Climate Change and Me, MECAP and David Hume

NAAEE Annual Conference - Research Symposium Day 1

The NAAEE Annual Conference is in its 45th year, fourteen years ago conference decided it needed to create exclusive time and space to explore environmental education research. The Research Symposium was born, it is now in its 13th year. It is a packed programme. Around 150 researchers from right across North America and around the world were here today.

Bearing in mind that researchers deliberating about how they research is pretty niche, I'm not going to dwell on those discussions too much here. I am instead going to highlight two pieces of innovative practice that I came across.

Climate Change and Me - Southern Cross University Australia

Empowering learners as educators and 'the researched' as researchers was discussed several times today. Climate Change and Me is a good example of this. This is how the project runs:

Today’s children and young people require new kinds of knowledge, skills and experience in order to effectively respond to rapidly accelerating social and environmental changes. The Climate Change and Me Stage 2/3 curriculum addresses this pressing need for a research-based and student-driven climate change curriculum in Australian primary schools. As it stands, climate change has been cut from the Australian National Curriculum for children under 14 years of age. International studies have also indicated that didactic, science-based approaches to climate change education have not been effective in changing the environmental attitudes and behaviours of students. The Climate Change and Me research found that students were much more likely to engage with the topic of climate change through creative, student-driven and experiential project-based learning activities which were structured into a collective inquiry. The Climate Change and Me Curriculum, Southern Cross University.

This is an example of what seems to be a growing trend in Education for the Environment - a science based approach to climate change education (and sustainability education more broadly) is giving way to approaches that recognise the need and effectiveness of engaging learners on an emotional level. When learners move beyond the science and start exploring Climate Change from a values perspective - dissecting issues of justice, fairness and compassion for example - they engage deeply in the subject matter and become motivated to produce creative and emotive works. Through art, film, poetry and more learners make sense of how they feel, communicate it to others and inspire change. 

Measuring Empathy: Collaborative Assessment Project (MECAP)

Educators at summer camps, zoo's and aquariums explicitly try to develop children's empathy towards animals; they are already convinced this is a good thing to do and have developed many tools for doing this. Question is do their approaches work? The MECAP research is trying to assess this. Initial findings are promising, which is great news as the practitioners involved will then be ready to share their practice. Having got a snapshot of the resources they are using, I'm hopeful that what they release will be adaptable to other areas of sustainability. You can follow the MECAP research on facebook.   

Activating and reinforcing intrinsic values such as empathy, compassion, tolerance, kindness, etc is becoming an integral part of sustainability education for some practitioners (see leading through values for example); I saw at least four examples of this today. 

By way of conclusion.... David Hume said (in the 18th Century) that humans are more influenced by their feelings than by reason and that if we were more prone to accept this fact we'd all be happier individually and collectively. Are the two examples above an indication that Sustainability educators are increasingly in agreement with Hume? Are they becoming more effective in creating change as a result? 

PS: Two more things from today that I liked and need to explore more: Visions 2100 and Photo Elicitation.




Morgan Phillips