School hits the lights fantastic

8th August 2008 at 01:00

The lights in the school library are not usually central to the key stage 2 curriculum. But at Howe Dell these lights, the reception desk and floor tiles are all tools for learning.

The newly built Hertfordshire primary is fully sustainable and eco-friendly. The library's lights respond to pupils' presence and natural light levels, the reception desk is made of recycled mobile phones, and when floor tiles wear, they are swapped with less worn tiles from the corners of the room.

All these details are integral to the curriculum. "It's not just a amp;#163;10 million building," said Debra Massey, the head. "It's about how we're using it. We're not saying, 'Once a week there should be an eco-curriculum.' We're not saying, 'Here's another lesson to teach in your already busy week.' That's like putting the icing on the cake. We're putting brandy in the cake, so it runs the whole way through."

The curriculum is divided into seven ideas: interdependence; citizenship; needs and rights of future generations; diversity; quality of life; sustainable change; uncertainty and precaution. Lessons are taught by subject, but the seven concepts are covered within them. So, Year 6 history examines the needs and rights of future generations by teaching how events in post-war Britain have shaped life today.

All elements of the building are seen as learning opportunities. When a wind turbine was built on site, pupils watched from a balcony so that they would understand how it worked.

Imogen Craven, 8, is effusive about such hands-on lessons. "If you don't understand about a plant, now you can go and see it right before your eyes," she said.

The area around the school's solar panels has been turned into an outdoor classroom, where pupils grow tomatoes and strawberries, and rainwater is collected to flush the toilets and fill a large pond.

Imogen insists the eco-curriculum is not just about the future of the world. It will benefit current pupils too. "People know that we care about the world," she said. "So we could get a job being a teacher caring about children, or being a gardener caring for plants."

Mrs Massey is now writing a version of the eco-curriculum for publication by the National College for School Leadership. Since the eco-curriculum began, attendance has risen. But she is most proud of the effect it has had on pupils: "Whatever our Sats results, our children are going out there expecting to make choices about the rights and wrongs of future generations."

Tilly Denham, 10, agrees: "We hope all schools will be like this. We'll start things they'll follow. Everyone can save the world, but we don't realise we're saving it because we enjoy it so much."

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