Have you ever thought about promoting climate change awareness in your Art & Design projects? Climate change has gained increased exposure over the past few years due to activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion and political events such as COP 26. Cultural icons have emerged such as Greta Thunberg who have risen to inspire a generation. More established icons such as David Attenborough are leading the way raising awareness and teaching the population. However, you do not need to have celebrity status to inspire. As Art Teachers, we are in a unique position to explore topics in a way that allows for curiosity, questioning and personal investigation. Climate change promotes an opportunity for teachers to engage students in a topic and foster attitudes that could change the world.
In this blog post, I will be exploring how we can embed Climate Change awareness into our projects. Below you will find 3 tips to support you and an example of a project I have implemented this year.
We know that learners will arrive to lessons with different starting points. However, when conducting projects on concepts such as Climate Change it is important for us to reflect on our own positionality and recognise that some learners may know more than us. Climate change is a passionate subject for many young people, and it is important that we are ready to listen.
However, some learners may not be as confident. I have found using digital tools such as Padlet and Menti fantastic opportunities for defining initial starting points and sharing initial thoughts. The anonymity element also allows students to be honest as they will be free from judgement. [Padlet and Menti are real time thought sharing platforms that can be accessed by any digital device]
Further to this, some learners may arrive to your lesson with ideas around the issue of climate change inspired by fake news or other celebrity personalities. For example, in 2018 Donald Trump said he didn’t believe in climate change. As an educator, it is vital that you listen to all points of view and are ready to discuss. For example, I ran a climate focused project recently and had a student who had very clear views on protesting and activist groups. This created a fantastic opportunity to bring in British Values. We had a class discussion on what it means to live in a democracy and why we are allowed to protest
Climate anxiety is a form of psychological discomfort caused by the climate crisis. With challenging mental health on the rise in young people, it is important that we try to avoid contributing to this by adding an increased sense of existential dread.
The reality of climate change is that the real impact won’t be felt until the future. This makes young people particularly vulnerable to climate anxiety; because of this, it is important that you choose your material carefully. I have found using resources from the BBC or other reputable content creators most suitable. Try to avoid sources that are out to scaremonger or cause panic. Learners will find creativity as a useful tool to express their frustration around the topic so be prepared to see a range of works from sad to humorous!
Climate change doesn’t have a preferred art medium and this means you really can be explorative. We’ve also discussed climate anxiety in this blog post; allow learners to express their feelings through their art. Try not to be too restrictive and let the learners explore their own personal style. Material choice also brings in further opportunities for you to question and encourage learners to think about the materials they are using. For example, why shouldn’t oil paints be washed in the sink? What are acrylic paints made from? Why shouldn’t students rip out pages in their sketchbook and throw them in the bin in the middle of a project? (An issue just as important as climate change obviously!)
This year, I applied a ‘Flipped Learning’ methodology to my climate change project. Flipped learning is when you ask learners to access a resource before a session. The resource will then be used/recalled during the session. We use this methodology to prioritise class time. You probably already do it but now you know its name!
In this project, I asked the learners to watch ‘Climate Change: The Facts’ with David Attenborough then make notes about something they had learnt on a Padlet. We later discussed the notes on the Padlet as a class and created artist books inspired by the facts. We also created our own protest posters as part of the project.
Finally, we exhibited the books in the college library to educate the wider institution. Overall, it was a highly successful project that kept all learners engaged over the 2 week period.
Climate change is a challenge that isn’t going to be going anywhere any time soon, therefore, it’s important that students recognise the issue and know how to deal with their feelings surrounding it. If you want to do a climate-focused project but aren’t sure where to start, watch a documentary or look at some artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Olafur Eliasson for some inspiration.
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