The Conversation: Active learning

21st September 2007 at 01:00
Pupils at Bowbridge Primary School in Newark, Nottinghamshire, are studying the weather and making their own podcasts as part of a Europe-wide energy monitoring project. Headteacher David Dixon answers questions from Gerald Haigh.

Q: David, I know you've been keen to take advantage of any environmental or "green" project that might motivate and interest your children. What's this latest one?

A: It's called Active Learning and it's a network of European schools whose pupils will monitor their energy use and compare notes.

It's part of a much bigger initiative, run by ManagEnergy. I've been working on it for a year with European partner schools, and this term it's being implemented.

Q: So you'll have children reading gas and electricity meters?

A: Yes, and recording weather conditions, so trends and comparisons show up. We've installed an electronic weather station on the roof and we're going to do forecasts on our own podcast radio station.

Q: How many are involved?

A: At least 10 schools in each of 14 countries, so there's a huge spread, from Northern Europe to the South and East to West. As the data builds up, it'll be loaded on to a communal database. So pupils will see, for example, that while our energy use goes up in winter, a Greek school's will rise in summer when the air conditioning goes on.

Q: And there's a curriculum angle to this, of course?

A: Oh, yes. Citizenship, design technology, speaking and listening, geography and science. You can take it as far as you like really.

Increased flexibility in the curriculum and the arrival of Excellence and Enjoyment have been helpful to all such cross-curricular initiatives. And the Seal emotional education programme also ties in very closely with what we're doing.

Q: Do you have to create your own resources?

A: No, the whole thing is based on resources downloadable from the Active Learning website.

Q: And you'll build it all into the existing curriculum?

A: Yes, but in other countries they might do it differently, depending on how their curriculum is implemented. Some will teach it as discrete "energy lessons", others will do it as science or geography. That, in itself, will be interesting for children and teachers to see.

Q: It's right at the heart of your core values, isn't it?

A: When we started our work on Education for Sustainability, it was because we wanted the curriculum to be more real and to make children's learning experiential. So we made lots of links with environmental projects for example, a partnership with Newark and Sherwood district council's energy agency. Last year they helped us to run a Carbon Neutral Day, when staff walked or cycled into work.

Q: And I know there are some smaller projects that always catch visitors' attention such as the school vegetable patches.

A: And the fact that we use the produce in the kitchen, for the children's lunches. People do notice that, and it sends a message.

Q: Spreading the word is an important part of this project, isn't it?

A: Yes, we harness the notorious "pester power". The children take home the message about using energy wisely to save money and to help combat climate change.

Q: And the flagship of all this is your new eco-friendly building. I know you've struggled to make that happen over several years.

A: We were having a new building anyway. The challenge for us was to find the funding to make it a true "eco-build". Well, we've managed to do that from various sources, and the builders are now on site.

Q: And that, too, is going to be part of your curriculum.

A: We have a webcam on top of the school, so we can view the build as it goes on. The site manager is working with classes to follow the progress of the work. They'll look at the materials used and at our intention to have as low an environmental impact as possible.


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