Designing a ‘Sustainable Building’ and Garden Space

The Enviroschools Action Learning Cycle drives the inquiry process at Waikino School and they are currently using it to explore sustainable building and gardens.

Students work in vertical house groups in order to sustain and develop their Enviroschool initiatives.  Whatever focus they decide on, stays with that group and also goes back into their individual classroom work as research work to follow up on

Towards the end of last year, the groups looked at the Current Situation around the sustainable places and practices in their school environment.  They asked, what was working well  and what wasn’t.

One group identified that the existing gardens weren’t working as well as they could and they wanted to focus on re-developing the garden area.  They began to Explore Alternatives through research all about gardens and sustainable garden design.

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At the start of this year there was a school wide healthy eating focus, included in this, was the harvest festival, students had a lot of ownership of the festival and on the day of the event, there were 30 slow cookers set up in various places around the school to cope with their cooking needs. Following this the students identified that they needed a child-friendly kitchen/cooking space near the garden so they could utilise the kai grown there more easily.

This got them thinking about buildings.  So along with continuing work on developing the garden space, the challenge given to them was ‘how could they create a ‘Sustainable Building’?   What could it look like ?  What would work best in their school environment ?

As part of this whole inquiry, students identified the need, not only for a kitchen space, but also for a space to meet and use as an outdoor learning/teaching space.   The garden was already starting to be seen as a community garden, both the teachers and students wanted a space where they could lead workshops and teach others. As a ‘Green Gold Enviroschool’ they wanted an outdoor learning space to share their knowledge and experience with the growing number of schools that were coming to them for mentorship.

Around the same time, a Samoan family went home to Samoa for the holidays and came back to class talking about the fale they had seen there. The rest of the group looked at photos and all loved the look and simplicity of this outdoor/indoor space and thought it would be great as an eating and meeting space.  It was also decided that a converted shipping container could be a good re-used structure to create the outdoor kitchen.

The school employed a local clay worker and Permaculture designer to come in and talk through the students ideas.  They explored the school grounds and adjacent gully to see what resources they could find on-site for their project and what they might be able to use.  Finding a good clay deposit in the gully helped them with their decision to use adobe in their building and also their garden designs.  They also gathered various fibres and bought these and samples of clay back to ‘class’ to trial.

The designer worked with them to create test bricks with varying materials using a scientific process.  Time was allowed for the bricks to fully dry before the final testing and results were recorded.  Besides getting their hands gloriously dirty, the students were engaged in authentic ‘hands on’ science and were loving every minute of it.

As well as all this learning around ‘sustainable buildings’  there was still the over-all garden plans to work on.  Their teacher formalised this into a challenge for them.  They were given a brief to design a 3 metre x 3 metre garden space.  It had to have certain elements including re-used materials, seating and a 3rd of the space had to have a growing component.  They worked in groups to create garden plans and talked through their designs with their teacher.  Following that, each group was asked to decide on one or two key features that they really liked and made their design unique.  The chosen features included poles and trellis for Kiwifruit and grapes, a hugelkultur mountain making use of the rotten wood from the native area, a shell pathway, adobe pizza oven, a living archway and a herb/strawberry re-use tyre spiral.  Working with their teacher, an ex-landscape gardener, these and other features were then put together  into one overall design for the garden area.

So the next step now is finalising the designs and ‘Taking Action’ with the building phase.  Each step of the way has been a mini inquiry, with many ‘action learning cycles’ happening with different students simultaneously.

It is hoped that the community can be invited in for workshops to learn and help with the actual adobe building, this could also be a way to generate money to support the project, though they have been delighted to receive some substantial grant funding towards it.

The Principal expressed how having a ‘real-life’ context maximises learning …”they come back to class talking more and taking bigger risks with learning … boys who wouldn’t write are writing and girls who wouldn’t talk are talking”.  She says “the students have such visionary ideas, they want to launch youtube clips where they can ‘educate the world’ by transmitting what they do!.”

When I asked a student about the project she put it simply …”its so cool we all have a say in what happens, it makes learning fun !” Watch this space to see how the project develops.

by Beccy Dove.

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