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The Eco-classroom project: Fostering student participation through education for sustainability

This thesis investigates learning and other outcomes in participants, particularly students (9-11 years), as a result of their involvement in an education for sustainability (EfS) co-design and build project at their primary school, in New Zealand, which was conducted within the Enviroschools Programme. The research focused on four areas that distinguished the project: sustainability learning as the issue, participatory practice as the method, design as the process and community partnerships as the sphere of involvement. Each of these was considered in terms of its influence on learning that was either cognitively-based (knowledge), psychomotor (skills) or affective (attitudes and values). This led to the set-up of a matrix to collect qualitative data that was gathered using a narrative inquiry method of collecting participants stories. This included focus groups with students who were part of the Eco-building Working Party, interviews with key adults from the school and the wider community, survey questionaires to parents of the focus group students, and other observations and materials. Findings demonstrated a correlation between the set-up and execution of the eco-classroom project and the Danish-developed pedagogical EfS concept of Action Competence. This was indicated through the authentic, relevant and democratic action-taking focus of the eco-classroom project that is linked to making learning transformations, which have been established as being more likely to lead to genuine changes in behaviour towards the environment. Also in agreement with an action competence approach was the strong focus in the project on both individual and collective learning. This was partly a result of the process-focused nature of the project, which was related to the learning mandate and commitment to a democratic process with students. The project ran for a number of years with annually changing groups of students, who all had different experiences. The teacher used ‘peer education’ and reflective tools to manage the ‘changeover’ positively, give depth and breadth to learning and ensure the project was truly collaborative. Student learning occurred in all three learning domains and included EfS learning (particularly about aspects of architecture and the built environment), learning about the process of design, and cross-disciplinary learning that included skills such as leadership, teamwork and public speaking. Adult participants also gained from their involvement in the project. The embedding of learning in the project within the New Zealand Curriculum, provided evidence of the flexible and multidisciplinary nature of EfS. Finally, a number of key characteristics were identified as contributing significantly to learning in the project.
Type of thesis
Wake, S. J. (2010). The Eco-classroom project: Fostering student participation through education for sustainability (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5298
University of Waikato
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