Making climate education accessible for teachers

Issue: Volume 103, Number 3

Posted: 13 March 2024
Reference #: 1HAfXX

To understand and address the challenges of a changing climate, the next generation need a strong foundation of climate literacy. Education Gazette unpacks how a week-long environmental education programme is connecting teachers with subject experts to build this foundation and become agents of change alongside ākonga.

Delegates on the BLAKE Inspire for Teachers programme conducting a Marine Metre Squared rocky shore survey.

Delegates on the BLAKE Inspire for Teachers programme conducting a Marine Metre Squared rocky shore survey.

Since 2019, the BLAKE Inspire for Teachers environmental education programme has seen more than 250 teachers and educators build their knowledge and confidence to inspire the next generation of kaitiaki in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Each of the week-long programmes brings together a new group of enthusiastic teachers for hands-on learning activities. Field trips and workshops across the wider Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland area weave lessons, resources and practical activities that cover mātauranga Māori, climate change, biodiversity, freshwater and marine science topics.

The programme is designed to provide teachers with a range of new learning tools and build confidence to deliver environmental education. Part of the week focuses on climate education. 

Climate change may sometimes be seen as a difficult subject to teach or discuss with students, often due to its complexity. However, the BLAKE Inspire for Teachers programme is trying to demystify that thought and empower educators to deliver meaningful learning experiences about climate change with their students. 

Climate change is interdisciplinary, and the programme provides a holistic context, teaching about the water cycle, carbon cycle, ecosystems, and exploring how these processes interact with each other, and with human activities. 

Field-based and broad

Deputy principal of Arahoe School Vanessa Jansz says the professional development opportunity has got her excited to improve in teaching and hands-on learning.

“As a novice in teaching environmental studies, it provided a robust foundation and opportunities for us to springboard ideas to develop climate literacy. 

“Already having a global view of the nature of science, BLAKE Inspire helped me foster a connection with like-minded colleagues who were keen to make a difference, and also between my knowledge of making informed and responsible decisions to empower students concerning actions that affect climate,” says Vanessa.

A large focus during the week is field-based learning, and the field trips focus on sites within the same catchment area. 

By visiting streams, forests, and rocky shores within the same catchment, learners gain a holistic understanding of how these environments function and are interconnected. 

Ice blocks used for a sea level rise activity.

Ice blocks used for a sea level rise activity.

Activities during the week include playing a game where students become carbon atoms and move through the carbon cycle on a journey before and after the industrial revolution, demonstrating how carbon dioxide has increased in the atmosphere since the burning of fossil fuels began.

The programme also weaves numeracy and literacy into all aspects of the week. A practical experiment with blocks of ice is used to test what happens to the water level when the ice melts. 

Imagine these blocks of ice are ice sheets, or ice bergs, what would happen if they melt? Does the sea-level change? The activity is a great way to introduce different types of ice around Antarctica.

Science and problem solving

Partnering with NIWA, a package of climate and weather resources for teachers, called Rangi, are also taught as part of an activity to learn about Aotearoa New Zealand’s weather and climate patterns. 

Kaiako experiment with a plastic bottle, warm water and matches to make a cloud in bottle.

Kaiako experiment with a plastic bottle, warm water and matches to make a cloud in bottle.

One of the experiments, using a plastic bottle, warm water, and matches (with adult supervision) makes a cloud in bottle. As the bottle is squeezed and released the pressure changes, the changing air pressure allows clouds to appear and disappear.

Several games that have been developed by NIWA are also introduced and can be played online. These games get people thinking about climate-related impacts, and how they may need to adapt. One game allows participants to make decisions about their coastal property and how they may need to adapt to sea-level rise.

Knowledge generated from these climate activities can empower students to consider science as a tool for problem solving, and perhaps look at ways their school can reduce its impact.

When talking about using the climate resources at school, Vanessa says with the context of the 2023 floods, it was timely when understanding climate variability and comparing human-induced vs natural climate change and its impact.

“Our vision is ‘empowering our students to access the future’ and it certainly improved learning through observation, modelling, and being challenged by new and improved studies. It made us reflect on how well we know the curriculum and look to seek support from the community.”

A particular highlight of the week for many participants is an interactive policy simulation. Representing a range of different stakeholders, groups negotiate and lobby to elected leaders and key interest groups to try and get the best outcome for their company, advocacy group, or party. 

The simulation puts participants into the shoes of various stakeholders, and encourages them to make deals, compromise, and have trade-offs to try and reach a tangible outcome for all the different groups. 

Using the arts to inspire environmental literacy

In 2023, the BLAKE Inspire for Teachers programme introduced an art activity that builds on environmental themes from across the week. 

Art is an effective medium and creative way to connect with the local environment and natural world. It is also a great way to teach sustainability, through recycling, and reusing materials.

Vanessa Jansz has been applying the art activities at Arahoe School, saying students are most creative through art. 

“Their perception, understanding and interpretation of learning shared collaboratively sparks their success.”

Drawing inspiration from activities during the week, three art exercises included eco-printing using leaves and flowers, building clay models of creatures in coastal rocky shore environments, and building a pepeha box.

Clay models of creatures in coastal rocky shore environments.

Clay models of creatures in coastal rocky shore environments.

In the eco-printing activity flowers and leaves are arranged in different patterns on paper and rolled up using recycled pipe; after 20 minutes of simmering in red cabbage water, the patterns are revealed.

Using air dry clay, rocky shore organisms were built and modelled from the marine metres squared activity earlier in the week. Rocky shores have fantastic colours and creatures, so there is plenty of creativity designing the organisms. Particular attention is given to the adaptations the creature needs to survive in the rocky shore.

“One of my highlights was the clay modelling session of the metre-squared activity and I couldn’t wait to share it with my son, the staff at school and students,” says Vanessa.

“As I sat calmly with my students, I figured that art has a way of communicating complex messages as we connect emotionally and intellectually, modifying our art piece based on the shared learning and feedback.”

Building a pepeha box by using a cardboard box template, participants built and painted their maunga, awa or moana. Crafting a personal pepeha box supports ākonga to connect to their whakapapa and wairua, which provides a connection back to the whenua, awa and moana. 

Natural or recycled materials that resonate with the pepeha of the designer could also be used in the design process.

Applications for 2024 are open

The BLAKE Inspire for Teachers leadership development programme in Auckland is fully funded by the Ministry of Education.

Applications are invited from teachers keen for deeper understanding of environmental issues. 

Delegates engage in experiential learning at locations ranging from large companies to predator free sanctuaries and marine reserves to discover practical ways to lead kaitiakitanga in their schools. 

Teachers with no experience in environmental education but who are keen to upskill are also encouraged to apply. 

For more information and how to apply, visit: 

Blake Inspire for teachers – Blake NZ website(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:18 pm, 13 March 2024

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