7988 Social and Environmental Education 1
Assessment 1 (Essay):
What makes an effective HSS teacher in the area of SUSTAINABILITY within early childhood education?
In order to understand what makes an effective Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) teacher in the area of sustainability, one must know what the word sustainability means. There are different descriptions on what sustainability and sustainability education is and what it does for students’ education. The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2010) claims, “sustainability is about reducing our ecological footprint while simultaneously improving the quality of life that we value”; while Reynolds (2012) adds that sustainability is about reducing our “negative impact on the environment, while improving the quality of life of our society”. Sustainability education is fundamentally about values, respect for others, including those of present and future generations, for the environment, and for the resources of the planet we inhabit (UNESCO, 2008); but the most common belief about sustainability education is that it “addresses the ongoing capacity of Earth to maintain all life” (ACARA, n.d.; ACARA, 2012). This paper will address why sustainability is included in HSS education, the many educational matters related to teaching sustainability in early childhood, and cite evidence in support of the many facets that create an effective HSS teacher in the area of sustainability.
Australia has an international reputation for leading-edge education for sustainability practice (DEWHA, 2009), and includes it within the HSS framework as a cross-curriculum priority; although evidence in the early childhood sector has “been slow to take up the challenge of sustainability” (Davis, 2005) with the new national curriculum, this is slowly beginning to change. HSS “provides content that supports the development of students’ world views, particularly in relation to” the access and use of the Earth’s resources (ACARA, n.d.). So it stands to reason that sustainability would be a logical inclusion into HSS education. ACARA (n.d.) states that education for sustainability “develops the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary for people to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living.” They add that it also “enables individuals and communities to reflect on ways of interpreting and engaging with the world”, which are important needs of the present (ACARA, n.d.). This engagement is achieved by creating “a renewed and balanced approach to the way humans interact with each others and the environment” (ACARA, n.d.). Sustainability, a cross- curriculum priority in the Australian Curriculum (AC), is focused mainly on 3 topic areas: Systems, World Views, and Futures (ACARA, n.d.).
Effective sustainability educators will teach students: about how all life forms are connected to the earth, and how sustainable patterns of living rely on healthy ecological systems; to recognize that individual and community actions for sustainability rely on that of the local, national and global levels (ACARA, n.d.); and that an effective environmental education for sustainability curriculum provides the knowledge and understandings, skills, attitudes and values, and opportunities for participation and action that will help students to create a sustainable future (DEH, 2005).
Teaching these skills and attributes at an early age is crucial for creating “a more ecologically and socially just world through informed action” (ACARA, n.d.), because as students begin to understand the role of ethical principles, values and virtues in human life, acting with moral integrity, acting with regard for others, and having a desire and capacity to work for common good, they begin to develop ethical behavior and become well-informed citisens. (ACARA, 2012). Early childhood students develop understanding of the changes in environment over time, and the roles played by individuals and communities or the overuse of natural resource and the rise of environmental movements (ACARA, n.d.). It is important to note that the reason that these ideas and skills are taught at the K-2 sector is because “it is important for young children to learn to listen to other opinions, and respect others as well as to respect one’s self and express one’s own thoughts. It is also important for children to experience that their voices are heard and dealt with in a respected way” (UNESCO, 2008). It is also important to start teaching sustainability in early childhood because “young students are curious about their personal world and are interested in exploring it” (ACARA, 2012), and as stated before,
Kimberly Hall U3071645 SOSE Essay Extended Assessment 2
teaching students early on will ensure a well-informed citizen in the future because with guidance “even very young children are able to critically respond to environmental issues” (Davis, 2005). Furthermore, “sustainability should begin very early in life” (UNESCO, 2008) because at the K-2 sector children are developing their basic values, attitudes, skills, behaviours and habits” (UNESCO, 2008).
The AC’s draft Geography document (2012) emphasizes inquiry-based learning and teaching, and suggests opportunities for student-led questioning and that investigation should be provided at all stages of schooling. This method commonly results in the use of informal assessment, a tick mark sheet marked with abilities or knowledge achieved, almost achieved, or not. On the other hand, formal assessment is common in this area and is achieved by assessing the completion of projects and activities. Either way, an effective sustainability education teacher will utilize these essential teaching strategies and “the basic characteristics of curriculum planning to promote environmental education for sustainability” (DEH, 2005). This basic characteristics would include: ensuring that the key concepts of sustainability are clearly identified and coordinated wherever they appear in the curriculum and are reinforced through all key learning areas (DEH, 2005); ensuring that the students’ prior understandings are identified and inform the planning process (DEH, 2005); enabling all students to relate to their surroundings as a frame of reference and ensuring that content is relevant to their own lives (DEH, 2005; ACARA, 2012); adapting the curriculum in response to change and developments in the wider world; and ensuring that the curriculum matches the needs and interests of students and monitors and evaluates their learning from the beginning of their education (DEH, 2005). As part of Professional Practice, it is important for an effective teacher in sustainable education to include a variety of strategies that engage students in their learning (AITSL, 2011) by framing questions, evaluating the findings of investigations, guiding decisions and planning actions about environments, places and communities (ACARA, 2012). A range of techniques are available that encourage students to “explore environmental issues, generate possibilities and look for possible answers or solutions” (DEH, 2005). An effective sustainable education teacher in early childhood needs “to provide opportunities for divergent, multidimensional thinking” (DEH, 2005), and should relate all teaching plans to Bloom’s revised taxonomy table, which includes a range of higher and lower order thinking categories such as: creating, evaluating, analyzing, applying, understanding, and remembering (Tarlinton, 2003). Effective teachers of environmental education for sustainability should also recognise and respond to the four dimensions of the learner: reflective and deep thinker, ethical and responsible thinker, connected learner, and autonomous learner (DEH, 2005), because these emerging challenges are imminent. (DEH, 2005)
The teaching strategies related to sustainability education are vast and varied, but a preferred way for teaching sustainability and organizing the experiences within an environmental education program is to use the about, in, for framework (DEH, 2005). Education about the environment focuses on students’ understanding of the basic concepts and theories first (DEH, 2005; Kershaw, 2013). Education in the environment involves placing students into the environment and in direct contact “with a beach, forest, street or park to develop awareness and concern for the environment” (DEH, 2005; Fleer, 1998) in order to create an emotional connection in the students hearts (Kershaw, 2013); including fieldwork at all stages of the curriculum is an essential component of geographical learning (ACARA, 2012). This strategy, considered to be founded by great theorists like John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and
Jean Piaget (Miettinen, 2000), is called experiential learning, sometimes called ‘learning by doing’ or ‘hands on’, a strategy which is usually attributed to Vygotsky and Piaget for their kinaesthetic focus (Kershaw, 2013), “engages students in constructing knowledge, skills and values from direct experience and in contexts that are personally relevant to them” (DEH, 2005). Examples of this strategy include making toys from recycled items or paintings that show students’ understanding and solutions to real world problems (UNESCO, 2008). Education for the environment aims to promote a willingness and ability to adopt lifestyles that are compatible with the wise use of environmental resources (DEH, 2005) by having students create or participate in a sustainable project which Kimberly Hall U3071645 SOSE Essay Extended Assessment 3
promotes concrete actions in favour of the environment (Kershaw, 2013; UNESCO, 2008). This can be achieved by using the inquiry learning strategy, which “encourages students to respond to their own concern or curiosity and to investigate and act on an environmental issue” (DEH, 2005), because according to educational change theorist, Michael Fullan it only takes a small number of actions that help create deep-level change (UNESCO, 2008). Examples of this strategy in the K-2 sector would be to collect food scraps for composting for a school vegetable garden or flowerbed (Fleer, 1998). Further project ideas on lessons in sustainable education, found in the Sustainability Curriculum Framework (2010), are: ways humans care for themselves, others and for other species (DEWHA, 2010); how children all over the world are working for sustainability and the reasons why it would be valuable to link up with them (DEWHA, 2010); local plants and ecosystems that provided food for first Australians (DEWHA, 2010); and, identify and give reasons for change in objects, places and behaviour over the immediate past (DEWHA, 2010).
It is essential for teachers in the sustainable education area to engage in Professional Engagement and continually pursue professional development (AITSL, 2011)by reading articles on sustainability, attending workshops and seminars on environmental education, and seek advice and constructive feedback from supervisors and fellow teachers to improve knowledge and practice (AITSL, 2011). A story written about the Sustainable Planet Project (SPP) held in Brisbane, Queensland in 1997 that “led to enhanced play spaces, reduced waste, lowered water consumption and improved biodiversity” (Davis, 2005), promoted active citizenship in young learners, and led to tangible environmental outcomes (Davis, 2005), is an example of how reading journal articles on sustainability can promote professional development in teachers. Within the SPP article, Davis (2005) states that the staff involved used reflection, regular attendance of conferences and workshops, the undertaking of courses to upgrade qualifications, networking through professional associations, and actively seeking visitors to the centre who can share expert knowledge, team planning sessions where issues of curriculum and pedagogy are regularly discussed and debated as examples of their pursuit of professional development. Davis (2005) goes on to suggest that both “formal and informal approaches to professional development have generated a ‘grass roots’ collaborative learning culture which supports learning for the children, teachers, families and the community at large”.
It is clear, therefore, that to be an effective early childhood teacher in the area of sustainability one must pursue professional development in order to gain up-to-date content knowledge in sustainability education, and utilise vast and varied strategies and effective methods for teaching sustainability education. In conclusion, this paper has proven that sustainability education is an essential part of early childhood HSS teaching because it constructs varying benefits for the teacher, student, and local community involved. This paper has also found that there are many facets involved in creating an effective early childhood teacher in the area of sustainability, which includes strategies and effective methods for teaching, such as experiential learning, the use of higher and lower order thinking, and inquiry-based approaches.
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