One of the popular workshops at the IEU’s recent Environment Conference Looking 2 Our Future was by Cool Australia.
Cool Australia achieves its vision by creating environmental educational content and activities for students and teachers, from early learning to Year 10.
When CEO and founder of Cool Australia, Jason Kimberley, is invited into schools, he makes ‘the environment’ relevant to kids. “Did your parents talk to you about responsibility?” There’s a rumbling ‘yes’.
“In relation to what?” he queries.
“Mainly our bedroom, putting things away, keeping things tidy, putting things where they should be, looking after our things so they last longer, not breaking things, sharing, looking after others.”
“That’s so right. Well we need to start thinking about our whole planet like it’s our bedroom and start looking after it.”
This is what award winning, not for profit, Cool Australia is all about. Giving school kids the information, inspiration and insights they need to connect with and care for their planet – to clean it up, but more importantly, to understand how to stop it from getting dirty in the first place.
But the Cool Australia approach is far from grandiose. It is a grass roots sustainability initiative that aims to empower young people to be the change by giving them the knowledge to take ownership of their actions. It is about breaking down barriers to action by providing young people with the opportunity to understand how simple lifestyle choices make a big impact on the world around them.
The Cool Australia mantra, Positive Everyday Action Counts underpins Cool Australia’s Enviroweek – a national campaign for young Australians to take on a challenge and create good habits for life: www.enviroweek.org
What does Cool Australia do?
The resources are online, free to access, Australian curriculum aligned and easy to use. They can simply be downloaded from the Cool Australia website and taken straight into the classroom.
Cool Australia enlists the help of a team of research graduates and curriculum advisers to develop these online learning activities and resources for students, based on the core curriculum for each year level.
“The aim was to strip away the complexities, all the dry stuff often associated with sustainability, and get the message across in plain English,” Jason said.
Information about the environment from all areas of learning, from maths and science to English, and civics and citizenship has been integrated. Rather than serving as an optional add-on for the lesson plan, the program features elements of the core curriculum, with a view to sustainability, of course.
“It has to go well beyond talking only to sustainability teachers or geography teachers,” he said.
With education, there is a captive audience that is forming opinions and understandings that will last a lifetime. Cool Australia believes that we cannot afford another generation of Australians who are ignorant about our environment. The fact that our natural world is indeed our life support system is unknown to most. Schools are the places where our outlook on life and understanding how the world works is largely formed.
Teaching reading, writing and arithmetic in real world helps environmental understanding. So to a Year 6 maths teachers who says, ’How does maths relate to sustainability?’ We say ‘everything’. Go to www.coolaustralia.org and click on the teacher section. Enter Year 6 and maths and down will drop a dozen learning activities to engage Year 6 maths students with learning also around energy, or biodiversity or water or waste.
Our thoughts on climate change
Climate change has been described as the biggest moral challenge of our time. The effects are already manifesting in our everyday life. It’s not just about polar bears. It’s about food security, loss of biodiversity, water resources, energy consumption and sustainability. The issue of climate change filters into all facets of our life, it involves everyone. Quality education is a key part of solving the issue of climate change.
Increasingly, we are bombarded with 'gloom and doom' news outlining the repercussions of climate change such as extreme weather, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, climate refugees and loss of biodiversity. The feeling of impending doom can be incredibly overwhelming, especially for children.
Cool Australia’s role is to help educate in a way that empowers young people to tackle climate change in a positive way.
The pedagogical approach of our learning resources allow students to experience action based learning, that is, they apply what they learn to their local communities. Students experience real world challenges and are supported to take action to help be part of the solution rather than the problem.
We believe the world becomes what we teach, so we ensure that our lessons are scientifically accurate, apolitical, fun and engaging. Only then can we tackle climate change in a positive and meaningful way.
The inspiration behind Cool Australia
When Jason returned from a trek in Antarctica he wrote a book Antarctica A Different Adventure recounting the stories of his adventures on the frozen continent. While researching the book Jason became concerned about the human impact on the southern ocean. He discovered that fishermen were coming down to the Southern Ocean and netting krill by the boatload to use as an additive in pellets that were being fed to cattle that were being grazed on cleared Amazonian rainforest to send hamburgers to the Americans who, one could argue, don’t need any more burgers.
Jason didn’t realise this was going on. As it turns out there are hundreds of actions like this that impact our natural world that we all have little idea about.
This Antartic adventure invigorated and armed Jason with a renewed appreciation of the foibles of humankind and the responsibility we all have to ensure the preservation of our natural environment.
Jason recognised the need to provide our next generations with relevant and engaging information about our natural world. He identified our education system as the most important and effective medium for connecting with kids and recognised our teachers as the appropriate ‘voice’ for Cool Australia. In August 2008, Cool Australia was founded.
In 2015, Cool Australia reaches more than 35,000 teachers and 800,000 students through its resources and toolbox. The website features more than 750 free to access learning activities covering many environmental and sustainability topics.
The ultimate goal is to achieve the sort of awareness and behaviour change of the federal government’s anti-smoking crusade over the past few decades.
“We wouldn’t even think of smoking inside nowadays,” Jason said, thanks to campaigns targeting Australians with health warnings the government introduced on packaging in the 1970s.
“Kids will go up to a smoker and say, ‘What are you doing? You’re killing yourself!’ They grow up knowing it’s not good for your health.
“This is not an alternative hippie attitude, it is the mainstream consciousness. A natural reaction.”
Cool Australia looks forward to the day that all Australians take positive everyday action to clean up and nurture the biggest and most important bedroom out there – our environment.