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Approaches that encourage action competence

EfS is about engaging students with the world they live in and developing the ability to take action for a sustainable future. This means that teaching needs to develop action competence and the key competencies. The four approaches described here have been developed in different contexts, but they have direct applicability for teaching and learning in EfS.

Experiential learning

The Curriculum in Action materials online include detailed information about the experiential learning cycle, including a diagram that depicts the cycle’s teaching and learning process.

  • Diagram (Curriculum in action website)

This information was developed for teachers of health and physical education, but the approach is effective for teaching and learning in many school subjects, including EfS.

For example, have students reflect on the experience of a beach cleanup and respond to questions such as, ‘What did I find?’ ‘Was I surprised?’ ‘Will this waste be back on the beach next week?’ ‘Where has it come from?’ ‘What changes are needed to reduce the waste on the beach?’ Reflecting on an authentic learning experience helps students to build the knowledge that enables them to take focused action.

The UNESCO site Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future promotes the value of experiential learning in EfS.

Co-operative learning

Co-operative learning is an interactive or collaborative approach. The teacher guides or facilitates the learning to develop a sense of collective responsibility for the well-being of the group, the wider community, and the environment. Learning that explicitly aims to benefit all can energise and inform actions for a sustainable future.

For example, as part of a beach cleanup, support your students in working co-operatively. Discuss how working as a co-ordinated unit can have a greater impact than a bunch of individuals acting alone. Ask the students to think about their individual skills and preferences as they plan how to reduce marine waste in future. How do their collective skills match up with the actions they have identified? Who is most confident about approaching local businesses? Who would like to draft up letters to local newspapers? Are there art or design or photography students who could spearhead designing posters or fliers?

Problem-based learning

In problem-based learning, students assume primary responsibility for researching a problem. They can have a part in deciding on the problem to be researched and connecting the learning to their own interests.

For example, as they reflect on the results of a beach cleanup, have students choose an issue (such as waste disposal) that most interests them. Ask them to generate a plan to solve the problem or improve the situation, such as designing an awareness campaign targeted at commercial fishing operators or developing biodegradable packaging.

The teaching and learning strategies described on UNESCO site Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future include future problem solving and community problem solving.

Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning involves the students in asking questions, gathering information and ideas, examining relevant issues (big ideas), and making systematic attempts to answer the questions they have identified. The questions and possible answers may lead into possible actions.

For example, the students could generate focus questions based on the data about the waste they collected during a beach cleanup and relating to the key concept of interdependence, in this case, how society’s decisions and actions impact on the marine environment.

These focus questions and possible answers could flow on to actions such as lobbying local takeaway outlets to reduce packaging or designing an awareness campaign to save an endangered animal (the Maui’s dolphin) or plant (pingao or pikao).

You can read more about inquiry-based learning on the UNESCO site Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future.

Also useful is the Building Conceptual Understandings in the Social Sciences (BCUSS) book Approaches to Social Inquiry (Ministry of Education, 2008). See the Social Sciences Online homepage for a PDF of this book.

Last updated April 22, 2015



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