EPisodes: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

6: Teaching sustainability and sustainable teaching

November 06, 2019 Philippa Kruger and Rachel Chisnall Season 1 Episode 6
EPisodes: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
6: Teaching sustainability and sustainable teaching
Chapters
EPisodes: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
6: Teaching sustainability and sustainable teaching
Nov 06, 2019 Season 1 Episode 6
Philippa Kruger and Rachel Chisnall

Philippa chats to Rachel Chisnall, a science and chemistry teacher at Taieri College in Dunedin, New Zealand. Rachel is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow and is part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator programme. Recently she has been involved in the Sustainable Development Goals Innovation Lab project, which is a network of educators that seek to improve education for students in rural areas or refugee camps of Africa. This EPisode looks at the power of collaboration and how connected teachers can make a difference.

Show Notes Transcript

Philippa chats to Rachel Chisnall, a science and chemistry teacher at Taieri College in Dunedin, New Zealand. Rachel is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow and is part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator programme. Recently she has been involved in the Sustainable Development Goals Innovation Lab project, which is a network of educators that seek to improve education for students in rural areas or refugee camps of Africa. This EPisode looks at the power of collaboration and how connected teachers can make a difference.

Philippa Kruger:

Welcome to our EPisodes Podcast, where we explore teaching and learning in a digital age. My name is Philippa Kruger, and I'm the Global Head of Languages at Education Perfect. Today we are lucky to be chatting to Rachel Chisnall, who is a science and chemistry teacher at Taieri College in Dunedin, New Zealand. Rachel is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow and is part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator programme. Rachel has been teaching for the last 10 years, and over this time has been involved in a number of very interesting projects alongside her full-time teaching job. One of these projects has been the Sustainable Development Goals Innovation Lab project, which is a network of educators that seek to improve education for students in rural areas or refugee camps of Africa. Rachel is going to tell us a bit more about this today and some of the implications that this has had on her classroom teaching.

Philippa Kruger:

Hi Rachel. So, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you've ended up where you are today?

Rachel Chisnall:

Kia ora. I was born in Wellington, went to school in Christchurch, and I was interested in vaccination and immunization, so thought that career path in medicine would be a good idea. I came down to Otago University and found immunology, then I found teaching at the University. So as I was doing postgrad, I taught some of the undergraduate labs. I really, really enjoyed that, so I went into teaching in a secondary college.

Rachel Chisnall:

Growing up in Christchurch, my family had a crib or a holiday home at the Rakaia River so - ko Rakaia te awa, 'the Rakaia is my river'. And I think it explains me very well; it's a braided river, so there's lots of little different streams. I have a stream which is, I'm a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow. I am also the PPTA ICT rep for Otago Southland. I have my school stream where I try to be the best classroom teacher that I can be. Then, I have my projects, the Innovation Lab project, which we're talking about today. Then, I try and keep my family as big as possible, but sometimes they do sort of get a little bit diverted. So I have lots of little things going on in my life, and that's who I am.

Philippa Kruger:

What do you love the most about your job?

Rachel Chisnall:

That I'm not bored. Every day in a classroom is a little bit different, even if some of the things you're dealing with are not the best. So, "Don't put your fingers in a Bunsen burner" or, "Please behave yourself." Or dealing with the kids who are living in really challenging environments, we're try to support their learning when they're really struggling. Then, other days, I get paid to sit in the sun and watch cricket. I think forming those relationships with your students and their families, and that my work is so varied, is what I love about teaching.

Philippa Kruger:

I know you've already, sort of, described a little bit about the different strands in your life, but what would be five adjectives that best describe you?

Rachel Chisnall:

So I asked my friends for some help with this one, and I've been described as fierce, which I suppose I can be if I get really passionate about something. Advocative, so I really do try and advocate for quality equal access for everybody, especially to technology. I'm always learning, and I do try and have fun.

Philippa Kruger:

You've been involved in a number of really interesting projects, one of them being the Sustainable Development Goals or the SDG Innovation Lab project. Could you tell us about what the Sustainable Development Goals are and what this project is about?

Rachel Chisnall:

For sure. Just essentially from the webpage, the Sustainable Development Goals, or also known as the Global Goals, were adapted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. It's a range of goals encompassing the environment, education, energy, quality health care, to try and minimize the gaping inequalities that we have in our global society and try and improve the quality of life for everybody. The Innovation Lab project is where we are trying to bring these Sustainable Development Goals to students in what New Zealanders would call disadvantaged areas. It started with some refugee students in Pugu, Tanzania, and we are trying to introduce these students to these goals and empower them to come up with their own solutions for what they see as the biggest challenges that they face.

Philippa Kruger:

How did you become involved in the project?

Rachel Chisnall:

The project was founded by Koen Timmers and Jennifer Williams. I first met Koen at a Microsoft Educator event in Seattle in 2015. As part of that conference, we heard from Ziauddin Yousafzai, and I hope I've said his name correctly. He is Malala's father, and he stressed the importance of quality education for everybody, not just for the boys, and Malala is obviously a champion for getting education for everybody. We also, as part of that conference, Skyped into a refugee camp, and Koen was especially inspired by this and started the Kakuma Project, which is where he got teachers right over the world to Skype into the Kakuma Refugee Camp and teach the students. I joined in that when I could, the time difference from New Zealand does make that a little challenging, but I would Skype in as and when I could, or I'd provide flipped learning lesson opportunities. I'd record a little video or get my students to record videos, and then we would put them up online. Then, when the internet was good in the camps, they could download them and watch them at a future time.

Rachel Chisnall:

That project has linked into several global projects that Koen has run, and I've been proud, really, to involve myself in some of them. Then, that has expanded into the Innovation Lab schools project, which got some funding for some specific gear and to help train the teachers. So, rather than us just teaching the students via Skype, but also helping the teachers to have a more student-centered approach. Then, the first class occurred about six weeks ago.

Philippa Kruger:

What sort of happened as part of that first class that you were involved with?

Rachel Chisnall:

It was amazing because, to build the curriculum, I worked closely with Kate Murray in Ireland and Naomi who lives in California in the United States, and we had worked on this curriculum over a period of months. It took quite a while, and we got feedback from other educators. It was a really collaborative project with Koen and Jennifer leading the front. We were all on a Zoom call with Koen, who was in Belgium, Kate in Ireland, Naomi in the US, and me and New Zealand, talking to these students in Pugu, Tanzania. We each described what SDG was important to us.

Rachel Chisnall:

My SDG or Sustainable Development Goal is number 14, Life Under Water, and that is linked to my love and the feeling I have for the Rakaia River. Also, when I was younger, they were Hector's dolphins that used to swim at the mouth of that river, and every time I went to my grandparents' home, I would see the Hector's dolphins. Now I go there with my son and we don't see them, so it's a really poignant reminder for me that in New Zealand, still, we are not quite fulfilling that guardianship of the land and of the water as we should.

Rachel Chisnall:

We each shared which Sustainable Development Goal was important to us. For example, Kate talked about Gender Equality and how sports players in Ireland, if they're male are paid more than if they are female [sports players]. She had done a project with her students on that, and the students were then exploring the different SDGs. Then what made it really amazing was that Jane Goodall came to visit...

Philippa Kruger:

Wow.

Rachel Chisnall:

... Obviously I think that she is an absolute goddess, but the kids just didn't care. They were like, "Oh yeah, here's something else, but we're really into this project and really into this learning." They were just like, "Oh yeah, whatever." [Laughs] That was the most amazing thing, because they were having this unforgettable experience, but you know how kids do, they were into what they were doing and they didn't know who Jane Goodall was.

Philippa Kruger:

That's fantastic. What has some of the lessons in the curriculum that you are designing for these students, what does that look like? What have some of those lessons been made up of?

Rachel Chisnall:

We thought quite deeply about this and had lots of discussions because we didn't want to take the imperialistic view of, "This is what we think you guys need, here you go and do it." We really wanted the students to come up with their own problems. So the initial lesson was around identifying or just learning about the SDGs, what they were, why they were in place. Then, from there, it was a bit of a brainstorming session for them to come up with the problems that were relevant to them. Those lessons are just starting now.

Rachel Chisnall:

Then, using a lean canvas model to work through, because you can say, "Oh, we don't have water," but to actually figure out why they don't have water; is it because the river is polluted, is it because there's a pipe that's broken, or is it because there was never a pump to begin with? So you actually have to really figure out what your problem is before you can fix it, and so you know who the right people are to go and ask for help or how can you combat that problem?

Rachel Chisnall:

I think of water because that's something that most New Zealanders would think of, but these kids might need internet access so they can keep in touch with their families, because their families sometimes get split up if they're looking for work and that sort of thing. Or they might need sports fields so that they can interact with their friends. You don't know what their big problems are, so we really wanted to try and empower them to identify what their problems were, think more deeply about what possible solutions could be, and then try and find some solutions.

Philippa Kruger:

What have you learnt from being involved in this?

Rachel Chisnall:

I think that we're more connected than it's possible to imagine, and you can't just make assumptions about people in other countries. Living in Dunedin, I was talking about water and how Dunedin water's chlorinated, and so people were quite shocked. People had this assumption in New Zealand that everything is clean and green, and compared to a lot of places, it is, but Dunedin still needs to have its water treated before you can drink it. People made the assumptions about our country that I might make about somebody else's, so it was an interesting thing.

Rachel Chisnall:

Also, just that kindness goes a long way. It spends some of my time, but I know that I've made such a difference to some of these kids, and they might not have those same ideals as me, but you can still be kind. That's been a really big thing for me. Also, working in a collaborative way. There's a lot of people involved with this project, and trying to make sure that you get as many different voices, opinions, values and cultures heard so that you can do your best for as many people, I think is really important too.

Philippa Kruger:

What have been some of the implications on your teaching in New Zealand?

Rachel Chisnall:

A better understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals. Even just little things around how to make my teaching more sustainable. I'll use an example of the egg challenge. I don't think there's too many science teachers in New Zealand that won't have done an egg challenge about how could you drop an egg from a height safely. So, giving it the additional parameters of being plastic free so you can't just use a plastic shopping bag or trying to use less plastic Cellotape, can you use paper tape or just no Cellotape at all? If every single science teacher in New Zealand did that, you would have so much less tape or plastic going into your environment.

Rachel Chisnall:

So I think, sometimes when you think about it being sustainable, you get a little bit overwhelmed, but actually if you start small and lots of people do it imperfectly, that will make a significant difference. I think it's also made me challenge some of my assumptions. It's very difficult to treat your students equally and have equality because they're not the same, not all kids need to be treated the same at the same time. So just being more aware of those different needs and requirements of students in your classroom.

Philippa Kruger:

If there's any teachers out there listening to this who are keen to get involved with this project, what can they do? Is there any websites that they can go to, people they can contact?

Rachel Chisnall:

Absolutely. As I said, this is a really collaborative project. Koen Timmers, you can just google him, he'll probably come up along with Jennifer Williams. If you look up a Kakuma, K-A-K-U-M-A, the Project Kakuma, that will take you to where you can volunteer to teach refugees. If you look up Innovation Lab schools, that will take you to a variety of projects. At the moment there's a Climate Action programme. There's been lots of these global projects. There's also a tree planting, so plantED, but "plant" with an "ED" at the end for education, where there's been over a million trees planted by students registered and they're still counting.

Rachel Chisnall:

If you're in New Zealand, there are a lot more localized SDG curriculum documents being made, because they were really only released in 2015, those resources are just starting to come through. I know that there's a group in Christchurch who are working on developing some curriculum documents, and there'll be different teachers sort of scattered around I suppose. You're also welcome to reach out to me.

Philippa Kruger:

That's fantastic. Thank you. Going a bit more general now, as a result of this project and all of the other exciting professional development workshops you're involved in, what learning models do you strive to implement in your classroom on a day-to-day basis?

Rachel Chisnall:

I really aim for student voice where I can, and to try and make my learning accessible to all students. I guess I do a lot of that through a tilted or blended learning approach. Fully flipped learning doesn't really work for my students, a lot of them have part-time jobs or they go and they're busy on a farm. They don't really get time to do homework that you would like them to do. But still, I remember talking to a colleague, Matty Nichol, about this and people were watching his videos at 2:00 in the morning the night before the test. While that's not necessarily the best time to be watching them, if that's when the kids need them, if you can be available then in that video form, then you're helping the students.

Rachel Chisnall:

I do have a personal sort of internal struggle around wanting broader learning experiences but still needing to come back to paper-based assessments, particularly for our science curriculum. I really hope in New Zealand, with our science curriculum being rewritten and the changes occurring to our assessment model, that there is more variety in how we can gather and interpret that data.

Philippa Kruger:

Do you have any examples of some of the kinds of cool activities you do to make this learning accessible? You've talked about videos and things like that, have you got any other sort of practical examples that you can tell us about?

Rachel Chisnall:

I think the one that always comes to mind, and it started me on this, was when... We have a task about heat transfer around a thermos flask, so students had to write about convection, conduction and radiation, and different aspects of a thermos flask and how that works. I had kids with very low literacy, but they built me a flask. They went off scavenging to the skip and the caretaker's shed, and they came back with some tires and some cardboard. They used an unsustainable amount of tinfoil, but they could tell me that they were putting the tinfoil on to reflect the heat back in, and they could tell me that they were using the tires because it was rubber and it would insulate, so it would stop heat going in or going out. They were having a discussion about the lid because one kid just was like, "Oh I'm sick of this" and he wanted to just put a flap on. Another student said, "Nah mate, we need to have it so that it screws in because the steam will make the lid pop off."

Rachel Chisnall:

It was just that wee moment of, "This student understands that if you put a hot drink in here, it will change state to become a gas and that will take up more space, so you need to contain that gas inside the flask." I realized that he understood it very well, he just didn't have the written language to put it into his written assessment document. I think we probably have a lot of students who are trapped in that because they don't have that ability to write as well. Or they can't be bothered writing it because they think, "Well, I know it in my head, why do I have to write it down?"

Rachel Chisnall:

Some other examples I've used more recently, I think, is I'm a big fan of Minecraft. Some of my students absolutely love that, so a kid that won't draw a sound wave will build it in Minecraft, or they will build an ear with all of the bones labeled. We do some work at Taieri College with the Sinclair Wetlands, so students have built various aspects of the Sinclair Wetlands in Minecraft and talked about how... That the gorse is used as a nursery plant for the newer native trees that they're planting or the seeds that they're sprouting. They have this knowledge and they will apply it in different ways, even if they haven't written it down. So how can I use these different learning activities for the students to show their learning? It's a passion of mine.

Philippa Kruger:

That's really great. I can imagine that your classroom would be a very exciting classroom to be in.

Rachel Chisnall:

Sometimes.

Philippa Kruger:

That's fantastic. No, I think it all the time, I'm pretty sure. That's really awesome. Thank you. Just finally, to sort of finish off, as we're approaching the start of Term 4, do you have any advice for people who might be listening to this for surviving Term 4?

Rachel Chisnall:

Yeah, it's going to be a great race, isn't it. It's so short, this term. I always try and tell my students I value them as people before I value them as their exam results. We sometimes, as teachers, take ownership of exam results, but really they're the students'. Students will remember us and how we treated them much more than they might remember the achieved, merit or not achieved that they get in their chemistry exam. So I think trying to keep perspective of that big picture and value the whole person, but also to set boundaries and look after yourself. Set a time limit for when you will help students, or say you are available in these hours. Just be collegial with colleagues and students, because it is important that you look after yourselves. You can't look after others if you're not looking after yourself, so try and balance that work. Says she she who is rubbish at balancing who workload, but I do try!

Philippa Kruger:

I think that it's great advice for all of us, so thank you for that. Thank you so much for chatting with us today. It's been really, really interesting and insightful to learn a bit more about the SDG Innovation Lab project, but also about some of the really cool things that you're doing in your classroom. Thank you so much for your time and, for the people listening to this, I'm sure Rachel will be happy for you to get in touch with her about anything that she's talked about. We'll pop her contact details in the description. Thank you so much again, Rachel, for your time.

Rachel Chisnall:

Kia ora.

Philippa Kruger:

Thank you for listening to another EPisodes Podcast. I know I found chatting with Rachel about her involvement in the Sustainable Development Goals Innovation Lab project really interesting, and it was great to hear what she has learnt from this project and some of the exciting things she's doing in her classroom on a daily basis. My key takeaway from our conversation was the realization that a teacher based in New Zealand can really make a global impact. It is also great to reflect on the power of collaboration and how a group of teachers from around the world can work together to make such a difference.

Philippa Kruger:

If you want to reach Rachel and connect with her, we have included her email address and blog in the podcast description. We've also included some other useful links if you're interested in learning more about the SDG Innovation Lab project. If you would like to participate in the discussion on any of our topics, please go to our LinkedIn group, Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, where we post regular articles and would love to hear from you.

Philippa Kruger:

Thank you again for listening, and look out for our next EPisodes Podcast.