'Doing' Sustainability

June 24, 2021
Jodie Davidson
Ingrid Smith


School: Brookman Primary School

Year Group: 4/5

Teacher: Ingrid Smith

Creative Practitioner: Jodie Davidson

Creative Practice: Visual Art

Including Sustainability as a cross-curriculum link is one thing, but students understanding how they can ‘do’ sustainability is another subject altogether, particularly in realising that it is a universal language. For students, it offered the opportunity to reflect on the skills of previous generations alongside STEM processes of building and constructing, but with limited resources. Through this, for particular students who may not be academic, who may find themselves challenged with group work, or where English is a second language, it provided the chance to develop unfamiliar skills which while doing so, brought about a closer personal balance with their peers.

At the beginning of the program, trying to engage a particular year 5 student for any length of time was a challenge. He would remove himself from group discussions after minimal input, was reluctant to work alongside peers, preferring to challenge them both physically and verbally and when embarrassed by a lack of knowledge, was quick to offer a sarcastic response. Through continuous collaborative warm-ups designed as a challenge, rather than something that was immediately achievable, using materials that were unfamiliar to create settlements and tools to cut, drill, and connect recycled materials, surreptitiously, he found himself hooked, alongside everyone else in trying to achieve, to unravel the puzzle and win the game. This process allowed for the establishment of unfamiliar yet common goals, alongside classmates building a sense of community and belonging.

“It’s good because we got to have fun and work in different groups that we haven’t worked in before. We got to make up lots of ideas and the class works differently because they have to communicate because they are in different groups.” - Student

The ten-year-old academic, computer smart student, with limited social skills and a preference for blending into the background, would say little, preferring to keep his head down. In forming a group where he became the leader and was the person responsible for compiling the group’s information and presenting it based on discussion, negotiation and responsibility, it resulted in him becoming more assertive. His shoulders moved back, he spoke up and he walked taller. In his words, he felt that he got to combine fun activities and work at the same time.

“I feel different because I’ve learnt how to be creative and how to work better with others. The class works better because they understand each other and are better in the playground at lunchtime.” - Student

Girls began to voice their opinions in a boy heavy class. For one child, who barely spoke inside or outside of the classroom, was immersed in plant material, group building, hammering, nailing and piecing parts together. She began to ask questions, speaking up when she couldn’t do something. For a year 5 academic student, she became more confident in her abilities, speaking up to get her point across.

Through actively ‘doing’ sustainability, working outdoors, building settlements, role-playing opinions and perspectives of creatures other than themselves, including plants, animals and the environment, they were able to develop skills in negotiation and healthy debate. They learnt to put forward their potential ideas and solutions, receive constructive criticism and work as a team towards a collaborative outcome. It is one thing to teach the theory of sustainability, but it is another to be able to practice it alongside HASS, English, Maths, Science and Technology.