to continue to live there?”
Year 12 students have visited local orchards and farms to observe how sustainable practices affect the environment. With viticulture being a key industry in the province, two students ran a public meeting last year on the impacts of spray drift.
“They ran it with Beth Forrest from Forrest Estate Wines, and Edwin Massey from Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) was their mentor. The students wrote what they wanted to say and one of their mates, who’s a good speaker, spoke for them. About 30 people attended, including parents, teachers and some people from the [wine] industry. It was hugely successful.
“They brought up some really interesting issues and some of the wine industry people are taking it back to think about how they operate,” says Melynda.
In 2021, a Year 9 and 10 programme was introduced to provide a link to the Year 12 and 13 course.
The Year 9 programme, Mountains to the sea, Ki uta ki tai, covers the landscape from Lake Rotoiti, across the Wairau Plain to the sea. The course, which is co-taught and incorporates science and social science, is designed using EBM principles.
Melynda explains that they start this process off with a scenario where ākonga have a challenge.
“There are three possible sites for forestry development. They’ve got to decide which site is suitable and why. We haven’t taught them anything – it’s based on their own prior knowledge, and they give their reasoning and rationale.
“Then after we’ve taught them about the science, the ecology, mātauranga Māori, kaitiakitanga, human impacts and different perspectives, we give them the scenario with all the information. Every person gets a card, they’re told which person they are (scientist, iwi rep, tourism operator etc.). That’s their role and they act like that person. So, they have a robust discussion and then they come up with an agreement on how to manage this area,” says Melynda.
The Year 10 Mountains to the sea, Ki uta ki tai programme is similar but focuses on environments under the water. A Year 11 programme is currently in development.
As a progress outcome by end of Year 10, this links to Te Mātaiaho | the refreshed NZ curriculum under Te tūrangawaewae me te taiao | Place and environment. Under the ‘Know’ context, students should understand how the suitability of places for living in is influenced by natural and cultural factors; the ways in which people and communities enhance or damage suitability is influenced by the resources they have available to them and by their values and perspectives; how climate change and environmental degradation are impacting inequitably on different communities; and how groups are responding locally and internationally as they work towards environmental justice.
“We want these students to aspire to the Year 12/13 course, but they need to have the knowledge to apply the knowledge. You can’t just get Year 9 and 10 ākonga to plant some trees. They’ve got to understand why they are planting the trees: What’s the science behind it? Why does this area need replanting? What was it like before? They have got to understand the past and the present to go forward to the future,” says Melynda.
The environmental sustainability course can take a while to grow on students, laughs Melynda.
“The bonus of having the Year 12s and 13s together is that I tell the students it’s going to be hard, but they will get there and the Year 13s back me up. It’s scary for Year 12s, probably because it’s student-led and while we still have a structure and a process, they can’t always see the connections as they go through. But I sit and work with them to ensure they’re on the right track and I say, ‘Just trust me’.”
Melynda remembers one student who struggled with writing and had not shown much interest in environmental studies.
“She was in tears, gave me a big hug at prize giving, and said ‘You’ve changed my life, Miss’. She’s doing an environmental course at university.”
Another student aspired to be a baker but was keen to take the environmental sustainability course.
“She was in the first marine team. She went on to do a degree at Canterbury University and she’s just done a summer scholarship with the Cawthron Institute looking at sea grass.
“My challenge to students is, ‘This course is not about converting you. This course is about whatever career you go into. If you ever get an opportunity to make a decision, think about our environment, think about our ecosystems. The decisions you take make a huge difference no matter what job you’re in’. If we can do that with our students – wow!” concludes Melynda.
It was the last Friday of term 2 when Education Gazette dropped in to take photographs and see the environmental sustainability course in action. A group of Year 9 students came to show us their Mountain to Sea posters. Then the Year 12 and 13 students found their project groups and the discussion and mahi began.
Year 12 students Chloe and Zayla are researching the amount of merino wool in garments labelled as merino.
“We want them to stop putting plastics such as nylon and polyester in merino garments and calling it merino,” says Chloe.
MacKenzie, Lucy and Grace (all Year 12) have been testing and collecting data about invasive oxygen weed in Fulton Creek on the school’s boundary. The Year 10 programme has been involved in riparian planting and Year 13 students have been involved in monitoring the creek since 2018.
“We want to ask Council to stop spraying the creek and use more sustainable methods in controlling the growth of the weed,” explains Grace.
“Next year our action will be putting weed mats across part of the creek to see if that will stop the growth and allow native plants to be established,” she says.
Jessie, Year 13, took the environmental sustainability course in Year 12. She studied the human impact of mussel farming.
“Last year we researched the sustainability of mussel farming within the Marlborough Sounds. We found that mussel farming is mostly sustainable but does need improvements in areas such as mussel buoys floating away and rope breaking away and polluting our ocean, along with the use of a large amount of diesel to harvest the mussels. We also found there has been a large decrease in the number of wild mussels growing throughout the Pelorus Sounds.
“Taking this course has inspired me to study environmental science next year to further my understanding of our impact on the Earth and ways we can fix this at a number of different levels,” she says.
Chloe, Year 12, is studying a QE2 wetland on the Ōpaoa River.
“Joanna who runs the wetland is my mentor. We went there and and tested the water for water clarity.
I want to dive deeper into the wetland and do a bio-blitz observing all of the flora and fauna, looking at reducing invasive species,” she says.
Mentor Eric Jorgensen was on hand to work with a group on marine protection. After working in the corporate world, he returned home to Waikawa, near Picton. Concerned with the degradation of the marine environment in the Sounds, he set up the Marlborough Sounds Integrated Management Trust to encourage agencies to work together and build cohesion around the issues in the local community.
Eric has been a mentor in the course for four or five years and is currently working with Year 13 students Jessie and Maddie, who are looking at ways to sustain biodiversity on Titi Island. Their group includes some students from Marlborough Boys’ College who are seeking perspectives from local iwi, Ngāti Kuia, on customary fishing in the area.
“It’s one of the best things I do, without question,” says Eric about his mentoring role.
Read more about environmental education, climate resilience and sustainability in our series on Education Gazette online(external link).
Find out more about the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge and ecosystem-based management at sustainableseaschallenge.co.nz(external link).
BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, email@example.com
Posted: 9:40 am, 13 July 2023
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