Climate Change Craftivism in the Classroom

In what ways can the creative methods of craftivism support interdisciplinary climate change education in secondary schools? How might the creative methods of craftivism help young people to share, recognise and respond to climate change related emotion and anxiety? And how might involvement in craftivism improve secondary student voice and agency in responses to climate change?

Climate change is an interdisciplinary, multifaceted and complex phenomenon, qualities that can also make it challenging to consider across secondary school curricula and environments. The emotional, ethical, social and political facets often found in debates and discussions around climate change can be difficult for classroom-based educators to address within existing curriculum. This, plus increasing reports of young people’s anxiety and worry around climate change that impact their daily lives, mean that there is a pressing need for new cross-curricular educational practices and approaches to supporting young people to engage with and be active in developing their own individual and collective responses to living in a warming world.

Using expressive forms of creation and crafting as tools for forms of activism – often known as ‘craftivism’ — has a long history and connection with a range of social issues. ‘Craftivism’ can take many forms and include digital multimedia, mixed media, textiles, or other arts and crafts materials. Craftivist activities within schools may involve some facilitated direction from teachers/facilitators but also includes elements of creativity and openness that can also lead to new responses, disruption or activism. Previous research has shown how craftivist activities have supported young people’s presence, voice and agency in school environments.

What will the project involve? 

The project brings together educators, learners and community artists to develop education-based and cross-curricular ‘craftivist’ activities that aim to enable young people to explore and express their thinking and feelings around the issue of climate change through hands-on creation in school settings.  By engaging young people in creative craft-based practices, this project aims to support young people’s engagement in conversations and action related to climate change through accessible, creative and open-ended means.

The Bristol-based community group, Heart of BS13, has trialled climate change-focused craftivist activities in informal learning environments in BS13. In this project, we will build on this expertise to co-produce craftivist activities that are geared for secondary schools. The aims of working with this level of education are two-fold. Firstly, it will offer new ways for secondary school students to develop their own responses and voices within current climate change debates and in the face of growing up in a warming world. Creative activities will be designed to acknowledge and support embodied, emotional responses to climate change, including climate anxiety – in recognition of the importance of considering emotional responses to climate change within education. Secondly, it will aim to provide tools and methods for creating cross-curricular activities for educators that recognize climate change to be a complex, interdisciplinary challenge.

In order to successfully develop relevant craftivist activities and understand their value in supporting these two aims, this project will firstly involve various partners to co-produce craftivist activities and approaches in workshops in schools. This will include secondary school teachers and students; Heart of BS13; and students from educational cohorts in the School of Education (beginning teachers and Master’s in Education students), who will all help to inform an approach to climate change craftivism which could be suitable for use across the secondary school curriculum. These craftivist approaches will then be trialled across secondary schools in the Bristol area in a series of 14 workshops. The researchers intend to gather the perspectives of school students and teachers involved in these school workshops to gain insight into what these approaches and practices offer and how they could be further developed.

This project has three initial research questions:

  • In what ways can the creative methods of craftivism support interdisciplinary climate change education in secondary schools?
  • How might the creative methods of craftivism help young people to share, recognise and respond to climate change related emotion and anxiety?
  • How might involvement in craftivism improve secondary student voice and agency in responses to climate change?

To answer these questions, the project will undertake the following research activity. The researchers will host initial participatory workshops to develop a set of craftivist activities/approaches to pilot in secondary schools.

Next, they will recruit participating schools for pilot craftivist workshops. They aim to work with a range of secondary schools to pilot the activities developed in the participatory workshop and facilitate approximately 14 workshops across curricular areas at these schools. At the start of this stage, they will conduct surveys of teachers and students to inform the research questions.  The surveys will seek to understand students’ and teachers’ current experiences of climate change education across the curriculum; their feelings towards climate change and experiences of climate anxiety; and how enabled students feel in developing their own responses and actions around climate change.

Following this the project will facilitate the pilot craftivist workshops and post-activity data collection. During the workshops a combination of video and photography will capture and document some workshop experiences. After the workshops, they will conduct interviews with teacher participants to explore their perceptions of the craftivism workshops, their perceptions of student anxiety in relation to climate change, and what contribution craftivist activities could have in responding to these emotional responses and enabling student voice. The students will also be asked about their experiences of the craftivist activities via creative, informal methods towards the end of the workshops. This may involve using the artefacts they create through craftivist activities to prompt discussion of their workshop experience of these educational activities, through paired peer discussion, written comments or in discussion with the researcher.

The project will conclude with the refinement and dissemination of the workshop activities, discussed in further detail below.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Michelle Graffagnino (School of Education, University of Bristol) is a senior lecturer in Geography Education and shall function as the principal investigator for this project.
  • Nicola Warren-Lee (School of Education, University of Bristol) is a senior lecturer in Geography Education, with a focus on the nature of knowledge in learning to teach and the use of self-video in supporting student teachers’ reflection on action.
  • Alison Oldfield (School of Education, University of Bristol) is a lecturer whose teaching and research centres around learning and digital technologies, outdoor learning and inclusion. Her previous research projects include the development of future classrooms across Europe, designing technologies for more inclusive classroom experiences, family learning and digital game-making, and young people’s digital entrepreneurship.
  • Lauren Hennessy (School of Education, University of Bristol) is a research associate affiliated with the Educational Futures Network. She has held an RA role on the Climate Change Education Research Network, as well as the Re-imagining the Diary project. Her own independent research focuses on youth climate activism, in particular the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement.
  • Myles-Jay Linton (Health Sciences, University of Bristol) is the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in Young People’s Mental Health. Their post-doctoral research had a strong focus on health and healthcare. His background is interdisciplinary at its core, but mental health and wellbeing has been a common theme across his various roles.
  • Kirsty Hammond (Climate Action Programme Manager, Heart of BS13) is an activist who works across the BS13 community to support the production of a community climate action plan. Her role is to support volunteers and participants to build skills and confidence as they start their climate journey.

What is to come?

Once the workshops and research activities with teacher and student participants are completed, the researchers and affiliated groups will meet to evaluate and refine the workshop activities. A brief research report and the refined craftivist activities will be developed into a ‘toolkit’ and set of short video clips that can be further disseminated via relevant networks, including those who participated in the research; the School of Education blog; the Green Apple network; and the CCERN. They also aim to disseminate the research findings and activities at relevant teacher conferences, including the TeachFest in Bristol, and across wider networks including Going Global links from New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Ultimately the final outcomes of this project will amount to:

A ‘toolkit’ on Climate Craftivism in the Classroom’ that would contain a brief report of the research as well as a written set of craftivist activities that could be used across curricular areas in secondary schools. This would also aim to contain short video clips showing the activities in action.

A set of objects or artefacts created within the workshops that may be displayed within the partner school environment or within the School of Education.

Dissemination activities to promote the toolkit, including a School of Education blog post and possible attendance at relevant conferences.