Monday, 26 January 2015

Our first sustainability project at HPSS

Tackling sustainability through project based learning


When I think of the understandings and concepts our students need to know to face a 21st century future worth living in - I always think of sustainability first.  The problems of finite resource use, exponential population growth and climate change must be tackled by this new generation, they have no choice.  As educators we have a responsibility to provide them with skills and knowledge so they can make decisions that will prepare them for a world we do not fully understand yet.  Luckily we also have a curriculum that identifies environmental sustainability - as a value and as a future focus. Yet as students move from primary school to secondary school, often this concept is forgotten, replaced by NCEA workload that could engage students in meaningful learning about contemporary, local and global sustainability issues, but often doesn't - favoured instead by old, more comfortable topics, that teachers are familiar with.

Big Projects has three key themes, based on curriculum values and future focus - enterprise, citizenship/community and sustainability.  These concepts will be explicitly explored through our project learning programme (not  overlooked).  We launched our first sustainability project in the middle of last year, with some really great successes.  This blog is about sharing them with you.

B3 - Bring Back Biodiversity! 

One component of Big Projects is to have everyone working towards a common goal/outcome/challenge, but doing it through different pathways to ensure personalised, engaging learning experiences for all students.  The goal of B3 was to take action that would increase or support the biodiversity living in Hobsonville Point.  How students accomplished this was through a wide range of projects which included:


  • Designing and building a 'native garden' for a local resident.  This garden can then be used to educate and encourage other new residents in the area to plant native plants in their gardens to attract native wildlife.
  • Tackling a major pollution incident in a local mangrove inlet, being resilient when picking up thousands of plastic bags, making a website and a film to promote their positive actions to others in the community.
  • Helping to raise awareness of the plight of an endangered plant on Hobonsville Point - Epilobium.  Creating flyers, a Facebook page and a short film on YouTube, students have begun to raise awareness in the local community.
  • Monitoring storm-water pollution in our local retention ponds, recording data and sharing it with local council and creating a website to inform local residents about pollution issues in our waterways.
  • Making a short 5 min documentary to highlight the issue of protecting biodiversity in Auckland .  "Epilobium" won a sustainability film award (Outlook for Someday).
"Epilobium can be found on YouTube

A reflection of each projects work and student learning has been collated together on this website: https://sites.google.com/a/hobsonvillepoint.school.nz/hpss---bring-back-biodiversity-b3/


Making it authentic and 'real world' 

The 15 week projects were all co-constructed by the students with support from their project guides (who did an amazing job at encouraging their students).  But they weren't working alone.  B3 was a project created in partnership with the Auckland Council who are strongly involved in environmental protection of the area.  Experts from the Biodiversity and Biosecurity teams worked with our students to help develop actions and plans about what could be achieved in the project time frame.  Experts from Waicare and Sustainable Coastlines were also on board to give help and support.

This Big Project was in partnership with Auckland Council


The Big Project structure

With all Big Project learning experiences, there is a structure and framework to guide students through the process (see early Blogs for more detail).  Each project starts with the Kickoff.  This 'event' involved the whole school taking a 'walk' to the local pollution event and seeing for themselves the devastation of what thousands and thousands of plastic bags can do to the local environment.  It was a 'silent' walk, students in single file.  The Auckland Council worked hard to ensure the site was safe and accessible to our students which was fantastic.  The Kickoff was a success in many ways - no one fell down the cliffs and most students thought the bags were terrible.  However, I underestimated the 'city kid syndrome' whereby the students were so far out of their comfort zone, just walking along a muddy track, that the extent of the pollution event was missed by many. Some were so busy trying to keep their sneakers clean, that they didn't quite have the capacity to even see the bags around them.  Regardless, it was a wonderful way to launch a project aimed at protecting the environment.. actually getting students to be in a natural environment, even for 60 min was worthwhile :)

Mary from Auckland Council talking to our students about the rubbish

Our students off on a wilderness walk - a real culture shock for some!


Planning and Action stages were all varied and involved experts of some description.  Steve Mouldey engaged the support of a local 'landscape architect' to evaluate the garden plan the students created.  Sally Hart and Bryce Clapman worked with Mary Stewart from Auckland Council to take the best possible action to clean up the pollution in the local inlet.  Cindy Wynn worked with Chris Ferkins to help the students understand the biology of Epilobium.  Jill MacDonald worked with an ecologist, Marnie from Waicare, to learn about the wildlife in our local stormwater ponds and streams.  Pete McGhie facilitated our film students, collaborating with musicians from House of Shem to create the music for their Epilobium short film.

Action Packed with Plastic team really making a difference - Image courtesy of Sally Hart


Showtime was an exhibition event, co-created by our wonderful design teacher Liz McHugh.  Members of each project group were selected to summarise the key actions of the project and 'share' these in an exhibition board, to be seen by members of our local community and Local Community Board Members from the Auckland Council during a school show event.  Students talked to parents and Councillors about their projects and shared what they had learned about sustainability and hopefully, a little about biodiversity.  The boards sit proudly in our school entrance way even today.


Annie talks to Nick, Green Party local candidate about Epilobium - Chris from Auckland Council on far right.

Action Packed with Plastic exhibition board- created by Jalen and now stands in our school entrance way 

Cindy Wynn and Matthew stand with Ivy and her husband, the local residents who requested students design and build their native garden.  They were very very happy clients! 

A local paper reports on the efforts of our Epilobium team.  


Final look was a student reflection on the project and what they had accomplished.  I will blog about this soon with some 'data'a and 'pretty graphs' to show student reflections :)

Final Reflections for 2015

In my opinion Environmental Education is a fundamentally important component of a child's education. Every young person MUST leave secondary school with a solid understanding of what it means to behave and consume in a sustainable way.  They need to understand that we are dependent on our environment and our environment is dependent on us.  Did our students in B3 walk away with the best possible understanding of biodiversity and the importance of protecting it?  I know that they certainly developed a new perspective.  Did they show personal and social responsibility - definitely.  However, we could engage our students further with increasing the exposure they had to outside  experiences and expertise.  More trips and interactions with similar successful projects or role models would have really helped inspire our students even more.  Giving more time to engage with the community and encouraging other groups/residents to take their own actions would have also been meaningful.

As we develop Big Projects and the structures that underpin student learning experiences, explicit learning objectives from learning areas related to the projects will occur.  The NZC provides wide scope to do this in a wide range of learning areas.  It's about guides and students exploring the curriculum and finding the links to what is being done and building a more rigorous approach to making curriculum connections.  We know that learning is actively taking place, but we perhaps need to be more explicit in how we facilitate, monitor and evidence it.

In 2015 we are planning a sustainability project around the challenge of "growing good food" with the aim of creating a project around promoting local gardens, food for bees, buying local and supporting local businesses trying to make a difference in the community.  We will be partnering up with Kai Auckland and the Auckland Council again for this project...