Does learning about climate change have to be all doom and gloom? Well, I’ve discovered that by using ICT [Information Communication Technology] creatively to communicate with other schools, learning about this controversial subject can have very positive effects on children’s relationships with the environment, their school and community and with each other.

As teachers we benefit from sharing ideas for good practice.  Peer support and critique enables us to develop professionally.  Likewise, children sharing ideas enables them to value their own expertise and what others have to offer, as well as learning to improve by using suggestions made by a ‘critical friend’.

The Climate X-Change project was an opportunity to allow children to share ideas on a wider scale than their own class or school.  It enabled Year 4 and 5 children in our school to see that they were not alone in wanting to live sustainably as caretakers of their future world.  By purposefully and creatively engaging with local children in a different school on a shared focus, participants began to develop a sense of commonality and interdependence, which could then be extended to how they relate to others globally.

Enquiry based learning

An enquiry based approach was a significant factor in the success of the project, as children asked questions and then researched, recorded and interpreted their findings using ICT.  For example, children wanted to find out how energy was being consumed in different areas around school.  Digital photographs, video documentaries, audio recordings of interviews were some of the ways they recorded their findings.

There was also a wide range of ICT options to share ideas and be ‘critical friends’ with the partner school, including email, blogs, video conferencing, DVDs and PowerPoint presentations [incorporating hyperlinks for text, audio and visual documents].  These methods were also useful for creating an action plan for children’s own and partner schools.  Furthermore, the children involved remained motivated throughout as they were so enthusiastic about using ICT as a tool.

Self directed learning

In order to give children a sense that climate change is affecting the planet in very different ways, we split them into five working groups, each linked to a vulnerable part of the environment: polar region protectors; tropical region protectors; ocean protectors; savannah protectors and desert protectors.  Together, these groups formed the Planet Protectors.

The groups children worked in were encouraged to organise themselves with adult facilitation to ensure the dominant members did not make all the decisions.  Children made decisions about what they wanted to research and how they would report their findings … and more importantly how they were going to be the catalyst for change within the school and the wider community.  By allowing children to make decisions, we aimed to empower them to maintain their sustainable lifestyle out of choice, rather than behaving in a way they have been told to temporarily.

Each group had a personal log book and tray to record findings in any form they chose.  Much of this work was unsupervised, which some would say represented quantity rather than quality, but the numerous processes that children underwent to carry out their research and present their findings was invaluable.  For example, they were learning to direct their own learning as well as working co-operatively with others.  Children were also developing a real sense of audience for their purposeful speaking and listening and creative writing.

Using ICT- challenges and achievements

Trying out new technology in the classroom can be daunting, but the teachers involved in the project found that the advantages outweighed the challenges.  A few items of technology and a little bit of teacher/ learner imagination went a long way, and both teachers and pupils felt they had achieved a great deal by the completion of the project.

Video conferencing uses web-cams and microphones to have a ‘face to face’ conversation with people in different locations.  It can also be used to transfer documents and share web links immediately.  Despite some technical difficulties, and early problems due to lack of experience, this proved an extremely effective and immediate way of children sharing questions and ideas.  It seems to be even more effective if children have had the chance to meet each other face-to-face.

Web logs or ‘blogs’ were a great way for children to communicate quickly to a wider audience.  In fact, when children saw their internet blogs up on an interactive white board they were excited and energised by their new found ‘fame’.  The blog was edited by the broadband consortium WMnet, which made it safe for children to access.  WMnet also provided a safe web space where work could be posted and research could be carried out by the children.

Children with different learning needs were able to contribute meaningfully to the project, and children who may find other areas of the curriculum more challenging had raised self esteem as they were on the same level as everyone else when it came to using new equipment: they also felt they were really making a difference.

Final thought

Children thoroughly enjoyed learning from a partner school and sharing ideas about climate change using ICT, as evidenced by their reflections, for example: “I enjoyed working with other schools, getting tips from others and finding out what other people have done”  [Year 5 pupil].

So, is learning about climate change all doom and gloom?  Well, I’ll leave the final thought to a year 4 pupil:  “Thanks for choosing us to do this project Miss! We’re having so much fun”’

The Climate X-change project involved the following process for each school:

  • Make contact with another school. It is best if the teachers meet.
  • Find out the best way for your schools to communicate. There are lots of options; blog; wiki; e-mail; video conferencing; web; phone; etc

Find out about climate change.

  • Introduce yourselves to your partner school.
  • Do an audit of the energy use in your school and any other elements that might affect [or be affected by] climate change.
  • Prepare a presentation for your partner school. [Your partner school should prepare a presentation on their school for you at the same time].
  • Exchange your presentation. If possible get together virtually, e.g. by using video conferencing or messaging. You might even send a few ambassadors to the other school to make your presentation.
  • Provide 'consultancy' to the other school. Use what you have learned about climate change to make suggestions of changes or actions for the other school.
  • Plan actions for your own school based upon the advice received from your partner school.
  • Evaluate - How did it go? What went well and what would you change if you did it again?  For more on the Climate X-Change project see:  www.climatechange.wmnet.org.uk

The project was managed by WMnet in partnership with Tide~.  A version of this article appears in Primary Geographer magazine, Autumn 2008