This year’s Earth Day on April 22 offers an excellent opportunity for schools to engage pupils in issues relating to climate change and environmental protection. Harriet Marshall and Matthew Smitheman offer some ideas below on how practitioners can do this effectively.
Lyfta - Earth day
This article was first published in SedEd April edition. You can read the full article here.
Making our world more sustainable and tackling climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face globally. This year's Earth Day on April 22 – part of the wider Earth Week running from April 16 to 22 – focuses on the theme "Restore Our Earth" and provides an excellent opportunity for practitioners to engage students around the issues.
While climate change affects everyone across the world, it is arguably our young people who will be most affected. Educating and inspiring the next generation about the environment, biodiversity and sustainability is key to achieving lasting and meaningful change. We must also listen to and learn from young people, so this educational task is also about creating spaces to support their knowledge, innovations and environmental literacy.
At a practical level it can often be difficult to bring such complex, global issues into the classroom. Educators must recognise how global learning and citizenship can combine themes like the Sustainable Development Goals and concepts like resilience into teaching and the curriculum. This will help students connect the dots, better understand how specific actions can affect other people, the environment, and the natural world, both locally and globally, while also building essential skills and knowledge.
When it comes to teaching about topics like biodiversity and sustainability, there are plenty of ways schools can get creative. It doesn't have to be confined to geography or science lessons either, as these topics are relevant across all subjects.
Below are some ideas to help teachers inspire their students during Earth Week and beyond.
Host an assembly
One way of mobilising the school community and celebrating Earth Day is by hosting an assembly. Assemblies are often great catalysts for ideas and spaces for students to lead. For example, Manor Park Primary Academy in Sutton is running a whole school assembly exploring why it is such an important day and what teachers, pupils and families can do to live more sustainably.
As part of this, the school will be writing poems about looking after the planet as well as sharing stories which explore real-world examples of people who are leading sustainable lives – for example, using the Beekeeper's Garden storyworld on Lyfta where students meet Malte who makes honey in Berlin, travels via a cargo bike and reduces his food waste.
We have a range of storyworlds touching on the themes of biodiversity and sustainability which are ideal for assemblies on these topics. You can find out more about them here and here.
Explore the outdoors
What better way to capture the interest of students in topics such as biodiversity than by taking them out into the environment? For older children, this could include carrying out research about the community's knowledge and views on our environment and its sustainability, doing a class litter-picking day once a month, or planting trees in the school grounds.
Activities could even be promoted to local media to share the messages more widely, and publicise the steps the school is taking to promote sustainability and care for the environment.
Try immersive storytelling
While exploring local communities is important, linking the local to the global is a key aspect of better understanding sustainability, biodiversity and the impact of climate change around the world. Using an immersive storytelling platform like Lyfta, pupils can visit other countries, enabling them to experience new places and the lives of people and explore first-hand other scenarios in locations across the globe.
Enable young people to see real human stories behind by global topics that can otherwise seem overwhelmingly huge or abstract. Stories of resilience can also inspire, motivate and empower listeners to have the confidence to act on ideas and projects of their own.
Getting hands-on and setting practical challenges or tasks that encourage students to think outside the box will help them connect the dots in devising innovative solutions to the problems we face globally. For example, students can be asked to come up with ideas to promote recycling, reduce emissions or plastic-use, or other innovations. This can also incorporate wider STEM efforts, competitions, or creative projects, for example running a fashion show in which items are made from sustainable/recycled materials.
We know of many schools teaching their students about a range of global issues throughout the curriculum. Project-based learning helps students to think critically, develop empathy and build strategies and skills that they can utilise beyond the classroom.
More than one billion individuals have participated in the mission of driving positive action for our planet since Earth Day first took place in 1970. However, our efforts shouldn't be limited to one day a year; it is about integrating these conversations into everyday learning. Learning which embraces environmental literacy and global citizenship can help us bring themes and concepts into the curriculum which develop pupils' knowledge and determination to make a positive and lasting difference to our planet.