Pedagogy and student involvement:

Michael Fenton, M.Sc., Dip.Tchg. EnviroPower Technical Advisor, Ministry of Education eLearning Fellow, Microsoft Innovative Teacher

How did Inglewood High School engage it's students in the Enviropower energy conservation pilot project?


Teaching and learning have been described as a means to create a “knowledge economy” (Bolstad and Gilbert, 2006) yet from my experience in industry and outside the classroom “understanding” is much more important. Understanding is the pre-cursor to solving authentic problems and innovation later in life or in the work place.  Piaget and other psychologists believe that the learner must be active to be engaged in real learning (Piaget, 1954, 1974).


The EnviroPower project used three main strategies to actively engage students and raise their awareness of the EnviroPower priorities (Education, Conservation, Generation).

1) The first strategy involved a teacher directed focus on the EnviroPower project whenever a unit or achievement standard had elements that could be taught using the EnviroPower project as a context for teaching, learning and/or assessment. Students also managed to gain NZQA credits from activities based around the EnviroPower project.

  • Informal surveys of staff and students indicated that the students could engage with the class topic better if linked to EnviroPower as it had some relevance to something real (eg, Level 1 Maths students discussing budgeting power costs and calculating % increases). It was also noticed that many senior students will become bill payers in the very near future so a recent exposure to conservation concepts should translate into changed attitudes and behaviours.

  • Teachers that valued the EnviroPower project appeared to use it as a context for multiple learning opportunities over extended periods of time. Again, this multiple exposure to conservation concepts should increase the likelihood of attitudinal and behavioural changes.

2) The second strategy was involved a student centered approach based on authentic learning (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1998).

  • If learning is authentic, then students should be engaged in genuine learning problems that foster the opportunity for them to make direct connections between the new material that is being learned and their prior knowledge. This kind of experience will increase student motivation. In fact, an “absence of meaning breeds low engagement in schoolwork and inhibits [learning] transfer” (Newmann, Secada, & Wehlage, 1995).

  • Fenton (2007) reported that authentic learning is important and occurs when students develop meaningful understanding from activities they initiate and have control over. Ideas for learning activities may come from other students OR the teacher but each student should take “ownership” and the activity becomes student centered.

  • Some authors make the mistake of dismissing ideas from the teacher yet authentic learning still takes place if the student owns the idea and runs with it. Evidence from students working together using authentic learning principles indicates students gained more than empirical knowledge and in fact authentic learning is what the new curriculum encourages.

Examples of authentic learning from students includes

  1. Student EnviroPower committee members presenting to Venture Taranaki and talking of how the project has impacted on their beliefs and attitudes.
  2. Art work being created for the front gate sign
  3. EnviroPower name and logo created by various students
  4. ICT and technology problem solving to build an interactive real time display of energy generation at the school (involving electronics engineering and computer programming)
  5. School competitions encourage creativity and authentic activities

3) The third strategy involved ICT and e-learning to communicate EnvioPower ideas to the local, national and international community via dedicated pages on the Inglewood High School website. Opportunities to carry out home, school or workplace energy audits, as well as debate different energy generation options were available. Material for both Primary and Secondary age students is available.


Overall, many students and staff are only just getting to see how they could get more involved with the EnviroPower issues. Due to the innovative and experimental nature of the project, there has been a significant time lag of about 6 months before technology such as the solar panels and wind turbine were installed, and 12 months lag before data logging of the school energy use is available for analysis. The data and technology now available would lead to more authentic and relevant learning activities if the EnviroPower project could be extended. Legitimate data encourages students to engage in their own investigations and in particular the new RIGEL pocket data loggers are ideal for use in homes (Fenton, 2008).

I believe from a literature review of over 100 papers that a blended approach of both a teacher directed and student centered learning was appropriate. High school age students are more likely to remember and implement the EnviroPower messages since they are likely to be living on their own the near future as opposed to primary age students.



Bolstad, R. and Gilbert, J.  New Zealand Council for Educational Research, (2006). Creating digital age learners through school ICT projects: What can the Tech Angels project teach us?

Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn:  Bridging research and practice. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Fenton, M. (2008). RIGEL data logger and games unit.

Fenton, M. (2007). Interactive ICT tools for Mathematics, Science and Robotics - getting the most from Game Maker. New Zealand Association of Mathematics Teachers conference.

Newmann, F., Secada, W., & Wehlage, G. (1995). A guide to authentic instruction and assessment:  Vision, standards and scoring. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books. Piaget, J. (1974). To understand is to invent:  The future of education. New York: Grossman.



TEACHING PEDAGOGIES ... how did we get student involvement?

FINAL REPORT... were we able to educate, conserve & generate?


PHOTO GALLERY 2007 and 2008 progress and activities



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