ESD at the Association for Science Education Conference

ESD at the Association for Science Education Conference


For the last few years the Association for Science Education conference has had a dedicated Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) strand. Following this strand meant I could attend many key workshops on this theme without clashes. Margaret Fleming, an ASE trustee and SSA board member, actively recruits for workshops on this theme. Indeed Henry Greenwood’s workshop (see below) was one of these and SEEd hosted a workshop on ‘Using the Sustainable Schools Doorways’.

This year teachers were able to attend workshops on this theme for free through Global Learning Programme (GLP) e-credits. SEEd and many of our member organisations are offering varied CPD for free through the extensive GLP CPD calendar, ensuring that sustainability is emphasised within global learning.

It was great to see other organisations in the Sustainable Schools Alliance represented at the conference. Green Schools Project founder, Henry Greenwood, delivered a workshop entitled ‘Get Your School To Go Green!’ In the session, attendees looked at the benefits of giving their students the opportunity to take part in a variety of environmental projects and the barriers and challenges that often get in the way. They got hints and tips from a case study and then created an action plan that they could take back to their school.

The ASE conference has a packed programme and the first session I headed for was on ‘Environmental Education in Secondary Education’ led by Melissa Glackin from Kings College London. This provided very useful context to the whole ESD strand through a brief background in policy and status of environmental education. Participants were invited to get some gripes of their chest and then think big as part of contributing to a national study exploring the current and potential future trajectory of EE.

I decided to venture off the ESD strand to attend a workshop titled ‘Child-led Enquiry: What does it look like in practice?’ supported by the Primary Science Teaching Trust. On arrival, the hosts and ASE volunteers were dashing about trying to get more chairs and resources as people streamed in. There must have been at least 50 attendees, twice as many people as expected. Word must have somehow got around that this was going to be a hands-on and insightful workshop with a bit of ‘awe and wonder’ thrown in for good measure. It was heartening to see so many teachers enthused and wanting to facilitate more child-led learning.

Next up I couldn’t resist checking out ‘Going Bananas for Food Security’ hosted by the Eden Project. Participants were given the background about Panama disease, a destructive fungus that is affecting banana production, and guided through a KS4 practical which replicates current academic into the potential for alliums (garlic, onions, etc) to reduce the disease. A safe but smelly microbiology practical with an excellent opportunity to bring conversation about current global issues into the school lab.

Using the Nature and Biodiversity Doorway

The SEEd workshop was designed to bring the new Doorway to life. When the Sustainable Schools Framework was created in 2007 nature and biodiversity was a cross-cutting theme through the eight Doorways. Working with Sustainable Schools Alliance members, in particularly RSPB Learning, SEEd is working to put nature and biodiversity in a core position and not lose its significance in the other existing Doorways.

Workshop participants were given the opportunity to reflect on work they currently undertake that fits under the other Doorway headings and consider if/ how it is related to biodiversity. We covered nature and biodiversity theory in a nutshell; the interplay of five key concepts – Energy, Cycles, Conditions, Communities and Change (E4Cs) and the systems of the Tree of Life, everything is in the process of change and Web of Life, everything is connected to everything else. Doug Hulyer, who developed the E4Cs of Life model in the 1980s and has produced the backgrounder for the Doorway, considers understanding these terms as the foundation of ‘ecological literacy’.

The participants were pleased to find out that the curriculum links document provided wasn’t a list of SEEd’s suggestions (which would be more ambitious anyway) but was actually lifted from the current National Curriculum, for example KS3 Chemistry – earth as a source of limited human resources and the efficacy of recycling. A perfect opportunity to consider energy, cycles, conditions and the Tree of Life.

A Doorway framework is being developed to enable teachers and senior leaders to consider how this theme can be addressed and inspirational across the curriculum, campus and activities with the wider community. Participants used the framework to analyse a project by which activities are about nature and biodiversity, which take place in a new or outside environment and which are moving students towards thinking and acting for a better ecosystem.

None of the participants were classroom teachers in the UK and were clearly already motivated to address sustainability issues through education. When I asked the question ‘how do we get other people in this room who aren’t already part of the conversation’ the compelling response was ‘why aren’t we in other rooms?’.

Maybe we need to challenge ourselves to be the ones in different conversations .
For example – both the Primary Science Teaching trust and the Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM), are at the forefront of exciting developments in primary science education. If you are a primary teacher interested in doing work on ESD check them out, certainly you could use this work as criteria to gain PSQM.

This brings me back to the highly popular child-led enquiry workshop. There was no mention of sustainability in the workshop description or indeed in the session itself but the methods being demonstrated were highly applicable for making effective use of the nature and biodiversity doorway. Clearly the pedagogies and competencies aligned with Learning for Sustainability also appear in many other subjects and approaches – and maybe this is where we need to be looking to set the building blocks of learning about and in nature, supporting a dynamic learning for the future.