education science

Teaching scientific thinking

Dr Steven Sexton is a primary school teacher who now works for the University of Otago. He tells us about “Nature of Science” as the basis of the New Zealand Science Curriculum. Rather than content (learning the periodic table and so on), the focus is engaging in scientific thinking and process, whatever the context.

Shane’s number of the week: 40. In forty years we will all have to be vegetarians. Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) argue that water will be the scarce resource of the medium term future. Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050.


Visioning sustainable education

What makes Phil Ker tick? And what is his vision for a sustainable education? Phil is Chief Executive of Otago Polytechnic.

Phil sees Open Education as a return to the core values of education to meet the challenges of global education – of educating for the planet. Of Otago Polytechnic’s willingness to tackle the hardest problems, Phil is proud of the institution’s commitment to integrating education for sustainability. He says that this goes beyond skills to include behaviours and values, but also a commitment to making a difference. In order to meet these goals, the institution is working to develop new learning approaches such as work based learning.

Shane’s number of the week: 3. Three is the usual number of steps between invention and consumption. Cesar Harada‘s open hardware project changes this paradigm to a network of innovation. His Protei is an open hardware, shape-shifting sailing robot, collaboratively designed to sense and clean the oceans.

computing education environmental entrepreneur

Joe Davy and Martin Hyslop


Joe Davy and Martin Hyslop are first year students in Information Technology at Otago Polytechnic. They tell us how they are taking control of their own learning – with a sustainable twist.

Martin’s references:

Griffiths, M. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Workplace   Learning, 22(7), 463-472. doi:10.1108/13665621011071127

Griffiths, M. (2003). Internet abuse in the workplace: Issues and concerns for employers and     employment counselors. Journal of Employment Counseling, 40(2), 87-96.

Hsi-Peng, L., & Wang, S. (2008). The role of internet addiction in online game loyalty: An exploratory  study. Internet Research, 18(5), 499-519. doi:10.1108/10662240810912756.

Patterson, R.  (1997). Can users get addicted to the internet? Canadian Medical Association.Journal,  157(6), 785-786.

Shane’s number of the week: 4.4 That’s 4.4 million hectares approved for fracking in New Zealand. A recent report (Journal of Groudwater) found that local groundwater would be likely to be polluted by fracking chemicals – even in areas of so-called impermeable rock.

Sam’s joined up thinking: Sam is very proud to be introducing his students.


Ella Lawton

From pristine environments to human interactions with the environment, we take a tour of Ella Lawton‘s short career in sustainability. In a remarkably short time we go from studies in law and ecology, international law in Finland; considering footprints in Antarctica; pest control for the Regional Council; Future Leaders Programme; Sustainable Futures Trust; Project 2058; a Masters in Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability in Karlskrona Sweden; The Natural Step and its system conditions; The Cloud Institute in New York; and starting work as a Sustainable Tourism Advisor in Regions for Otago Polytechnic. Having developed Otago Polyechnic’s Graduate Programmes in Sustainable Practice, Ella is now Project Manager for the New Zealand Footprint project and she gives us a sneak preview of the early results.

We’re left wondering what this amazing woman will achieve in the next few years.

Shane’s number of the week: 100. That’s a century of disasters described in a report from the Royal Society. The report argues that to achieve long and healthy lives for all 9 billion people expected to be living in 2050, the twin issues of population and consumption must be pushed to the top of political and economic agendas.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: We revisit the challenge of over-development and degrowth. How we might achieve this is given a boost by the Manifesto on owning less and living more.

Trainspotting: And we play musical chairs.

design education politics

Nicola Bould

Nicola Bould describes both design and sustainability as verbs – as processes. Design, she says is about finding creative ways to solve complex problems. Thinking bigger and wider she says is key to work at the start of the pipe – thinking in strategically and in systems – not to try to retrofit sustainability onto products at the end of the pipe. Sustainability must move beyond “can’ts” and scaring people, to looking for positives – doing the things we love in different ways. Key to this is building, and rebuilding our communities.

Nicola has just finished her PhD, and has just taken a new job as an Issues Assistant working for the Greens, based in Auckland.

Shane’s number of the week: 1.8. 1.8 billion pounds is the estimated cost to the UK of replicating the ecosystem service provided by bees (Friends of the Earth campaign).

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Sam is off to CHI again this year where he hopes to focus on people working in areas beyond single resource consumption. He is involved in running a workshop that explores the seeming mismatch of using technology to promote more simple ways of living.

Trainspotting: Someone’s notes during during Shane’s number of the week may not have been comprehensive. They might have just said 1.8 billion. No matter, I’ll just look it up:

1.8 billion people are between the age of 10 and 24 (
1.8 billion people live on less than $1 a day, 70 percent of them are women (TIAW)
1.8 billion people are in informal work, and 700 million of those are in extreme poverty (formal work is 1.2 billion, OECD stats).
1.8 billion people still drinking unsafe water, UNICEF and WHO
1.8 billion young people will not reach their economic potential due to poor education, infrastructure and jobs (UN Population Fund UNFPA).
1.8 billion muslims in the world.
1.8 billion international tourists expected in 2030 (up from 1B in 2012, UNWTO)
1.8 billion US dollars worth of good shoplifted in a month in US (
1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 released in Amazonian drought in 2009-10 (ERL via treehugger)
1.8 billion speakers of English (about 380 million native, wikipedia – good luck finding a valid source).
1.8 billion NOK (300M US$) being spent per year by Norway to find sustainable ways of powering the developing world


Empowering to make a difference

Linus Turner proudly describes himself as a teacher. His twitter one line bio states “Preparing children for their world …preparing their world for them …you wouldn’t want to do anything else!”.

We are the ancestors

In a packed hour we discover how Linus is teaching independence and interdependence by empowering his students to make a difference. HoD of Computing at Kavanagh College, Linus argues that the future is digital – our digital world is flat and seamless – we can contact anyone. So when his students are working on Equador’s Yasuní National Park they write to Gareth, Rafael and Helen (he uses christian names to emphasise the social connectedness, these are people too who respond to communication). This gives a reason for learning IT skills – writing to all MPs needs a database, and a brochure on a long term strategy for Dunedin trees needs desktop publishing, and so on.

Inspire hope: engender action

Linus carefully manages to run a line of empowering students, but without dumping upon them all the responsibility to fix the world: “we are the adults, it is up to us to model right thinking and action”. It’s important for kids to see progress, sometimes if the students take on something too large he has to say “Ok, we’ll take it from here, we’re the grown ups”. As adults it is our job to be creating a safe world.

Shane’s number of the week: 77. The age of the Athens retired pharmacist Dimitris Christoulas who shot himself in the Greek capital’s Syntagma Square. In a note he said the government had made it impossible for him to survive on the pension he had paid into for 35 years. “I find no other solution than a dignified end before I start searching through the trash for food,” read the note.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Google glasses could be the future of how we see sustainably (read on>>>).

Trainspotting: In case you’re not on first name basis: Green MP Gareth Hughes,President of Equador Rafael Correa, and UNDP chief Helen Clark.

design education

Prof Samuel Mann

Our own Dr Samuel Mann from Otago Polytechnic sat in the guest chair this week. We talked about his new book “Sustainable Lens: a visual guide“. We trace the development of sustainability through its representation in diagrams. The book presents a model for seeing the world through a sustainability-driven perspective.

Shane’s number of the week: 20 000,000,000,000. 20 trillion is the amount of money that would have to be written off the value of the oil companies worldwide if we moved to a sustainable future – which is why companies and governments are so unwilling to move in that direction…


Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson

Otago Polytechnic’s Mark Jackson mixes positive changes with insights on why it is important for an educational institution to take a lead in a creating a sustainable future. Reducing paper use, closed loops and supply chains are practical expression of personal principles, peaking societal wealth and timeframes as externalities.

Mark is responsible for Sustainable Operations at Otago Polytechnic. He is also an active member of Sustainable Dunedin City. We talk about how the polytechnic is working to close loops and seize opportunities for improvement. This reduces the institution’s own impact, drives change in the supply change, and links to educational initiatives.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: “what if externalised costs could be quantified and assigned? What if we could get to the point where the lowest-priced T-shirt was also the one doing the least harm to the planet and society? This is asked by Yvon Chouinard and others in the Harvard Business Review recently. Sam reviews their paper (read more>).


Dr Kerry Shephard and Mary Furnari

Kerry Shephard and Mary Furnari are from Otago University HEDC. Kerry and Mary are investigating university teachers’ perceptions of Education for Sustainability. They tell us about the card sorting methodology they’re using (Q methodology to be precise) whereby participants sort 50 statements about education for sustainability – how they do this is then used to identify groups of teachers. We talk about teaching as a transformative experience, about the role of values, and whether advocating for sustainability in teaching is the right thing to do.

Shane’s number of the week: 70. Seventy is number of islands of the Orkneys who are aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2020. This is a perfect example of leadership from the government promoting global leadership in innovation, revitalising communities and making best use of human and physical resources.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Sam talks with Sam Sharp, one of the organisers of the 350 Dunedin Festival.

education transition towns

Dr Maureen Howard



Originally from Northern Ireland, Maureen Howard has lived in Dunedin for the last 17 years. She has a BSc Hons in Psychology from University of Ulster and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Otago. She has been employed in a variety of work including research, teaching, consulting, administration and environmental campaign work. Since 2006 she has been contracted by the Dunedin City Council to run courses, workshops and talks in sustainable living and to provide support for sustainable living skill-sharing within Dunedin’s communities.

Maureen tells us that education for sustainability is important to many councils in NZ who also run courses through the Sustainable Living Programme. The Dunedin City Council also has a Safe and Sustainable Travel Coordinator, a Sustainability Advisor and staff engaged in waste minimisation. They support Enviroschools and encourage activities like water conservation, composting, cloth nappies, cycling and walking routes, and insulation retrofitting through their website, leaflets and workshops. The courses Maureen runs, along with workshops and talks on sustainable living help to bring this and other sustainability information together for interested people in the community. She tells us about role of communities in working towards a better future, one with more diversity, more resilience and greater productivity.

In her spare time Maureen is an active member of Transition Valley 473 and Sustainable Dunedin City Society.

Shane’s number of the week:  1,200 square kilometers is the size of the oil slick in China’s Bohai Sea. If oil companies can’t clean up this mess in one of the world’s most powerful countries, what hope is there of getting it right in New Zealand given our much smaller economy, tiny military and much more technically challenging drilling conditions?

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Ray Anderson, who died this week, changed the nature of business (more>>>)

business education

Dr Barry Law

Barry Law is Sustainability Director at The Shannon Company. There he helps companies and other organisations combine sustainability with social change through innovation in business practice. With a focus on moving beyond why to how, Barry has developed tools such as Sustainable Practice 360. Barry has much previous experience in Education for Sustainability. He is also an advisor to Otago Polytechnic.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Moving beyond recycling.

computing education

Dr Michael Goldweber

Computational thinking needn’t be restricted to commerce or abstract maths, Dr Michael Goldweber dreams of a time when people wanting to make a positive impact choose computing as a career.

Dr Goldweber says that students are looking to make a positive social impact. We can do this without sacrificing rigour within the discipline by using social good as the motivating examples in courses. Dr Goldweber teaches at Xavier University in Ohio. He was in New Zealand as keynote speaker at CITRENZ, and in Dunedin to speak at Otago Polytechnic.

Shane’s number of the week: 5. OK, its a fraction: 5 out of 8 tuna species at risk of extinction.

Sam’s joined up thinking: Social translucence is the basis on which Mary Barreto connects visibility, awareness and accountability (entire interview with Mary >>)

education maori

Dr Khyla Russell

Khyla Russell

Dr Khyla Russell is Kaitohutohu to Te Kura Matatini ki Otago – Otago Polytechnic. In this interview she talks about her role, and the partnership between the institution and the Ara-i-Te-uru Papatipu Runaka. In the second part of the interview she describes her research into Kai Tahu perceptions of the landscape. What are the sustainability implications of an awareness that “we whakapapa to the landscape”?

Shane’s number of the week: 183 Billion. That’s the 183 Billion US dollars estimated to adapt Africa’s roads to climate change. Shane describes several reports that clearly show the impact of climate change – this cost far outweighs what it would take to work to avoid climate change.

climate change education

Tim Bishop

Tim Bishop trained as an engineer, worked in the electric car industry, and now works for Otago Polytechnic.  In that role he led Shac: The Sustainable Habitat Challenge.   In 2011 he is part of the Regeneration crew, touring New Zealand both energising and learning from local sustainability initiatives.

Shane’s number of the week: 262 Billion.  As in 262 Billion pounds the UK government has paid so far for assets worth only 55 Billion pounds in public private partnerships. 

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Following Chris Williamson’s talk last week in which he described a strong set of principles underlying his work as a counsellor,  Sam spent some of the week working out a set of guidelines for his own work.

education food organics permaculture

Michelle Ritchie

Michelle Ritchie is an organics and permaculture edcuator with a background in resource management (she holds a Masters in Regional and Resource Planning).  Michelle is responsible for the ongoing development of Otago Polytechnic’s LivingCampus.    Michelle describes the transformation of Otago Polytechnic’s campus into an integration of community garden and focus of sustainability education.  People come to the garden, ask questions “how do I plant a bean?” but quickly move on to realising “something bigger is going on here”.  The LivingCampus then becomes a prompt for questions like “how did I get here today?”, “what is it I’m eating?” and “how do I make changes to my life?”.

Shane’s number of the week: 120 is the number of kakapo left.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: How could we promote not-buying stuff?  Sam explores three options: trying to be impervious to marketing; removing all marketing; and recognising the value of marketing (full text here).



John Mann

Imagine a country on a par with prosperous and cosmopolitan Bangkok.  50 years ago Phnom Penh was the “pearl of the orient”.    Then, devastated by decades of invasion, topped by Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge years, the capital is now regarded as world head-quarters of pedophilia and squalor.   The heavily populated rural areas fared worse in Pol Pot’s  misguided agrarian revolution.

Imagine an area of 12 villages where no one has been to school.  Ever.   Where twelve hours work gets a dollar a day.  Where there is no social welfare of any description.  Where ordinary families want the best for their children but know that in the short run the only option is to succumb to the sex industry.

The only way out this trap for families of these villages of Don Kong in the Kamchay Mear district of Prey Veng is education – at the very least to able to read and write their own language.

The Cambodian government and a world full of agencies are desperately trying to deal with this.  But until there is a new generation of educated people, it cannot be reversed.

With help of friends, family, and donors around the world, and in particular the Rotary clubs of Australia (so far), John has got 1000 children into three new schools.  Our next project is – he hopes – a high school and a clinic.   None 0f this can happen without your help.    John Mann gives a truly astonishing interview.


Shane’s number of the week: 20,000 hectares of new rain-forest as part of  Willie Smits’  Orangutan habitat restoration.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: There is not going to be a singular event that definitively  signals “peak oil is happening now”.   Climate Change is the same.   With gradual and insidious change (though with increasing occurrence of catastrophic events in both scenarios) decisions made now need to made in the context of the knowledge of those scenarios.

More on John’s Educating Cambodia: