The Foodweb approach taps into the human affinity for identifying and learning from patterns. We use pattern learning as a means to integrate lessons from many sustainability topics into a clear framework, avoiding fragmented knowledge and building students ability to understand sustainability issues in unfamiliar contexts.
The core patterns we use, borrowed from Ecosystem Ecology, are energy flow and matter cycles. All living systems depend on a flow of energy through them and cycling of materials within them, and these patterns occur in all natural processes at all scales, making them broadly applicable in teaching. We integrate these patterns into all lessons and activities, using systems as a way to conceptualise how energy and matter behave in specific circumstances and environments. The repetitive, incremental teaching of these patterns aims to make them available to students intuitively and as a fundamental thinking tool, building in depth and complexity over the course of an education program.
These patterns are also included as components in the Overarching Ideas of the Australian science curriculum and the Cross-cutting concepts of the american Next Generation Science Standards. However, we give them a more central role. We find that focusing on fewer ideas with the broader explaining power gives clarity and simplicity to teaching, whilst providing the basis to explore other patterns.
The Foodweb Education approach to teaching sustainability involves using the patterns of Energy, Matter and Systems to guide all unit, lesson and/or activity preparation. To use a pattern means to place your topic or activity into its broader context and use consistent language that will reinforce it as a way of analysing the world.
While ecological concepts are widely used in Education for Sustainability, Ecoliteracy or other Environmental Education programs, clearly placing energy flow, matter cycles and systems as the primary patterns for approaching learning differentiates our framework.
We use these themes iteratively, re-enforcing simple ecological patterns with broad explanatory power often presenting them within historical context to contribute to an understanding of place and perspective of scale. The patterns are intended to provide students with a framework to explore ideas that explain and interlink the processes that have created and sustain life and use these tools to understand and assess human civilisation.