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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Connecting with community: teaching in the 'real' world

Simon Lindsay
Science Education Officer, Catholic Education Office Melbourne



An initiative of the Catholic Education Office Victoria is assisting teachers and their students to work with their local community on environmental science projects. The article looks at the example of St Patrick's School in Kilmore.



Since 2001/2002, the Catholic Education Office Melbourne has provided opportunities for schools to undertake practical environmental science projects through the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program. The Local Area Primary Science Grants initiative aims to connect schools with their local communities through studies of the environment, and to bridge the gap between classroom environmental science and the 'real' world of adults. Schools have been encouraged to submit proposals in science and environmental science which involve working with their local community on projects.

The goal of the initiative is to make the teaching of environmental science more relevant, realistic and meaningful, while encouraging schools to work with the community to better utilise the 'hidden' resources which lie there.

The impetus arose from feedback from teachers and from Australian Government research which highlighted areas of concern in the teaching of science and environmental science. The concerns include a lack of student engagement, an emphasis on abstract topics and rote-learning, and schools working in isolation from each other and from the communities around them.

The initiative was developed to increase the meaning and relevance of environmental science teaching by providing opportunities for students and teachers to work on real environmental projects, and to assist students to gain practical environmental skills and a working knowledge of environmental science in the field.

Through the projects so far, students and teachers have investigated water usage and drought, salinity, waste, propagation of plants, management of non-native species, and local factors affecting the survival of species.

The initiative has also provided opportunities for students to explore many of the 'big picture' issues involved in environmental studies, such as sustainability, interconnectedness and ecosystems, Indigenous land management, and social attitudes towards the environment.

Schools have been encouraged to develop their own projects tied directly to their local area, and tailored to the professional development needs of teachers and the directions of the school. Participating schools have formed partnerships with local businesses, friends' groups, non-government organisations and local councils, to work on action research programs such as CoastCare, LandCare, Waste Wise and WaterWatch.


St Patrick's School Kilmore

The project at St Patrick's School Kilmore is one example of a school that has formed a strong partnership with a local organisation, in this instance Goulburn Valley Water, to work actively on environmental issues important to the local area.

Teachers and students at this school have become active in the WaterWatch Community Water Program, through which students and the community work together to monitor sustainable use of water and improve catchment water quality. Students have undertaken practical investigations of water quality, turbidity, stormwater, and aquatic organisms in local creeks, to provide data for scientists which will further inform the program.

Students have also taken part in the Goulburn Valley Water program Salt Watch, which investigates the problem of salinity in the local area. Students have worked with local land-owners in a tree planting project along Kilmore Creek, where native trees are being added to help restore water table balance and prevent dry land salinity.

Teachers have incorporated these practical skills and knowledge into units of work and linked them with the Curriculum Standards Framework outcomes across the Key Learning Areas. The school has built the experience of the research projects into their curriculum and assessment practices. In addition, as a result of the partnership with Goulburn Valley Water, St Patrick's School Kilmore is investigating the possibility of becoming a pilot school for the new WaterWise water conservation project in the community.

By setting a real and meaningful context for learning, and by utilising the resources and personnel of the community, students have been presented with an engaging opportunity for effective learning, and an opportunity to develop a high level of scientific literacy with the world around them. Teachers have reported significant increases in student engagement, increased ability of students to transfer learning and to make links to other areas, and an increased understanding and respect for the natural environment.

The profile of teaching within the community has also increased as a result of the school projects. By leading students in action research and networking with environmental professionals, the teachers are promoting what is widely considered as best practice to the wider community.

KLA

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