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Maybe we should have lobbied for wonder and not sustainability…

sun-dog-science-tent-IMG_25

“Why do you want to go back to the Arctic if it’s so cold and difficult?”

A very good question.

During a wonderful session with Hackney Pirates, an amazing after-school youth group, round the corner from the Digital Explorer office, I had recounted tales of life on the Catlin Arctic Survey, and this question caused me to reflect.

“Because on a still day the air is a cloud of fairy dust, like walking through a cloud of speckled diamonds, and when it snows cartoon flakes settle on your many layers of clothing, their perfect symmetry lasting a lifetime of seconds before dissolving. The light bends and shimmers, inverted rainbows cradle the sun and at night its never-setting rays turn the blown snow candy-floss shades. It’s a land of magic and mystery and nowhere else I have been compares.”

I am more careful now not to speak of the possible destruction of these fragile ecosystems when with primary school aged pupils. The schemes of work we now produce on the Arctic and soon the coral reef, leave the threats to the end. In this move, I have been much influenced by the work of David Sobel’s ‘Beyond Ecophobia’, George Monbiot’s ‘Feral’ and David Louv’s ‘Last Child in the Woods’.

During the hiatus of debate around the new curriculum and specifically the clamours for explicit teaching about sustainability, maybe we got it wrong. I don’t want to have to share today’s news of rapid decline in coral reefs or the Gazprom vs Greenpeace conflict in the Russian Arctic with primary school children and lay at their feet the burden of creating a better world.

I believe that there should be more place for wonder and that perversely, the new science curriculum, which many groups aimed to change (including Digital Explorer) provides these opportunities. With its emphasis on the local, on nature found in the school grounds, of growing and observing plants of understanding the life cycles of the creatures found under rocks or on the seashore, there is much we can work with.

It is unlikely we would have got ‘wonder’ into the curriculum, just as it was unlikely that sustainability would have been a core theme. But we have the chance now to subvert and support.

Subvert the proposed rigour into wonder and support all those primary school teachers in creating those moments of wonder for their pupils. Sustainability can wait and maybe the ‘adults’ could show some leadership before pushing the need to change on our children.

With all the talk of ecosystem services, do we lose track of magic? Let’s fight for wonder in the classroom.

Building a tech stack for global learning

Interesting event at the Institute of Education about global learning. It turned out to be a debate about development education and created a dichotomy between values and knowledge driven models. The discussion got into the nature of knowledge for a while and it was time to escape. My brain is too small to cope. So instead, I put together a few slides describing what I believe to be a minimum technology stack for global learning.

This is the basis for the model that Digital Explorer will be working to resource and provide CPD around. Thoughts, feedback and ideas appreciated as always!

This is apparently getting towards Education 3.0. Very exciting if you like that kind of thing.

Redesigning Education – initial reflections

redesigning-education

Another education event at the RSA, and another sense of disappointment. The Redesigning Education event launched the book of the same name, developed by the Global Education Leaders Programme . It’s all very interesting and all the best and brightest innovations and buzzwords are in there.

Collaboration, connection, use of educational technology, project based learning, teachers as designers of learning rather than imparters of knowledge were all there. I did like the special emphasis on mobilising demand.

It’s a good highlights tour of current educational thinking wrapped up in the moniker Education 3.0 (with Education 1.0 being about access, and Education 2.0 focusing on school improvement). I especially like the section on scaling and diffusion of innovation.

But somehow this greatest hits tour seems slightly skewed. Not enough attention is paid to the context of the 21st Century – access to resources (food, water, energy), population growth and increased material aspirations on a finite planet, post-industrial markets, the expectation of free online content, etc.

If we were to have a completely blank slate and the greatest minds how would they redesign the education system. As such, this is a useful highlighting of ongoing trends.

At Digital Explorer we are currently working on developing a #futureminds curriculum/model, interested in the different ways of thinking that young people will need to thrive.

  • How can we help young people develop compassion for themselves, their communities and the wider world?
  • How can we help young people understand that they live in an interdependent world, where their every day actions can have both negative and positive impacts on the other side of the world?
  • Lastly, how do we introduce the concept of delayed gratification into an instant world? The need to work hard, to save for a prolonged retirement(?), to act on environmental issues that may not see a result for 50 years?

It’s not that Redesigning Education won’t help, but the 21st Century context in terms of environment, demography and technology will require very different ways of thinking and coping, that will require a very different focus. Learning to think in new ways should be at the fore of a new design for education systems.

What would your experience curriculum include?

earthwatch-lecture

After an excellent event put on by Earthwatch, Why emotion matters in conservation science, it was a pleasure to talk about how we can help young people have an emotional relationship with nature and the especially the ocean.

‘J’ Nichols talked about a project in El Salvador, where every 10 year old releases a baby turtle on the beach. What an amazing experience, for every single 10 year old to have. And there is a buzz in the years beforehand, children anticipating this rite of passage and connection with nature and the ocean.

In discussions on the National Curriculum in England, we put into law what our young people should know. What would happen if we also enshrined in law the experiences that they are entitled to: spend a night in a tent in the wild, visit the sea, attend a service from a different faith background, grow food (and eat it!).

What would your experience curriculum include?

For the research on this, see the Cornell University study showing the link between adult environmentalism and nature experience before the age of 11. Maybe we should start lobbying for mandatory nature walks and camping for primary school pupils rather than climate change in the science or geography curriculum.

An educational challenge

Many of the debates in education are narrow and unimportant compared to the enormities of the challenges facing the planet and the potential future for humanity.

When will we stop listing the 50 best apps for something and consider the bigger questions? What is the best form of education for a planet that is finite, with a human population that is estimated to grow to over 9 billion by 2050? What lifestyle can future generations aspire to?

James  Lovelock ends ‘The Revenge of Gaia’ with an interesting educational challenge. More important than a MOOC?

What we need is a book of knowledge written so well as to constitute literature in its own right. Something for anyone interested in the state of the Earth and of us – a manual for living well and for survival. The quality of its writing must be such that it would serve for pleasure, for devotional reading, as a source of facts and even as a primary school text. It would range from simple things such as how to light a fire, to our place in the solar system and the universe. (more…)

Climate change education debate

Below is the transcript of a conversation I had with my incredibly precocious seven year old nephew. We were gathered for Easter lunch and he asked me about the debate surrounding the proposals for a slimmed down mention of climate change in the curriculum.

Peter: So, Uncle Jamie, tell me what all the fuss about this climate change education thing is.

Uncle Jamie: Well, Peter, there are plans afoot to give schools more flexibility to teach climate change in a way that suits them, and to reduce the explicit mention of how carbon dioxide affects the Earth system.

P: Hold on. Tell me more about this climate change malarkey.

UJ: Well, there is overwhelming evidence from a lot of scientists who say that by burning fossil fuels and various other things, that we are altering the behaviour of the climate system and that these changes could have catastrophic impacts on all life on the planet including humans.

P: Sounds bad. So what steps are being taken?

UJ: At the moment, we have decided to make the problem worse through basing our exit from this recession (we’ll have to leave that topic for another conversation) on greater growth and further exploitation of natural resources.

P: Are you telling me that, you are going to teach me that the world is completely up the creek in a few years’ time and adults have decided to make the problem worse and you want to tell seven year olds about this? That’s a bit of a downer.

UJ: I know, I know. There are a lot of people who feel that the best way of dealing with this issue is to tell you how bad it is and do nothing about it. Makes complete sense, no?

P: But I read all these articles in the newspaper. It reminds me of the Christmas pantomime. “Humans are causing irreversible climate change.” “Oh no they’re not!” “Oh yes they are!” I thought you were supposed to be the adults in this situation.

UJ: Yes. I can see how this might be confusing. There is an issue of natural variability and various other trends to take into consideration, but seeing as you’re seven, we think that the best thing to do is to teach you the “Oh yes they are” bit, and leave out the reasoning and the reasons why the “Oh no they’re not!” people aren’t right.

P: Still, it’s a bit of a downer, putting all this responsibility for saving the world on the shoulders of a seven year old.

UJ: I see. You may have a point there. What would your ideas for this be?

P: I think you have to consider three areas: rigour, agency and stewardship [I did say he was precocious]. I think that the best place to start would be stewardship, then agency and finally rigour.

UJ: Can you go into these three areas in a bit more depth?

P: Certainly. By stewardship, I mean the values and skills needed to look after the natural environment. This could be anything from planting and caring for a tree in the school grounds; monitoring a rock pool and cleaning up litter; or being a junior warden for a local park or wild place. I imagine that you’ve read the 2009 ‘Report by the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change’, that shows a clear correlation between developing a local and personal relationship with nature and engaging in broader environmental and climate issues later in life.

UJ: Gotcha.

P: Love not loss, Uncle Jamie. Love not loss. You have read the IUCN work on this haven’t you? I know it relates more to the protection of charismatic megafauna and their supporting habitats, but the psychology’s the same.

UJ: And agency?

P: Agency is important. As it stands, you people are advocating teaching about something without the ability to take action on what we have learnt. If there is something that makes complete sense to change, because it would be better for people and planet, and especially for future generations, then maybe we should start with small steps. I would like to work on a project when I am about 9 years old, investigating the use of resources in school. Pupils should be able to learn about the consequences of their actions. I am undecided whether this should include impacts on the Earth system yet. Maybe we could look at the Greek root of the word economy, i.e. to manage one’s household. Fossil fuels are unsustainable, waste costs money. These things are fairly obvious to anyone who can get their head round the fact we live on a finite planet.

UJ: And rigour?

P: I need a bit more time on this, but I would want some intelligent people to come up with a way to introduce me to the difference between short-term variability and long-term trends, the interconnectedness of the Earth system, how scientists predict, model and test theories, gather data, and the moral imperative of acting on science.

UJ: Morality and science?

P: It’s odd, isn’t it? What we are really arguing about here is using education as a tool to show young people that in the midst of doing sweet nothing about climate change, that action needs to be taken to mitigate an unholy, global balls-up in fifty years’ time.

UJ: Oops. Any suggestions?

P: In terms of engagement with current changes, there are a few questions you’ll need to answer:

  1. Will the current proposals weaken or remove opportunities for young people to develop a personal relationship with nature?
  2. Will the current proposals remove or weaken the opportunity for schools to offer agency to young people to act on what they learn?
  3. Are there sufficient opportunities for schools to teach with appropriate rigour the science (including geographical science) I need to understand to grow my appreciation of my local environment to the Earth system?

UJ: You’ve put this to schools, does government not have a role to play?

P: To a degree, but I’ve found that governments come and go. As long as they don’t prevent the appropriate teaching of these issues, it is up to wider society (schools, teachers, education experts, academics, child psychologists, naturalists, environmentalist, industry and commerce) to work out how best to teach young people about climate change. Words in the curriculum are perhaps the least of our worries.

If you think nice things, write nice things…

Came back from lunch today, to find this lovely email waiting for me. After a fairly boring time dealing with problems with the website, it was back up just in time. It takes so little time to write a note like this and gave me a nice big smile. It’s easy to forget sometimes that there are actually people working hard to put so much wonderful and inspirational content on the web and this has reminded me to write to people when I see wonderful projects online!

Dear Sir,
I had the chance to visit your website and your project.
I have been amazed by the quality of the idea (exploration with edu purposes and free) as well as those of the resources.
I’m an italian science teachers working full time for a Science Centre in Italy called MUSE Museum of Sciences
www.muse.it

The Ocean talks to Michael Gove

This is the transcript of a conversation between Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education and the Ocean examining the latest draft National Curriculum document.

Michael Gove: I understand you have some concerns about the latest draft curriculum. Let me assure you, to start with, that the programmes of study put forward are designed to present a return to a curriculum that is built on a core of rigorous knowledge.

The Ocean: I can see that you have put a lot of work into this, but I just wanted to point out that I feel a little ignored and at times misrepresented, and…

MG: Let me stop you there. This is a core set of knowledge that every young person should know, schools and teachers are still free to include information they think is relevant to the young people that they teach.

TO: I understand, it’s just that I cover over 70% of the planet’s surface, contain 95% of the living space, 98% of all life is aquatic and I provide at least half the oxygen that you breathe, not to mention a little climate regulation on the side.

MG: Well, we never say that teachers cannot teach about you, and there are several references to the oceans within the documentation. In science for Year 5 (9 year olds), you are mentioned as one of the other habitats that pupils can study, and we believe that 5 and 6 year olds should learn the names of your different basins in geography. Surely that’s enough.

TO: I’m all for rigour and your core plus approach to curriculum planning, and I’ll say again 98% of all life is aquatic. That’s why I was confused to read that in Year 2 Science, young people will be taught that: “find out about and describe the basic needs of animals, including humans, for survival (water, food and air)”. Do you know what happens when you put a fish in air? Then I read every single example of animals that pupils can study, chickens, butterflies, woodlice, frogs, sheep, slugs, worms, spiders, and insects. Yes, there was a cursory mention of fish, but I feel a little let down.

MG: Look. You are mentioned as a habitat that pupils could study. In Year 5 Science, pupils are asked to “compare life cycles of plants and animals in their local environment with other plants and animals around the world (the rainforest, under the oceans, desert areas and in prehistoric times), asking pertinent questions and suggesting reasons for similarities and differences”.

TO: Before tackling the main point you are making, it’s ‘in the ocean’, not ‘under the oceans’. I am not just one habitat, I contain a huge diversity of environments for life: coral reefs, kelp forests, seagrass meadows, mudflats, estuaries, intertidal zone, sandy shore, rocky shore, mangroves and salt marshes, open surface waters, the open deep sea, vents and seeps, oceanic trenches and seamounts. I don’t see why just because I am mostly unseen and covered by a reflective surface that your new rigorous approach to the curriculum should be so unbalanced.

MG: I think you just need to recognise that most young people’s first encounter with nature will be looking under rocks and finding creepy crawlies, or having the opportunity to grow something in a garden. If you keep on taking this ‘me, me, me’ route, I may have to brand you as an enemy of progress.

TO: I was trying to be nice. You live on an island. No one is ever more than 71 miles from the sea in England. The oceans are vital for the survival of humanity. So here are my demands, as a starter:

  1. include an ocean habitat as a must for primary and secondary school science
  2. correct any factual inaccuracies in the draft curriculum where you completely ignore the oceans and marine science (e.g. the ‘air’ comment above)
  3. do not refer to me as an ‘other’ habitat around the world
  4. give me my proper place when pupils study primary production
  5. within Earth science at Key Stage 3 Science, make sure that pupils know my role in the current composition of the Earth and atmosphere
  6. the production of carbon dioxide and its impact needs to include ocean acidification as well climate change

I’ll come back to you on geography once I’ve calmed down, and just remember I provide half your oxygen. Don’t ignore me or make me angry.

[Editor's note: the ocean was a little upset as you may be able to tell, any comments, corrections or additions from the marine science community welcome. We are looking to arrange further interviews between important global concerns and the Minister, please let us know if you have any recommendations.]

5 years old…

Digital Explorer was five last week and in the great tradition of 5 year plans, it’s time to reflect on what we have achieved and think to the future about the next five years.

When we started out, the aim was to provide young people with a different way of engaging in their world through a range of experiences whether it be going on one of our expeditions, linking live with teams in the field or being taught by someone who has enjoyed one of our training courses or used some of our resources.

The amount of opportunities and resources on the Digital Explorer online academy is testament to how far we’ve come in achieving this mission. So many different people have contributed to their creation from the amazing sponsors and partners to the expedition teams we’ve had the pleasure of working with, not to forget the great resource writers and designers who have brought it all to life.

We have some great projects at the moment for the classroom, learning about the Arctic or the Great Barrier Reef, something on sustainable fishing, a great archive on Pakistan and looking at the reporting of extremism in the media and several more to launch in the coming weeks.

At the heart of all we’ve tried to do is make learning about the world fun for students and easy for teachers.

We’ll be taking some time in the next months to plan the next five years. In the meantime, if you have any comments about what you’ve liked about our work over the past 5 years or even something you’d like to see more of in the next 5, please do comment below.

We’re here for young people, but more importantly we’re here for teachers, to support you in engaging the next generation in the big issues facing all of us.

Too horrific for the geography classroom?

We’re looking to bring the issue of rhino conservation in South Africa to classrooms and schools across the UK in the coming months. At the moment we are looking at some of the imagery available and some of it is truly horrific.

Rhino horns are often cut off when the rhino is still alive, leaving them to die, suffering terribly. Images like the one below are all too common.

In the Far East, ground rhino horn is worth more than gold and is marketed as a remedy to a range of illnesses from hangovers to cancer. There is no clinical evidence behind these claims.

This increased demand led to 448 rhinos being poached in 2011 alone.

We want to make an impact with these images for your classroom to bring this home, but is it a step too far or justifiable?

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