Climate change education ignites action

Issue: Volume 100, Number 14

Posted: 3 November 2021
Reference #: 1HAQvp

Climate change education is firmly on the agenda in Ōtautahi Christchurch. The Christchurch City Council has made it a priority to engage with and empower children, young people and their communities to take action on climate change, especially when it comes to sea level rise and adaptation.

 Maxi-Jae, Mia, Kate, Sylvie, Isobel, Flynn and Luke have all become passionate about the environment in their beautiful backyard.

Maxi-Jae, Mia, Kate, Sylvie, Isobel, Flynn and Luke have all become passionate about the environment in their beautiful backyard.

Just 20 minutes from Ōtautahi Christchurch, Ōhinetahi Governors Bay is located at the edge of two extinct and drowned volcanoes that formed Banks Peninsula and Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour. We arrive at Governors Bay School Te Kura o Ōhinetahi on a sparkling spring day via Lyttelton, snaking our way around hillsides, with craggy volcanic outcrops towering above.

The water is glassy, although the wind soon whips up waves, and the cranes of Port Lyttelton can be seen in the distance. Nature is at the doorstep of this tranquil seaside hamlet, where Margaret Mahy once lived.

So, it’s not surprising that the Year 7 and 8 ākonga from Kererū class became deeply immersed in a full year of climate change learning last year.

Climate change resource

The school in its beautiful bay with Lyttleton in the distance.

The school in its beautiful bay with Lyttleton in the distance.

We first caught up with Sian Carvell, educator and resource creater of​​ Huringa āhuarangi: Whakareri mai kia haumaru āpōpō I Climate change: Prepare today, live well tomorrow at South New Brighton School in issue 21, 2019. In 2020, Sian was contracted by the Christchurch City Council to work with 13 Ōtautahi schools in low-lying or coastal areas that would be impacted by sea-level rise as part of the Council’s Coastal Hazards Adaptation Planning Programme (CHAPP).

The Ministry for the Environment has asked all regions to start community conversations and planning around sea level rise and adaptation.

One of the ways the Council decided to reach out to those low-lying communities was through engaging with children and young people. Delivering the learning to the 13 schools in Ōtautahi was an opportunity for Sian and co-writer of the resource, Ken Taylor, a former director of science at Environment Canterbury, to work with ākonga and share their expertise and at the same time learn from young people.

Authentic place-based learning

Ange Rayner is kaiako of Kererū class and says she jumped at the opportunity to work alongside Sian last year, as the school, which recently became an Enviroschool, has a lot of environmentally passionate children.

Ange explains how quality learning experiences not only give children background knowledge, but they also support them to use that knowledge to empower them to make a difference.

“It doesn’t have to be the whole of New Zealand getting on board to stop climate change; it’s more ‘my one little project in Governors Bay can make a difference’.”

Because they became passionate about the environment, Ange says the mahi was really meaningful for them.

“It wasn’t just something they learnt about and then they moved on to another unit of work. They thought, ’Actually, let’s do something about this!’” explains Ange.

A highlight for the Year 7 and 8 students in 2020 was making a presentation to Christchurch City Council, including performing a song composed by Year 7 and 8 students, Kate and Sasha. So impressed was the Council that they offered funding for a video and song to be professionally recorded.

“That was a HUGE learning curve! I think very few primary school children would have the opportunity to go into a real recording studio and record a song with headphones and microphones – that was probably the best day of their lives. Other children were involved when the film crew came on site to film the video,” says Ange.

Ange Rayner says the climate change programme was meaningful for ākonga in her class.

Ange Rayner says the climate change programme was meaningful for ākonga in her class.

The song/video has been featured in several resources and is currently part of a Climate Change exhibition at Tūranga (Christchurch City Library).

Speaking out

Learning about the UN Children’s Convention and the right of children and young people to have a say was very empowering for the tamariki, agree Sian and Ange.

Ange says the children delivered speeches to Christchurch City Council, the Lyttelton Community Board, and at an Enviroschools workshop for teachers.

When asked what worries them about climate change, Year 7 and 8 ākonga agree that a lack of urgency amongst adults and feeling unheard are key issues.

“Parents and adults listen, but they don’t take very much action to do anything about it, because they think, ‘It’s your future, not ours’. The work we did last year made us feel like we had a voice,” says Zoe.

“People might not do anything about it and if it’s too late, there might not be any hope left,” says Sylvie. “I think the same, but I think that people won’t listen because they think either they can’t do anything about it and there’s absolutely no hope or chance of fixing it,” says Kate.

Big ideas in practice

While mistrusting the business motives of many adults, the ākonga did feel listened to when they made their presentations.

“Talking to Christchurch City Council was really important. When we said the port would be flooded in 30 years, they said, ‘That’s all our hard work going down the drain’. We felt that no-one was doing anything, but then we showed them the facts, laid it all out and it was a good presentation and I think that really opened them up,” says Flynn.

 “Sian has provided the environmental passion and I’ve provided the education passion to see these children take action and have a voice,” explains Ange.

“I’ve just led the inquiry process for them – ‘How are you going to do that? What do you need to do? Do you need to call in experts? What’s your BIG idea, what can you do to help that?’”

Ideas included researching how to encourage people to use reusable coffee cups at the local café, Harbour House, owned by one of the student’s mothers. The café also provides school lunches and after a lunchbox and rubbish audit, tamariki wanted the school to be plastic free. Now the café brings down school lunches in bowls and serves the food onsite, rather than using throw-away containers.

Ange sees great potential in continuing climate change education at the school in the future.

Sian Carvell, pictured with Flynn, Saori, Mia, Kate, Zoe and Sylvie, believes that knowledge about climate change empowers ākonga.

Sian Carvell, pictured with Flynn, Saori, Mia, Kate, Zoe and Sylvie, believes that knowledge about climate change empowers ākonga.

Science and maths

The ākonga enjoyed doing science experiments and activities. Ange says they provided many rich learning opportunities, such as investigating the differences in behaviour of salt water versus fresh water.

“We put blue ice blocks in the different water to see which melts faster. There are the science literacy conversations because we made hypotheses – and I was able to add in scientific language because of this programme. Then later, we learnt how to write up a scientific experiment,” she says.

“There was a lot of mapping – we looked at weather graphs and data for the past 50 years and predictions for the next 50 years. There was a lot of mathematical knowledge and skills being taught, such as graphing, analysing data, and reading tides,” she adds.

Harper, Bronte and Ryan in the school garden.

Harper, Bronte and Ryan in the school garden.

Respectful discussion

Whether it’s misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines, or climate change, Sian says it’s important that young people develop critical thinking skills and understand the importance of listening to different points of view.

Sian talks about the importance of meaningful connections, critical thinking and communication, adding that ākonga need to learn how to have respectful discussions, embracing different perspectives and how that can add to the discussion and subsequent planning and action, acknowledging that we’re all in this together.

“The other thing we reinforce is critical thinking around misinformation – ‘How do I know? What are the questions I need to ask? Where is this information coming from? Why are they getting in touch with me? What is their motivation?’ It’s not about telling children and young people what to think, it’s teaching them how to think critically and make informed decisions,” explains Sian.

Ange says it is important for ākonga to understand the science behind climate change and focusing on science has helped the children understand the ‘why’ of climate change.

“It’s taken away the fear and anxiety and a lot of that was from what they were seeing in the media and hearing from our generation about all the doom and gloom,” she says.

School-wide mahi

Principal Meagan Kelly says the whole school is involved with kaitiakitanga.

Principal Meagan Kelly says the whole school is involved with kaitiakitanga.

It’s not just the senior students who have become environmentally switched on. Principal Meagan Kelly says the Junior School is also very focused on kaitiakitanga.

“Rubbish in the ocean is a big concern for our students,” says Meagan. “We’re involved with Sustainable Coastlines and we do the Nature Agents stream analysis as well.

“Our Junior School are really focused on being kaitiaki, they’ve done a lot of work around composting, and a lot of planting for the birds in the area.”

Through the Enviroschools mahi, Meagan says the students looked at water in different ways such as water clarity and fauna they found in the stream, which tied in with the Nature Agent stream analysis.

“When we did the stream clean-up [Operation River Quest], we found stuff like cardboard, which was actually made of plastic. There were bits of metal and old tyres – I wondered how they got there!” shares Sylvan, Year 2, who is passionate about recycling.

“About 90 percent of the people at my school know that I like penguins. We went out in a boat but we didn’t really find any penguins. I worry a bit about the sea getting polluted,” says Arlo, Year 4.

An important aspect of the climate change mahi was a focus on people unifying for change and putting the ‘we’ into taking action as a global community.

“When ākonga say, ‘I’ve got knowledge, I can apply my critical thinking skills, I know my rights as a child, I’m ready to go’, Sian says, “how do we support them regionally and nationally to pick up those opportunities and run with them? How can we get science-based organisations and businesses invested and involved? Then, how do we reach out into the communities and families?”

Find out more about the students’ song and video. 


Governors Bay School video: ‘Fix it up’


Pūtātara – a call to action

Pūtātara(external link) is a resource that incorporates sustainability and global citizenship across the curriculum, and supports schools and kura to develop learning opportunities that are place-based, inquiry-led, and focused on participation for change.

Pūtātara also supports learners to explore concepts and issues that surround Te Tiriti o Waitangi, while building a sense of their own identity and acquiring knowledge of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga. 

Fresh eyes on climate change

In 2020, ākonga from Te Kōmanawa Rowley School in Ōtautahi showed their care and concern for the environment and won a Royal Society Te Apārangi ‘Days of Ice: Antarctica Through Fresh Eyes Tauira’ film competition.

The school’s Kererū 2020 team won the junior age category of the competition with a video that details the impacts of melting ice and rising sea levels on Pacific Island nations.

In the video, they discuss how climate change threatens loss of traditions, culture, ancestral lands and values in the Pacific and call on the public to take action to ensure that all the students one day have the opportunity to visit their ancestral homelands.


The school’s Kēreru 2020 team


Hopes for the future

Meagan Kelly with ākonga at Ōhinetahi Governors Bay.

Meagan Kelly with ākonga at Ōhinetahi Governors Bay.

Education Gazette asked tamariki from Governors Bay School about their hopes for the future, now they know they can make a difference.

Sylvie: My hopes for the future are that animals don’t suffer and everyone finds a way to help so it’s not just a few people.

Mia: My hopes for the future are that we could come up with something so the businesses that only care about making money are still making what they want, but doing it in a more sustainable way, and caring more about the effects it’s having on the environment.

Zoe: My hope is that lots more people take action with climate change so that it can get better, not worse. It feels really good to know that more people are learning about it and doing stuff about it.

Saori: I hope in the future that people find more sustainable and alternative ways to use electric cars and other things.

Kate: My hopes and dreams for the future are that people like us, who didn’t know very much before the programme, are lucky enough to have the opportunities we had. It gives you a chance. I wasn’t aware that we had to do something about it. I hope lots of people like us get the opportunity to share what they’re passionate about and get to go on strikes and do presentations.

Walking school bus

Year 8 student Luke was concerned about traffic in the area and surveyed the school community to find out if there was interest in a walking school bus. He made up a Google Form and sent it out to the school community.

Luke leads the walking school bus followed by Bella, Tom, Hugo, Kate and Maxwell.

Luke leads the walking school bus followed by Bella, Tom, Hugo, Kate and Maxwell.

“Lots of parents opted into it – it was really successful in term 1 and we’ll start it up again in term 4 when the weather is better. He mapped out where would be good points to meet,” explains Ange.

“That taught him how to create surveys, how to analyse data, how to read maps, how to write a formal letter, make a timetable. There’s literacy, mathematics, digital technology. There was heaps of incidental learning which came about because of an authentic context.”

Education Gazette asked Luke about the project.

What worried you the most about traffic in the bay?

I was worried about the numbers of cars coming to and from school and the impact this makes on our environment.

Why did you think a walking school bus would help?

I thought that reducing the number of cars making these trips would reduce the emissions and would help climate change.

How easy, or difficult, was it to set up?

It was easy to set up because I had others in my class helping me. We surveyed the parents and had an idea of how well this would be supported.

What did you learn from the project?

I learnt that parents liked to use their cars when it was wet in winter and that you need to have someone trustworthy to be in charge of the children.

What did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed being able to work with my friends to make this possible. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:25 AM, 3 November 2021

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