Cool Australia is thrilled to announce that our new expert in school engagement, Thea Nicholas, will be starting full time after the first of the year. Thea undertook an undergraduate degree in Zoology and Ecology at Melbourne University. After completing her Dip Ed, she commenced her employment at Brentwood Secondary College in 2008 as a classroom teacher of Science. Her passion for the environment and for teaching led her to implement ‘The Green Team’, a student lead organisation consisting of over 55 dedicated members. She pushed to make sustainability a priority at Brentwood by marrying student leadership, green infrastructure and embedded curriculum.
Thea was awarded the Earthwatch scholarship in 2010. This scholarship allowed her to ‘Teach Live’ from the rainforest and experience firsthand the effects of climate change on the biodiversity of The Wet Tropics of Queensland. Nominated by her students, Thea was a finalist in the NIETA Inspirational Teaching Awards and also a finalist in the DEECD Secondary Teacher of the year awards. Thea and her Green Team have also won The City of Monash, Environmental ‘Community Award’ and ‘Student Leadership Award’. The school harvest garden, which was designed and is currently run by the Green Team has won the regional school garden award and Award of Merit for the best school garden in the state of Victoria. Thea is leaving the classroom to join the team at Cool Australia. She has been using the Cool Australia resources for four years in her teaching, and is excited to help other teachers gain access to this resource, thereby engaging students in sustainability on a national level. By way of introduction, Thea answers a few questions for Cool Australia:
Where did you first hear about Cool Australia?
Four years ago I saw Jason Kimberley speak at STAV Con (Science Teachers Association of Victoria Conference) and was suitably impressed by his passion for nature and the story of his eco-epiphany. I was inspired to take a look at the resources on the Cool Australia website and I started using the resources the next day.
Can you tell us a little about your interaction with students regarding sustainability before you heard of our program?
Previous to coming in contact with Cool Australia, I had started the Brentwood Green Team, which consisted of two students. In the last four years the Green Team has grown from two to 55 students and we have made many positive changes in our school community. I have also embedded sustainability into our core Year 8 Science class, taught three years of a subject I wrote called ‘A Sustainable Future’, implemented VCE Environmental Science (Year 11 and 12) and encouraged other colleagues to partake in inquiry based sustainability projects in their subject areas.
Please tell us something about the veggie patch that you transported to your school.
The Green Team and myself wanted to build a large harvest garden to increase student connectedness to the school and create an outdoor learning space for our community to enjoy. We wanted the project to be as ecologically sustainable as possible so we purchased and moved a garden that would have been demolished. The garden was built less than a year ago and has flourished into a green space and sustainability hub that all members of our community enjoy. The garden is managed by the ‘Green Thumbs’ and is embedded into the curriculum. The produce from the garden is sold by the students. We recently built a solar powered classroom adjoining the garden. We have also been recognised by the National Garden Awards and The City of Monash for our environmental achievements, which has made me very proud!
What do you think are the key benefits for a teacher of using the Cool Australia program?
Whether you are an experienced sustainability educator or just starting your sustinability journey, Cool Australia can help bring environmental education to your classroom. The curriculum resources are free access* and aligned with current educational frameworks, and teachers can be sure they are providing their students with rich and meaningful learning.
As someone new to the Cool Australia team, how do you feel that your experience as a teacher can inform your work here?
Teaching has allowed me to marry my two passions, the environment and education. As a result of my experiences as a teacher, I have learned many new skills and had many enriching experiences. I know first hand the challenges that schools, teachers and students face in this current educational climate. I also have experienced first hand the joy of teaching students about the environment and seeing individuals transition into active and autnomous change makers.
What made you move from teaching to working at Cool Australia?
I am fiercely passionate about connecting young people to nature and educating for a sustainable future. My experience as a science teacher and sustainability coordinator has provided me with the skills and knowledge to engage and empower young people to make positive changes in their lives. Cool Australia understands that education is the key to building a sustainable future and I am so excited to join a team that feels so strongly about environmental education. To have the opportunity to engage students in sustainability on a national level is a dream job for me. My goal is to help other educators across Australia connect their students to nature in order to enable positive behaviour change and inspired collective action.
What do you see as the educational goals for Cool Australia in 2013?
Our overarching goal is to provide all Australian teachers with the opportunity to educate their students about our natural world through the use of engaging curriculum resources. By providing a variety of curriculum resources that suits each educators personal teaching style and needs, we will be creating a new generation of students who are change-makers and energised to help build a sustainable future.