Milica Vukadin - Environmental Education and Activism with Young Learners vs. Eco-anxiety: 5 Stages

Even though we currently have 17 sustainable development goals that reflect the global issues, we have an additional issue altogether: How can we introduce global issues to our learners without causing them to feel eco-anxiety?

Written by: Milica Vukadin

You finally found time and a little bit of space in your already packed curriculum to add some activities related to environmental issues or any other global issues, but something doesn't feel right. Your feelings are completely valid: the whole concept of global issues is pretty grim. There is nothing happy about people lacking drinking water and a roof over their heads in 2021.

If global issues are not approached carefully, they can easily cause eco-anxiety in your students and achieve an opposite effect from the one you were hoping for.

What is eco-anxiety?

Eco-anxiety refers to a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change. (Source)

A 'not so happy' story

In one of my projects, there was a boy who cried after an experiment. We compared the level of pollution in river water and drinking water from the tab. We had a special liquid that detects bacteria and we brainstormed what is going to happen when we add it to the water. Unsurprisingly, the river water turned completely purple, but the one from the tap also became pretty purple. The student felt scared when he realized that he is drinking that and he was overwhelmed by the fact that we do this to our water. This is why we must approach all global goals very carefully because we don't want to induce panic in our students and prevent them from living their life normally.

How can you include global goals in your already-packed curriculum, while also taking care of your students' wellbeing?

Here are some tips that can work in any classroom. Most of the tips come from the young learner and teenage classroom, but they can be easily reimagined in a higher education setting.

1. Start small - If your curriculum is packed, start following a calendar with important days. You can follow this amazing calendar from WESSA that is also color-coded with SIGs. Include certain goals on their world day to spread awareness. You can simply brainstorm, make a mind map, have students explore online and present, or have them discuss in pairs. These small activities can be included in any lesson and they do not have to take up a lot of time in your classroom.

2. Avoid fatalism - By avoiding the feeling of inevitable doom and leading the discussion as a form of a dialog for the future you will motivate the students to become change-makers. The dialog for the future can be anything: from deciding to use reusable bottles in the classroom, to going paperless for the tests and using digital tools instead. To start a discussion and make a list for a greener classroom, you can use this free digital interactive material.

3. Focus on the solution, not the problem - When you manage to avoid fatalism you will reach the stage where you will realize that you must start solving those problems, rather than just acknowledging they exist. I recently had a lesson with a class from India where we learned about renewable energy resources and then designed an eco-house. The students were thrilled and they even made videos describing their projects. In this lesson, I focused on critical thinking skills and making a distinction between renewable and clean energy. The students were puzzled when they realized that renewable energy resources such as wind and solar energy also create a lot of physical waste that cannot be reused easily, or even not at all. In another lesson, we explored the graveyards of wind turbines online and brainstormed how can we reuse the turbines after they cannot be used to produce energy anymore. Explore the lesson material along with videos of student's projects here.

4. Turn on those 21st-century skills - by following the method of Geo-Inquiry, you can easily activate all of the 21st-century skills without planning too much.

Here are the steps of the Geo-Inquiry process:

  1. ASK - develop a Geo-Inquiry question;
  2. COLLECT - acquire geographic information;
  3. VISUALISE - organize and analyze geographic information;
  4. CREATE - develop Geo-Inquiry stories;
  5. ACT - share Geo-Inquiry stories.

Explore one of my Geo-Inquiry projects if you want to learn more!

5. Learn about CLIL and scaffold the content properly - The final stage would be to include more content from other subjects in your lessons so that you can back up your activities with scientific facts. It's not necessary to develop content-based lessons, but scaffolding is very important. We need to start from the bottom and slowly continue to more complex concepts. Explore some courses related to the environment you can take for free!

Try following those 5 steps and you will see that covering sustainable development goals will become more natural and the students will definitely enjoy the lessons that are related to the environment.

To conclude, I just want to share a quote from my thesis that encompasses my overall teaching philosophy in environmental education:

The importance of early childhood environmental education is monumental because growing up immersed in nature is the only effective way to protect our planet since we cannot protect something we do not understand. By understanding the importance of nature, we aim not to protect it, but to preserve it by not creating environmental issues at all.

Further reading resources:

  1. ELTsustainable
  2. WESSA calendar color-coded with SIGs
  3. ELTfootprint free environmental courses for educators
  4. Start your Journey to 21st Century by using Geo-Inquiry
  5. Renewable energy resources and designing an eco-house project

Website: Alice in Methodologyland

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