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Research, sustainability and learning
Bridging the gap between science and the practice of learning for nature, the environment and sustainability
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Making Connections at Grantown Grammar School

Making Connections at Grantown Grammar School | Research, sustainability and learning |

This is the story of a fascinating secondary school project that was launched in 2007. "Making Connections" is an interdisciplinary programme encompassing themes of global citizenship, sustainability, international education and enterprise linked to practical outdoor learning experiences within the Cairngorms National Park.


The initial focus was on developing global citizens, sustainable development education, enterprise and the four capacities (Curriculum for Excellence). It has been improved and extended each following year. It can no doubt inspire other schools considering whole school approaches to outdoor learning!


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Social learning towards sustainability: Problematic, perspectives and promise

A common thread throughout a special issue of NJAS-Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences (2014) entails, that sustainability is not a destiny one can eventually reach, but rather a continuous learning path towards transformation that should be profound (e.g. affecting moral standards and value systems), transversal (e.g. requiring the involvement of individuals, groups and collectives) and counter-hegemonic (e.g. requiring the exposure and questioning of stubborn routines). From such a vantage point debates about sustainability likely require transdisciplinarity to transcend a singular disciplinary view-point and to allow for the consideration of different perspectives and types of knowledge. The aim of this special issue is to assess the added-value of a social learning perspective on research and action from at least three different ‘disciplinary’ perspectives: systems innovation, natural resource management, and environmental education. Each of these offers a particular perspective on learning, change processes and evolving understandings of sustainable practice.



A.E.J. Wals, R. Rodela, Social learning towards sustainability: Problematic, perspectives and promise, NJAS – Wageningen J. Life Sci. (2014),

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Learning outside the Classroom: Theory and Guidelines for Practice

Learning outside the Classroom: Theory and Guidelines for Practice | Research, sustainability and learning |

This book outlines theory and practice that will enable and encourage teachers to systematically and progressively incorporate meaningful outdoor learning opportunities into their daily teaching activities in a wide variety of environments and with diverse populations of pupils. This is the first textbook based around the curriculum for prospective and practising primary and secondary teachers and other outdoor educators. The principles and examples presented are intended to be adapted by teachers to suit the needs of their students in ways that draw upon content offered by the local landscape and its natural and built heritage. Although the focus of this book is ‘the real world’ beyond the classroom, it is also about good teaching — wherever it takes place. While there are chapters on practical issues such as risk-management and supervising groups outdoors, the chapters on curriculum, sustainability, curiosity, responsibility, and educational communities will serve as a valuable guide for anyone interested in applying educational theory to practice.


by Simon Beames, Peter Higgins and Robbie Nicol

August, 2011

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Natural Play. An evaluation of GfL's project work with eight primary schools in Central Scotland

Natural Play. An evaluation of GfL's project work with eight primary schools in Central Scotland | Research, sustainability and learning |

A growing body of evidence suggests that play has a significant impact on almost every area of children’s lives. It also suggests that children have significantly fewer opportunities for non-prescriptive ‘free play’ than previous generations have enjoyed.


Most children spend at least 2000 hours of their life in a school playground, probably more than in any other outdoor play setting. Despite this, many UK schools do little to create the kind of rich play environments and experiences that we know are important for children.


In other parts of Europe, play is viewed as a crucial aspect of school life – and their playgrounds and play practice are radically different from what we know here in the UK. (see for example our case studies on the radical approach taken by schools in Berlin).


With support from Inspiring Scotland, we embarked on a 2-year project with 8 Scottish primary schools to explore whether some of these more ambitious European-style ideas could be adapted to a UK context and to assess what the benefits of this approach might be for children.


This report summarises the approach we took, the lessons we learned and the impact of these projects on children and schools.


January 2012


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Learning Environments for Environmental Education | Simon Fraser University

Learning Environments for Environmental Education | Simon Fraser University | Research, sustainability and learning |

Paper presented by David Zandvliet at the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Science and Environmental Education. November, 2007.


The objectives of this research program are:

1) to develop tools and processes for measuring, evaluating and describing environmental and place-based education programs and their associated learning environments

2) To provide rich and extensive descriptions (quantitative and qualitative) of how these settings can be characterized and how they differ from other types of learning in classroom based settings and

3) to devise interventions, detail how they unfold in extensive case studies, and evaluate how they impact learning, learning environments, teacher engagement and other community effects.


This paper reports on a pilot study which employed a learning environment approach and further, highlights our current work in developing a specialised learning environment instrument: the Place-based Learning and Constructivist Environment Survey (or PLACES).


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Designing Environments to Promote Play-Based Science Learning| CYE Volumes

Designing Environments to Promote Play-Based Science Learning| CYE Volumes | Research, sustainability and learning |

The Children, Youth and Environments Journal has just published its largest issue ever. Volume 21, number 2 includes more than 20 original, peer-reviewed papers on topics such as child development in colonias; street children; travel to school; place attachment; gendered play in natural landscapes; and perceptions of nature.


It includes papers on formal and informal science learning through play; playing to learn at home and in the community; and researching playful science learning.


Papers cover research from the Canada, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Israel, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, and the USA.


The full issue can be accessed at

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Conversations about learning for sustainability

Conversations about learning for sustainability | Research, sustainability and learning |

Case studies of Scottish schools and early years centres to mark the conclusion of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).


The launch of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) on 1st January 2005 marked the start of a collective global effort to integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning, in order to address the social, economic, cultural and environmental problems we face in the 21st century.


Scotland embraced the opportunity and the Scottish Government produced two action plans, Learning for our Future and Learning for Change , to set out its ambitions and targets for each half of the Decade. Within the school sector, the biggest achievements have arguably been the embedding of global citizenship and sustainable development education as themes across learning within Curriculum for Excellence.


As we approach the conclusion of the DESD in December 2014 we are prompted to reflect on how the reorientation of education towards sustainable development has made a difference at classroom level and how has it improved outcomes for learners, their families and school communities.


Education Scotland conducted a series of visits to 20 schools and early years centres between June and September 2014 to seek their views and gather testimonies. Positive outcomes were reported in relation to:

Confidence and skills of learnersLearning experiences and motivation of learnersThe reputation of the centresStaff morale, wellbeing and motivationCommunity partnerships and community spirit.


The full report contains case studies from the establishments. Various sectors were included: early years establishments, primary and secondary schools and schools for learners with additional support needs (ASN).


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Review of the research evidence in relation to the role of trees and woods in formal education and learning

Review of the research evidence in relation to the role of trees and woods in formal education and learning | Research, sustainability and learning |

By Rebecca Lovell, Liz O’Brien, Roz Owen

The Research Agency of the Forestry Commission, 2010


This review explored research relating to education and learning outdoors and particularly that which take s place in, or focuses on, tree, woods and forests. A desk-based review was undertaken supplemented by a small number of interviews.  


Tree, wood and forest (TWF) education and learning (E&L) is any activity which takes place in, or focuses on, the specific environment or context of TWF and which provides opportunities for the participant to engage with or learn about those environments. Many outdoor and TWF focused activities which are not explicitly designed to have E&L objectives may have relevant learning outcomes. For instance programmes or activities which aim to increase levels of activity in woodland settings may result in greater engagement with and knowledge of TWF.


The Forestry Commission in England, Scotland and Wales, is one of a number of organisations, which delivers a wide range of E&L opportunities and activities in woods and forests for all ages. The Forestry Commission in each country delivers E&L through the following mechanisms:

Direct formal provision of E&L: curriculum and non curriculum based, forest apprenticeships and work placements.Facilitation: partnerships such as the Forest Education Initiative, grants and funding such as the Forest School Woodland Improvement Grant, teacher/educator support and trainingResource provision: physical resources and educational materialsInterpretation: led visits and self use interpretationPlay: provision of play activities and opportunitiesCampaigns and events: through national media or schoolsProjects/programmes where E&L is often an outcome but not a specific focus of the project e.g. health projects, volunteering, ‘friends of’ groups.


The focus of the research identified for this review has primarily been on more formal provision of outdoor E&L and on children and young people. Less is known about E&L associated specifically with trees and woods; what there is has predominantly focused on Forest School. Much of the research has explored personal, social and emotional development rather than specific educational outcomes.


Evidence from this review suggests that outdoor learning may result in:

improved personal and interpersonal skills including communication and teamworkthe accumulation of social capital, in particular fostering pride, belonging and involvement in the community more positive attitudes regarding the natural environmentthe acquisition of academic skills and knowledge.


To read more click here:$FILE/Education_and_learning_research_review_2010.pdf



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Desettling Expectations in Science Education

Desettling Expectations in Science Education | Research, sustainability and learning |

Calls for the improvement of science education in the USA continue unabated, with particular concern for the quality of learning opportunities for students from historically nondominant communities. Despite many and varied efforts, the field continues to struggle to create robust, meaningful forms of science education.


We argue that ‘settled expectations’ in schooling function to (a) restrict the content and form of science valued and communicated through science education and (b) locate students, particularly those from nondominant communities, in untenable epistemological positions that work against engagement in meaningful science learning.


In this article we examine two episodes with the intention of reimagining the relationship between science learning, classroom teaching, and emerging understandings of grounding concepts in scientific fields – a process we call desettling. Building from the examples, we draw out some key ways in which desettling and reimagining core relations between nature and culture can shift possibilities in learning and development, particularly for nondominant students.


Bang M.a · Warren B.b · Rosebery A.S.b · Medin D.c


aUniversity of Washington, Seattle, Wash.

bChèche Konnen Center, TERC, Cambridge, Mass.

cNorthwestern University, Evanston, Ill., USA


Human Development 2012;55:302–318



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Curiosity and learning: The skill of critical thinking by Laura Schulz

Laura Schulz is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Sciences. She works at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (Early Childhood Cognition Lab) of MIT.


She studies the representations and learning mechanisms that underlie our understanding of the physical and social world.


Her research looks at:

1) how children infer the concepts and causal relations that enable them to engage in accurate prediction, explanation, and intervention;

2) the factors that support curiosity and exploration, allowing children to engage in effective discovery and

3) how the social-communicative context (e.g., demonstrating evidence, explaining events, disagreeing about hypotheses) affects children’s learning.

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Message in a bottle - learning our way out of unsustainability

Message in a bottle - learning our way out of unsustainability | Research, sustainability and learning |

Social learning – essential for a more sustainable world


"Making the world more sustainable can't succeed without social learning," said Arjen Wals in the spring of 2010 when he accepted the UNESCO- Chair 'Social learning and sustainable development'.


Sustainability needs to become part of people's thinking, their way of life and their value system. This requires learning processes that transcend traditional ways of transferring knowledge.


When people with different backgrounds come together in an environment in which they feel comfortable and where they get to know each other it will be more likely that new knowledge, energy and creativity emerge. Wals states that these are three essential ingredients needed to develop a sustainable society.


Central questions in the UNESCO-Chair research program focus on creating the right circumstances that stimulate and support new ways of learning.


Read the entire inaugural lecture:


Watch the inaugural lecture on Wageningen UR TV:

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