How Green is Your Curriculum?
A curriculum for the future must include a serious focus on the current global crisis that continues to dominate our lives. The evidence that climate change is a real and ever-present phenomena cannot be ignored. The people that will be the most affected are those we currently teach in our schools, those who will soon go to school and those yet unborn.
I was at the first ever Autumn Chelsea Flower Show and had the happy chance to visit a unique stand inside the pavilion where the most beautiful displays of flowers, plants and vegetables told an exceptional story about the resilience, imagination and determination of those who choose to work in horticulture. The stand in question nestled alongside this exceptional show case of talent and told the story of a remarkable collaboration between Putney High School, architect Clare Bowman from architects RCZM and the Royal Horticultural Society. They have created a ‘biophilic’ classroom’ Their website celebrates their stand being awarded a gold award at the show and says the following,
The school showcased its ground-breaking research into the impact of plants and nature on student wellbeing.
Putney High School’s ‘Breathe’ campaign, of which the biophilic classroom is a part, shows how a few simple steps can have a significant impact on both wellbeing and the ability to learn.
Headmistress Suzie Longstaff, with the help of sustainability architects Clare and Richard Bowman, and many keen botanists and green fingered students, embarked on a mission to ‘bring the outside in’ to improve the learning environment and encourage restorative benefits such as wellbeing and increased focus.
The project began with a few plants in the Sixth Form Centre but is now spreading into other areas, including the libraries, with the Junior School Reception classrooms the latest to undergo a green transformation over the summer.
The Environment as a Cross-Curricular Concept
My mind raced with possibilities. The advantages the school were seeing from their decision to use plants and green aesthetics were easy to evidence but the emphasis is about a cleaner atmosphere, well-being and a calmer more serene environment. This, clearly, also goes a long way to enhance the potential for learning. However, I could see the possibilities for much more in terms of developing subject knowledge within specific subjects and as a way to create opportunities for pupils to see connections across the subject divide.
Think of the vocabulary associated with discovery around the world of plants, trees and flowers such as nourish, drought, systems, photosynthesis, osmosis, verdant, temperature, pollution, moisture, condensation, texture, infrastructure, symmetry.
Opportunities to make sure that the curriculum includes a plethora of ways to explore the natural world and bring many elements into school are boundless, not very expensive and provide rich possibilities for deep learning across all subjects. Art and creativity, English through poetry and literature, science brought to life, literally, a chance to delve into history and how plants and horticulture shaped the past and the lives of many who have gone before us. Geography; well, here I would need to write a whole post; the possibilities are boundless. Music and how the natural world has inspired many composers, design and the use of wood, paper, silk and cotton, to name but a few.
Learners want to be a part of a green curriculum
The events that have shaped 2020 and 2021 have further raised many questions about how we consume, how we travel, how we spend and how we waste. There is no question that we will have to change our behaviours to build a greener future for the next generation and beyond. We have within our schools and through the curriculum an opportunity to raise awareness of how through a deeper appreciation of the natural world we can change the patterns of behaviour that have led us to this devastating impasse.
Many young people have already turned to activism to make their voices heard, others are asking questions and making the adults think about their habits and behaviours. Defining the curriculum in terms of how we can build better futures, learn from past mistakes and find innovative ways to determine greener and more sustainable lifestyles for this and future generations will inspire and nurture a learning environment that has so many possibilities. The environment is an element of curriculum implementation in most schools. Let’s make sure it is not an add on but a deeply focused element of all learning across every subject, cross-curricular possibilities and out of school exploration.
- How to weave a knowledge rich and sequenced primary curriculum
- Creating a knowledge rich and sequenced secondary curriculum
Small steps towards a greener curriculum
Embedding a culture where the focus is on sustainability and a more tranquil environment has well researched benefits. Small changes might include the introduction of plants and other additions such as colour schemes that reflect the outdoors, corridors that have plants, pictures of the pastoral, outdoor spaces where trees and shrubs are planted and areas to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers all reap real benefits for both well-being and learning.
In 2018, an environmental impact study of Putney High School’s campus revealed the benefits of the existing mature, natural landscape, and made recommendations to diversify the use of nature through the introduction of additional green infrastructure to support health and wellbeing.
A focus on some of the evidence that the climate is indeed changing with devastating consequences for many provides a rich vein for discussion, debate and enquiry. Finding out more about drought, flooding, forest fires, crop failure, bio-diversity and loss of habitat crosses subject boundaries and builds deep and important knowledge through the opportunity for increasing competence in a variety of essential skills for learning. The science of hope for new technology, changes in behaviour and more local environmental initiatives all provide opportunities for teachers to innovate and deepen understanding of how the next generation can make a significant difference.
I had such an enlightening time at Chelsea last week. The whole experience reinforced my belief in the possible. Many of the exhibitors were used to planning for a spring show with all its possibilities for the summer ahead, autumn was a different challenge and without exception all those there rose to that challenge with great skill and imagination. All our children, whatever their age, local-context and background deserve to have access to the beautiful world we live in and we need to bring them as close to nature as we possibly can.
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