In 2008, the University of East Anglia and its partners were selected as one of a number of pilot projects seeking to enhance public engagement activity within UK Higher Education Institutions (the Beacons for Public Engagement project). This marked the birth of CUE East (Community University Engagement) which sought to bring together community groups, academics, schools etc., enabling them to work in partnership with one another, drawing upon each others expertise to reach and benefit new audiences.
The EcoBox was a partnership project funded by and initiated by CUE East, delivered by the Teacher Scientist Network (TSN), working in partnership with Norwich 21 (now Norwich Carbon Reduction Trust), together with Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council Children's Services and Green Energy Options.
The project involved University academics and partner organisations inputting ideas, knowledge and expertise that were moulded by TSN into an exciting and engaging collection of resources and activities suitable for schools to borrow. The boxes were designed to empower teachers to address the challenge of cross-curricular approaches to the sustainable living agenda and to enable young people to participate in sustainable living activities in schools, at home or in the community. To ensure widespread access to the boxes, they became part of the highly-regarded and well known TSN Kit Club that currently has a membership of over 200 schools.
Meeting the Need:
This project has been one in which Norfolk’s schools advisory service had identified a need within schools; with new methods sought to overcome barriers to engagement with Sustainable Living. Behavioural change, underpinned by knowledge and promoted by young people is potentially a powerful mediator for change.
The box was designed to support teaching and learning in climate change and sustainable living across a variety of school subjects. With the government aim for “all schools to become sustainable schools by 2020” the project aimed to support schools in reaching this target by developing a truly cross-curricular resource available for loan. Resources and 10 distinct activities were provided, with a focus upon science, geography and citizenship. With activities that help students to reflect on how they use resources in their whole lives; at home, school and in the community, it was hoped that the box would stimulate discussion (and possibly behavioural change) beyond the school boundary.
The boxes were researched, assembled and managed by TSN. UEA academics and Norfolk teachers were consulted by TSN in their initial research. Working in a very ‘bottom-up’ manner TSN wanted to ensure that what was offered to schools would meet teacher expectation, capture existing best practice and avoid re-invention of the wheel,.
TSN held its first ‘Pizza, Pudding and Planning’ evening in July 2009, when it canvassed the thoughts of about 20 teachers on this project in a relaxed ‘focus group’ approach with refreshments provided.
Nine-months later the boxes were completed and piloted in Norwich schools. The boxes contained resources and activities suitable for Key Stage 3 and 4 curricula (11-16 yrs). Comprehensive supporting notes, background information and activity sheets (reviewed by UEA academics) were provided within the box. After-school continued professional development (cpd) sessions for teachers were delivered by TSN to familiarise teachers with the contents of the Ecobox helping them feel confident and inspired to use the boxes. A term-long lending period was agreed for each school piloting the boxes and feedback sought from users.
During the pilot phase of the boxes, teachers were asked to complete an evaluation form identifying strengths and weaknesses of the box during classroom use. This feedback, and that obtained directly at the cpd sessions informed the modifications to the boxes in Summer 2011, before they became available to all schools a few months later. Even now, every time a box is borrowed, users are encouraged to complete a feedback form and face-to-face feedback is usually gathered when kits are returned.
Norwich 21 were particularly keen to try to assess the impact of the box in bringing about a change in the attitudes and behaviour of pupils and their parents. Pre- and post-activity surveys were designed by a Master’s student at UEA working with Norwich 21 and these were distributed to all schools participating in the pilot of the box. A control group (who did not have access to the boxes) were also identified and asked to complete the survey. Despite incentivising responses, the return rate was low.
After its pilot year, when its use was restricted to schools within the greater Norwich boundary, the Ecobox became part of the stable of resources that comprise the TSN Kit Club. This ensures access to all schools for many years to come and makes it easier for schools to access (as the TSN Kit Club is widely used by schools to access free-to-loan science resources).
To help keep the box updated and to aid in its marketing to schools, a dedicated page of the TSN Kit Club website was developed to highlight links to related materials and widen box usage (http://www.tsn.org.uk/KC/sustainability.htm).
The box has provided a spring-board for TSN to work in this increasingly important cross-curricular area. TSN’s research highlighted many existing resources suitable for primary school use, so a further Sustainable Living box specifically for primary schools was developed. The cross-curricular approach to learning, that may involve ‘collapsing the timetable’, being more easily adopted in primary schools.
We modified several of the EcoBox activities to add to the CarboSchools library of online sustainability activities (http://www.carboschools.org) so they could be delivered without access to the box. These were promoted at GIFT 2010, a pan-European workshop for 80 teachers which had as its theme, Energy and Sustainable Development (held in parallel to the EGU general assembly, see http://www.egu.eu/media-outreach/gift/home.html).
TSN was also commissioned by the Environment Agency to replicate the boxes for Suffolk schools after their popularity with Norfolk teachers. A further 4 boxes were provided, to be managed by the Environment Agency. The Norfolk boxes are also used by academics in UEA’s Carbon Reduction programme when hosting school visits.