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Making connections and creating sustainable futures through a residential learning program in the middle years of schooling
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Kenneth PurnellKenneth Purnell
Research indicates that learning in the natural environment is a powerful way to engage students in sustainability issues (see, for example, Gralton, Sinclair & Purnell, 2004; Ballantyne, Fien & Packer, 2001; Ballantyne, Packer & Everett, 2005). It is this premise that underpins an environmental education centre at North Keppel Island, Queensland, Australia. This Environmental Education Centre (North Keppel Island Environmental Education Centre [NKIEEC]) regularly host residential school student based programs of three to five days' duration. In late 2005 the Centre held the first extended Queensland state school residential program for two weeks' duration with eighteen Year 6 and 7 students from five nearby mainland schools.Planning for the program took two years and involved principals and staff from the local Capricorn Coast (CapCoast) Cluster of Schools as well as staff from NKIEEC. The key policy underpinning the planning was the Queensland Department of Education and the Art's Middle Phase of Learning State School Action Plan (2004) with it’s the thirteen action statements (Appendix 1). Planning also focussed on the nine values of nature identified in the professional development kit, Nature eXposed (Mumbray & Hossack, 2002). Each day of the residential had a focus on one value such as "Utilitarian' with some foci being repeated. The nine values are outlined in Appendix 2.There is a strong focus in the planning, delivery and evaluation of the program to make connections between people through partnerships, people and the natural environment and creating preferred futures through sustainable practices. Learning gains in terms of knowledge and attitudes are very important in the program. However, many other environmental programs tend to concentrate on knowledge and values only (see Ballantyne, Packer & Everett, 2005; Gralton, Sinclair & Purnell, 2004). In this program there is also an emphasis on behavioural change that results in more sustainable practices. There is a clear link between theory and practice to create more sustainable futures.This paper examines the extent to which the program achieved the stated outcomes and its impacts on learning.The aims of the program were to:To support the needs of selected CapCoast Cluster Middle Years of Learning (MYOL) students through an extended residential program;Be a powerful celebration of connection to place, people and self;Immerse learners in the values of nature; andEffect inspirational curriculum development with a focus on empowering people towards a more sustainable future.(Source: Hossack, 2005).The aims of the program are consistent with NKIEEC's Development Plan 2005-2007 (NKIEEC, 2006) where the Centre's key value is 'to empower learners through inspirational connections of people and place to affect a more sustainable future'.It is argued that the thoroughly planned extended residential experience has had a powerful and lasting impact on the participants, and that action plans developed, implemented and monitored by the participating students in their schools and the broader community are integral in contributing to sustainability practices and student learning. This is consistent with findings by Tilbury and Cooke (2005) where change is sought beyond the individual to the community.