3 ways a school trip can engage middle-years students in Sustainability

The Australian Curriculum focuses on sustainability – the concept of maintaining a healthy balance between the varied ecosystems across the planet – because it is one of the most important issues facing our planet. Whilst students are often taught about sustainability and related concepts in the classroom, there are times where the content doesn’t feel like it relates to the reality of the student-the problems feel far away and can be determined to be the responsibility of someone else. Whilst the world is more interconnected than ever before, without personal, hands on experience, it is still relatively common to feel a disconnect from an issue or cause.

It is at this point where the experience of school tours and trips can provide so much value to students and teachers. An immersive sustainability experience provides the opportunity for students to gain insight into the nature of our natural world and actively investigate the finely balanced ecosystems in the Australian environment. By visiting a range of natural environments and interacting with those working at the forefront of sustainable practices and technologies, students are able to make meaningful links between the key tenets of sustainability.

Experiential learning has huge benefits for student learning outcomes and often forms the basis of a student’s favourite recollections of their school experience. When conducting research into experiential learning, Sara Jose, Patricia G. Patrick &Christine Moseley [2017] drew on the research of science educators:

Outdoor field experiences, in which students participate in hands-on activities that relate directly to the local environment, have been shown to improve student learning in a variety of subjects, especially in the transmission of environmental knowledge

The Australian Curriculum includes sustainability as a cross-curriculum priority, a vital inclusion in the education of all students from F-10. This content is taught concurrently across subject areas, not independently. Hence, experiential school trips lend themselves well to this part of the curriculum.

When outlining this important cross-curriculum priority, the Australian Curriculum focuses on three key areas: systems, world views and futures.

  • “The first key concept explores the interdependent and dynamic nature of systems that support all life on Earth and our collective wellbeing.”
  • “The second concept enables a diversity of world views on ecosystems, values and social justice to be discussed and recognised when determining individual and community actions for sustainability.”
  • “The third concept is aimed at building capacities for thinking and acting in ways that are necessary to create a more sustainable future. The concept seeks to promote reflective thinking processes in young people and empower them to design action that will lead to a more equitable and sustainable future. “

Here are three keys ways that a school trip can engage middle-years students in Sustainability

One: School trips provide valuable opportunities for hands-on learning 

The Australian Curriculum increasingly focuses on the interrelated nature of our society and environment. With a cross-curricular emphasis on sustainability, students are encouraged to inquire, investigate and assess the nature of human activity and its subsequent impact on the environment.

By engaging students with small business, sustainable organisations and environmental groups, they will have the opportunity to learn about sustainable practice in action. They learn about specific strategies and methodologies that acknowledge the interconnected nature of Australia’s ecosystems and support diverse species within certain geographic areas. For example, a trip to Mungalli Biodynamic Dairy provides valuable insight into how biodynamic farming practices can encourage soil regeneration and how a farm can be considered to be a living, breathing part of the surrounding environment.

A visit to Parley for the Oceans storage and sorting facility provides students with an insight into the volume and nature of marine debris. This experience enables students to evaluate the use of plastics in our society and consider the impact of plastic waste on the environment, as well as the social and economic impact. It also provides the opportunity to consider the design of alternative materials using new technologies.

Field work, too, provides an invaluable opportunity to assess the impact of human interactions with the natural environment. By completing in-water surveys, students will be able to assist Oceans 2 Earth in collecting valuable data on the health of the Great Barrier Reef, whilst practicing geography field work skills. By working closely with marine biologists, students are able to learn about the importance of ecosystems and the nature by which the reef ecosystem supports a range of life forms. This experience provides students with a highly tactile and memorable point of reference by which to reflect on, and continue to engage with, the principles of sustainability.

Two: Multiple cross curricular links make content more relatable 

Sustainability is not something that can be understood in isolation. It is a multifaceted concept that when considered in a global sense, reflects a complex interplay between human activity and the natural environment. Similarly, a teacher cannot teach the concept of sustainability independently within a curriculum. Sustainability affects all of us, and all subject areas, hence its inclusion as a cross-curriculum priority in the Australian Curriculum.

Through engaging students in a variety of immersive experiences, they are presented with a range of information that can be applied to a diverse range of subject areas.

For example, visiting the Parley storage and sorting facility engages students in an experience with multiple cross-curricular links:

  •  Geography: The capacity of the world’s environment to sustainably feed the projected future global population [damage to fish and bird populations due to plastics and other marine debris]
  • Science: The impact of habitat destruction on ecosystems [large amounts of plastics in ocean gyres impacting on the habitats of plants and marine animal species]
  • Design and Technologies: Explain how products evolve with consideration of preferred futures [creating a new material that can replace plastic]

Key learnings from these experiences can be included as part of the teaching and learning program on return to school, or alternatively, a cross-curricular research or inquiry project.

Experiential activities also provide a way to better consolidate key concepts and topics. Research suggests “a student with many connections concerning a subject will accommodate new knowledge faster and with greater clarity”. Through engaging in a variety of experiences relating to sustainability, students can then apply these experiences to a number of different subject areas, creating an integrated network of links between the experiences, the curriculum and the concept of sustainability. This deepens student knowledge and understanding.

Teachers also gain the opportunity to interact across subject areas, with a collaborative approach to teaching sustainability culminating in an educational school trip that reflects multiple curriculum areas. This premise is supported by research that demonstrates that “the outdoors easily lends itself to cross-curricular teaching, which allows educators to maximize instructional time”, effectively meaning that by sharing the load teachers can have increased impact on campus, whilst consolidating knowledge of key concepts in the great outdoors.

Three: School trips provide the opportunity to expand on individual world views

One of the key organising ideas of Sustainability in the Australian Curriculum is that world views are formed by experiences at personal, local, national and global levels. A sustainability-based school trip provides the perfect opportunity for students to begin to craft their own world view and learn that in order to achieve sustainability, we must protect the diverse and integrated ecosystems on our planet.

A school trip provides the opportunity for students to integrate what they have learnt on the school trip into their prior knowledge, meaning that students are better equipped to understand how sustainability issues apply not only to their local area, but also other areas within their nation and across the world. Students develop the capacity to apply key themes, such as sustainable use of resources, redevelopment of man-made materials and climate change to a complex array of environments.

Through interacting with local experts and contributing to small scale sustainability efforts whilst on a school trip, students are able to make a meaningful connection to the concept of sustainability. These high-quality experiences allow students to gain valuable knowledge about sustainable practices, and subsequently share and add to the collective knowledge of those around them. By doing this, students not only expand their own world view, but that of others in their community.

Find out more about the sustainability school trips offered by Educational Journeys here.