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Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives

Edited By Jean-Luc Gilles

The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS is based on the completion of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects during the academic year, during which international groups of professors and students from teacher training partner institutions collaborate remotely as well as during two placements of one week. For the students, the PEERS program aims to develop competencies in distance collaboration with the help of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the management of intercultural groups, and the continuous improvement of their activities through reflective thinking and the spirit of research. For the professors the PEERS program aims to better link research and training, to reinforce their skills in the management of international research projects and to foster opportunities for international publications.

The aim of this collective book is to give an overview of the Issues, case studies and perspectives of the PEERS program. The first section entitled "Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Internationalization of Teacher Training in a Globalized, Multicultural, and Connected World", focuses on the foundations and general features of PEERS projects, as well as the context of globalization in the intercultural and connected world in which it is situated.

The second section, "Case Studies and Lessons Learned from the PEERS Project in Southern Countries" constitutes a series of chapters presenting case studies on PEERS projects focused on innovation and cooperation in the developing world. The third section, "Results of Research-Oriented PEERS Projects," considers the results from PEERS projects that have enabled the implementation of theoretical and practical educational research, generally taking the form of small-case research studies or innovations in the design of teaching units. Finally, in the conclusion we propose to present the key points of the three sections that make up this book "Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives".

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Chapter 15: Teaching Urban Ecology in Schools in Switzerland and the United States: Considering the Design of an Ecodistrict (Philippe Hertig)

Philippe Hertig

philippe.hertig@hepl.ch

University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud, Lausanne, Switzerland

Chapter 15: Teaching Urban Ecology in Schools in Switzerland and the United States: Considering the Design of an Ecodistrict

Abstract

This PEERS Project involved faculty members and students from HEP Vaud and Lesley University during the academic year 2011–12. Due to the very different profiles of the participating students, the project was designed as follows: the Swiss students developed an interdisciplinary teaching unit focused on the topic of Ecodistricts and taught it to their senior high school students in Geography and Biology. The American students worked on an adaptation of this teaching unit for much younger pupils (2nd grade and 4/5th grades). Both teams also developed teacher’s guides for their units. Highlights of the collaboration were the discussions about the students’ different visions of sustainable development, urban ecology, and ecodistricts, and about the educational and methodological approaches of teaching education for sustainable development with younger pupils or high school students. The chapter gives an overview of both teaching units’ main features and of the benefits and challenges of the collaboration.

1. Introduction and Context

Due to its interdisciplinary nature, the topic of urban ecology offers broad opportunities as part of teacher training, since it has to be approached via methods that derive as much from the natural sciences as from the human and social sciences, all while taking into account the implicit or explicit value systems that underpin the area’s different epistemological concepts←267 | 268→ (Audigier, Fink, Freudiger & Haeberli, 2011). Working on a topic within urban ecology also adheres strongly to a trend that has characterized curricula for over two decades: the growing importance accorded to learning objectives that respond to social demands by highlighting the educational dimension of studies, and the social issues considered to be a priority (Vergnolle Mainar, 2011), while remaining mindful of the expectations of the world of work (Hertig, 2017). Teaching urban ecology in the context of schools may for example be situated in the context of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), but this is not the only path. No matter how it is presented, covering such a topic, which is both interdisciplinary and linked to sensitive social issues, requires demanding teaching considerations that represent a serious challenge for student teachers in the early part of their training. A challenge that the students involved in this PEERS project dealt with in a remarkable way, by focusing their work on a single aspect of urban ecology, the design of an ecodistrict. As urban ecology is a very broad and complex scientific field, it was not possible to come up with a teaching-learning unit that could cover all its aspects. A decision was therefore made to focus on the issues linked to the design necessary for developing an ecodistrict – a topic that allowed notably for fieldwork to be included in the teaching unit, and which also allowed for a very interesting comparison of the student teachers’ views of urban ecology and the relationship between man and nature.

This chapter looks at one of the projects that ran during the first year of the PEERS program (academic year 2011–12). Atypical in many ways, this project brought together students and professors from Lesley University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and the Haute Ecole Pédagogique du Canton de Vaud (The State of Vaud University of Teacher Education, HEP Vaud), and led to outcomes that were interesting from a range of perspectives, beginning with the challenge represented by a collaboration instigated between students training to teach pupils of very different ages. The Americans were training to teach elementary school pupils in Environmental Studies, while the Swiss students both held Masters degrees and were training to teach high school pupils. This major difference between the study focus of the students involved was←268 | 269→ one of the atypical factors of the project. Other aspects of the context are briefly presented later in the chapter.

The topic of urban ecology was proposed by David Morimoto, Associate Professor at Lesley University (LU), during a meeting with the originators of the PEERS project in early summer 2011. In October, however, David Morimoto announced that he would have to step down from the project due to organizational reasons at LU, even though it had already begun (with student recruitment, initial contact between professors, airline bookings for students, and development of a schedule for the visit of the Swiss partners to LU). In addition, due to unavoidable circumstances, the two HEP trainers involved in the project were unable to accompany their students to Cambridge. Combined with David Morimoto’s withdrawal from the project, these circumstances nearly led to the project being abandoned.

It was however kept going through an agreement between parties at the two institutions: David Morimoto agreed to supervise the visit of the Swiss partners to LU in November 2011, and to involve another member of the teaching body at LU in the project. It was not however until January 2012, over two months after the visit of the Swiss students to Cambridge, that Cristin Ashmankas, Assistant Professor and Faculty Advisor at LU, was given the task of supervising the American students. She accompanied them on their return visit to Lausanne in March 2012. Ultimately, it was two students from LU (Haley Barber and Haley Puckhaber)1, two students from the HEP (Céline Tauxe and Marie-Hélène Weissen), and three trainers (Cristin Ashmankas at LU2, François Gingins3, and the author of this chapter at the HEP Vaud) who brought the project to completion.←269 | 270→

2. Reference Frameworks

The theoretical basis for this project derived from various academic fields and it therefore made use of multiple theoretical frameworks. These are summarized as follows, grouped into four distinct “domains.”4

2.1 Urban Ecology and Ecodistricts

Urban ecology is now considered to be a reasonably well-defined field of research in both theoretical and practical terms (Emelianoff, 2001), with goals that span both urbanism and land use planning. On the theoretical side, the very meaning of the expression “urban ecology” is undermined by a frequent confusion between ecology of the urban area and ecology in the urban area. However, from an epistemological and methodological point of view, it is clear that an approach centered on the ecology of organisms (fauna and flora) living in green spaces in urban areas, or other ecological niches, does not have the same focus as an approach that questions the relationship between the urban area and the environment (Grimm, Grove, Pickett & Redman, 2000; Barles, 2010). Urban ecology seen as an “ecology of the urban area aims to understand the urban milieu in a holistic manner in order to propose an alternative management and design” (Emelianoff, 2001, p. 85). The concept of urban ecology used by the PEERS project presented here is therefore that of ecology of the urban area, rather than that with a restrictive meaning (ecology in the urban area)5.

The conceptual ambiguity characterizing urban ecology results in diverging visions of the relationship between man and nature (Descola,←270 | 271→ 2005), which can also be found in different meanings of the notion of environment (Theys, 2010). Thus, urban ecology can be based on a metabolic conception of the urban area as an ecosystem, on a sociological conception in the line of the Chicago School, or even on a strictly naturalistic conception (Clergeau, 2010; Armand-Fargues, 1996; Blanc, 1998; Emelianoff, 2001). The current principal research themes in urban ecology are risk management, urban agriculture, sustainable transport, the urban climate (e.g. heat islands), urban metabolism (analyzing the flow of energy, materials, and various outputs), and the issues of sustainable urbanism and architecture. The principles defining ecodistricts are particularly linked with these latter issues.

An ecodistrict is “an urban development project that respects the principles of sustainable development but also adapts to the features of the land.”6 The general characteristics of ecodistricts have been well-described by specialists, and some are even well-known among the general public (especially energy saving and “soft” mobility):

[…] qualified densification, […] morphological, functional, and social diversity, valorization of the public space, decisions in favor of collective transport and soft mobility, renaturing of the habitat, ecological management of material resources, the participation of the actors concerned in the conception, implementation, and management of living conditions (Da Cunha, 2011, p. 193).

To these features can be added a focus on the localization of the district within the agglomeration – often close to the center – and on the quality of links to the rest of the town or city, as well as the question of scale: the project must be big enough to be considered a district (Boutaud, 2009), even if the district level does not allow for the resolution of all the challenges posed in the production of a (more) sustainable urban area (Da Cunha, 2011). The ecodistrict is one of the solutions proposed to counteract the major problems of urban spread and its effects on mobility and urban sprawl, energy consumption, and even the increase of social and spatial segregation. It is therefore a tool used by political authorities←271 | 272→ and urban planners, but also – and increasingly – by individual and collective actors within civil society.

Ecodistrict projects have taken place since the 1990s in Germany, the UK, and in the countries of Northern Europe, and since the end of the 2000s, they have spread to most European states (Béal, Charvolin & Morel Journel, 2011). Some have become iconic, such as the Vauban district in Freiburg im Breisgau, Vesterbro (Hedebygade) in Copenhagen, Hammarby-Sjöstad in Stockholm, and BedZED in south London. Their completion has not been without problems, with criticism most frequently focused on the very limited social diversity of many projects: the cost of construction and development involves rental or sale costs that are simply beyond the reach of social groups of modest means. More generally, an ecodistrict development cannot really be envisaged without strong support from public groups (political, sometimes financial), which requires them to have the means for such actions.

2.2 Sustainable Development and Education for Sustainable Development

Since the early 1990s, the general public has gradually become familiar with the concept of sustainable development. It is classically defined as follows: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland, 1987, p. 8). It thus brings together three economic, social, and environmental sections, or pillars: sustainable development consists of ensuring adequate wealth creation to satisfy the needs of the population, while reducing social inequalities and avoiding damage to the environment (Allemand, 2006; Hertig, 2011).

Sustainable development is an ideological concept and a political project based on various epistemological concepts, some of which are subject to controversy (Hertig, 2011). Numerous researchers deny it the status of an academic discipline, while others consider it to be a “paradigm around which fields of research and academic reflection are organized” (Allemand, 2007, p. 9). The main controversies linked←272 | 273→ to the concept of sustainable development derive firstly from the view of the relationship between human societies and nature, with tensions crystallizing around the opposition between an anthropocentric view (nature in the service of man) resting on a nature-culture dualism, and a biocentric vision that affirms that all life forms have an equal right to life (Descola, 2005; Theys, 2010; Hertig, 2011). These antagonistic visions translate into an opposition between “weak durability” and “strong durability,” this latter involving highly restrictive actions designed to protect the environment. Secondly, the very term “development,” often assimilated into that of growth, is controversial in many ways, as is the arguably oxymoronic association of the words “development” and “sustainable” (Allemand, 2006, 2007; Hertig, 2011). Finally, infra- and intergenerational justice, a fundamentally ethical issue, supposes an urgent and real consideration of the needs of the most deprived in order to reduce socioeconomic disparities between and within states. It cannot be ignored that the triumph of neoliberal economics has troubled this ideal. However, despite these controversies, sustainable development, seen as a principle of action, is the bearer of a true ethics of change (Da Cunha, 2003), and it is from this perspective that Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has been introduced into the education systems of various states over the last fifteen years.

Heir to environmental education and global education, ESD embodies a certain number of contradictions, which relate in part to the controversies surrounding the concept of sustainable development (the view of the relationship between nature and culture; relative positioning of the question of economic growth, cf. Varcher, 2011). But the tensions around ESD also derive from the fact that its political dimension remains too often implicit or is not fully admitted by actors in the education system (Varcher, 2011; Hertig, 2012). It also involves visions of teaching and learning that are not shared by everyone (Audigier, 2011; Varcher, 2011). However, in terms of its objectives, most researchers agree that ESD aims to ensure a “reasonable” future to both current and future generations, and to allow all pupils to acquire the knowledge and the ways of thinking that they need to understand the world in which they live and in which they will have to act as responsible citizens.←273 | 274→

2.3 Interdisciplinarity

The huge problems faced by human societies are not disciplinary, nor are the solutions required to resolve them (Audigier & al., 2011; Hertig, 2012). Nevertheless, knowledge built across and within disciplines is vital (Astolfi, 2008; Audigier, 2011; Hertig, 2012) for pupils to understand the interactions between the multiple factors in play and the actors concerned, so that they can develop prospective scenarios and make decisions in a reasoned way.

I will not discuss here the nuances between the diverse meanings of inter- and transdisciplinarity: for readers interested in this issue, another recent text proposes an overview of this area (Diemer, 2014). Fourez (1997) notes that an interdisciplinary approach must call for disciplinary knowledge, and Lemay (2011) specifies that this approach is not limited to a simple addition of known practices and that it enables the construction of links producing meaning. A true interdisciplinary approach thus “implies a pooling of disciplinary approaches from the moment the issue has been defined, particularly when it comes to choosing and implementing research methods” (Poglia, 2011, p. 158). This “cross-pollination” arising from the combination of contributions from multiple disciplines is one of the keys to understanding the world (Hertig, 2009, 2012).

2.4 Didactic Approach to Teaching Scientific Disciplines

Three major models of the relationship between academic disciplines and school disciplines coexist in the French-speaking world: the model of didactic transposition (Verret, 1975; Chevallard, 1985), the model of social reference practices (Martinand, 1986), and the model of school discipline seen as an original creation of the school institution (Chervel, 1988; Audigier, 1995) (see Hertig, 2012, for an overview of the foundational principles of these three models). We could also add the concept of the disciplinary matrix, as formalized by Develay (1992). These three models and the concept proposed by Develay are←274 | 275→ not sufficient however to understand the different ways of considering a didactic approach to the teaching of scientific disciplines.

The didactic approach used in this PEERS program7 was founded on a systemic view of knowledge (Morin, 1999; Hertig, 2012) and developed around an approach that was structured as follows (Hertig, 2012): use of a trigger element to problematize the knowledge issue with the pupils; delegating the issue to the pupils; structuring the unit into “problem” units based on the questions generated by the trigger element; networking of knowledge by means of integrating concepts from the scientific disciplines concerned (geography and biology in this instance); and a review phase designed to enable the institutionalization of knowledge and conceptualization. Inspired by the socioconstructivist model, this didactic approach was designed so that pupils would understand the meaning of the knowledge learned, and thus enable them to acquire some of the intellectual tools they need to understand the world in which they live and in which they will have to act as citizens: one of the objectives of ESD.

3. Shared Construction of the Project: Bringing Together Divergent Visions8

The outline of the shared development work for the project was defined by the student partners during the Swiss students’ visit to the United States. Before agreeing on the structure of the teaching units to be created, they compared their relative views of urban ecology and various key aspects of this topic, including the idea of sustainable transport, the concept of the ecodistrict, and the relevance of certain sustainability indicators.←275 | 276→

The two Swiss students’ vision of urban ecology had been clarified at the start of their collaboration and derived from the interdisciplinary perspective of ecology of the urban area. The Americans had in mind the idea of ecology in the urban area, and were envisaging an approach centered on an inventory of green spaces in the urban area and a description of their biological features. These differences in approach illustrate the different visions resulting from the conceptual ambiguity that characterizes urban ecology.

Different visions also became apparent when it came to the principles surrounding sustainable mobility. While the Americans focused on solutions that were based on new technologies (hybrid engines, for example) and would do little to modify the dominance of reliance on individual car use, the Swiss students emphasized the choices of public bodies aiming to develop and improve infrastructure and public transport options, and to restrict individual car use. The concept of the ecodistrict also revealed notable cultural differences on the two sides of the Atlantic: although ecodistricts have developed in the majority of western European countries since the end of the 2000s, the concept is still not widely known in the United States. The North Americans have developed ecovillages, which share some features with ecodistricts (energy efficient buildings, design and infrastructure aiming to reduce environmental impact); the ecovillage of Sawyer Hill, near the small town of Berlin, around thirty miles to the west of Boston, provides a good example9. Ecovillages are built in rural areas and are conceived of as spaces for micro-societies, with no specific concern for social diversity nor resolving the issue of transport to and fro (the car journey from Sawyer Hill to Boston takes forty-five minutes). The focus on ecological issues, with the goal of a harmonious relationship between man and his environment, makes the concept of the ecovillage substantially different from that of the ecodistrict.

Another cultural difference arose when the student partners discussed sustainability indicators: the priorities for the Americans were clearly biodiversity indicators, green spaces, and water management, while the←276 | 277→ Swiss students accorded as much importance to social and economic dimensions as to those concerning environmental impact.

These different visions can be partly explained by the fact that the LU students were studying environmental studies in parallel with their elementary teacher training, hence their particular sensitivity to environmental issues. Nevertheless, these differences are also cultural in nature: the relationship of North Americans (particularly in the United States) to nature rests largely on the idea of “wilderness,” of a nature that is wild, intact, and protected from constant damage by man’s actions (Hertig, 2011; Gunnell, 2009).

The discussions between the HEP Vaud and LU students on these issues certainly constituted one of the highlights of their collaborative work, since they enabled them to understand visions different from their own, and led them to build together a series of sustainability indicators constituting the tools of analysis for the (eco)districts studied with their pupils. The following table (table 1) summarizes the nine sustainability indicators defined by the students.

Table 1: Sustainability Indicators of a District/Ecodistrict. The names of the indicators are those used by Weissen and Tauxe (2012, pp. 21–22).

Indicator

Characteristics

Economic aspects

Location of businesses and other economic activities. Note the presence or absence of jobs in the economic sectors concerned.

Social aspects

Sociocultural, socioeconomic, and generational characteristics of inhabitants of the district. Location of meeting spaces.

Building and land use

Classification of buildings and infrastructures. Building density. Functions devolved to different areas of the district and linked to the use of ground surface.

Well-being, health, safety, and comfort

Services available in the district and facilities ensuring the health, safety, and quality of life of inhabitants.←277 | 278→

Biodiversity and green spaces

Observation and description of plant and animal species identified. Location of green spaces: private or public, man-made or natural.

Energy

Identification and classification of energy sources supplying the district. If possible, identification of sources of energy waste.

Water management

Location of any natural water sources or water courses. Water management facilities in public and private spaces.

Waste management

Location of collection points within or immediately near the district. Evaluation of waste sorting by inhabitants and businesses.

Mobility

Urban design for public transport and private transport, favoring or not favoring soft mobility. Transport habits of district inhabitants and users.

The exchanges between the student partners also enabled them to define the key characteristics of the teaching units to be developed for their pupils. These had to incorporate an initial problematization phase, outlining the issues with their pupils. The trainee teachers also planned for part of the unit to include fieldwork outside the school walls, during which the pupils would be taken to study a district according to the nine indicators listed above. The pupils would also be asked to suggest improvements to give the district studied all or some of the features of an ecodistrict. Finally, the unit had to include a general review phase.

4. The Teaching-Learning Units

The two HEP students developed an interdisciplinary teaching unit for the senior high school pupils they were teaching in their respective classes, one in the context of biology lessons, the other in the context←278 | 279→ of geography lessons. Although the two students were on placement in different institutions, they worked closely together to develop the unit, which was developed within an interdisciplinary perspective from the very beginning (Fourez, 1997; Maingain, Dufour & Fourez, 2002). The trainees of course had to deliver most of the unit in their own respective classes due to the timetable imposed, but they were able to be involved at regular intervals in their partner’s class (co-presenting, paired teaching).

The unit integrated varied teaching methods: formal “ex cathedra” teaching, group research, work in the computer lab, fieldwork, etc. In addition, the unit review phase for the first two classes was presented in the form of a half-day seminar during which the different groups of pupils from the two classes presented the results of their research, in the presence of an urbanist architect involved in the development of a future ecodistrict planned in Lausanne (the Métamorphose project), and of the trainers supervising the student teachers. The following table (table 2) summarizes the key characteristics of the unit developed by the Swiss students.

Table 2: Outline of the Teaching Unit Developed by the HEP Students.

Phase and Duration

Content

Specific Methods

Trigger element, problematization (1 lesson of 45 minutes)

Identification of the major issues affecting today’s urban areas

Development of a shared outline of the issue

Work with series of photographs

Learning unit 1

(2 lessons of 45 minutes)

Principles and objectives of sustainable development

Examples of sustainable facilities, examples of ecodistricts

“Ex-cathedra” lessons, interactive lessons, directed tasks

Learning unit 2

(5 lessons of 45 minutes)

Definition of sustainability indicators

Observation/fieldwork (district near the school)

Each group is given one of the sustainability indicators to focus on

Group and collective work in computer lab

Group work outside class←279 | 280→

Intermediary evaluation

(2 lessons of 45 minutes)

Groups give an oral presentation, within the class, of the initial results of their work

Group presentations, visual support (slides)

Learning unit 3

(4 lessons of 45 minutes)

Improvements from the perspective of sustainability: information search, then proposals for the sector and topic studied

Group work

Computer lab

Development of a written portfolio and support for final presentation

General review (method for the first two classes)

(2 lessons of 45 minutes)

Seminar: the classes from the two institutions meet and share the results of their work

Slide presentations

In the presence of an expert (urbanist architect)

General review (method for the two other classes)

(2 lessons of 45 minutes)

Pooling (within class) of results of work

Comparison of proposed improvements with real examples of ecodistricts

Synthesis developed collectively

Slide presentations

Final evaluation

Evaluation of written report

The general issue of the unit was defined as follows (or in similar terms): “What solutions can be put in place to resolve the problems of today’s urban areas from the perspective of sustainability?” Each of these learning units, conceived as problem units (Hertig, 2012), was centered on one issue stemming from the broader issue.

On their side of the pond, the two American students developed a teaching unit designed for kindergarten and elementary pupils. In fact, rather than a teaching unit as such, they created a series of topical lessons shining a light on environmental protection issues. The outline of their←280 | 281→ approach is presented in the following table (table 3); the information is taken from the American students’ website10.

Table 3: Outline of the Lesson Sequence Developed by the Students from LU.

Phase and Duration

Content

Specific Methods

Introduction

(1 lesson of 30 minutes)

Introduction to ideas of the environment and sustainability

Watching video clips

1 lesson of 60 minutes

(reading)

The impact of human activities on the environment

Theme of individual and collective responsibility toward the environment

Reading and discussion of the story of the “Lorax” (Seuss, 1991)11

1 lesson of 30 minutes

(natural sciences)

Water pollution

Focus on freshwater and ocean pollution

Group work, hands on (mixing liquids) and visual support (images)

1 lesson of 40–45 minutes (natural sciences, mathematics)

Recycling

Introduction to waste sorting

Graphical representation of the amount of “recycled” objects in teaching “boxes”

Work in small groups

Purpose-designed kits

1 lesson of 30 minutes

(social studies)

Urban, suburban, and rural habitats

Explanation of the characteristics of these three types of habitat and their impact on the environment

Collective work, then card game (matching images and/or definitions of the three types of habitat)←281 | 282→

(1 lesson of 45 minutes)

How to be Green

Individual responsibility for reducing ecological footprint

Waste sorting, recycling, restrictions on individual car transport

Individual contract (engagement to act to protect the environment)

Collective work, centered around semi-structured exchanges between the teacher and the pupils (question canvas)

1 lesson of 30 minutes (social studies)

Fieldwork: what the school is doing to protect the environment (“mapping the green in your school”)

Group work

Observation, inventory, report on a map of the school

Collection of lessons dedicated to a project (between 1 and 6 hours)

(interdisciplinary)

Developing a project in groups: defining the characteristics of an ecodistrict, i.e. a district where the environment is protected and the focus is on ensuring a good quality of life

Group work

Brainstorming

Sketch and 2D plan

Then making a 3D model (with recycled objects)

Without making a systematic comparison of the two teaching units (their shared points have already been mentioned), it may be interesting to briefly highlight a few significant differences, which can mostly be attributed to the fact that the units were designed for pupils of very different ages. The type and objectives of the fieldwork are not for example the same: the young pupils of the American trainee teachers used direct observation activities, while the teenagers in the classes of the HEP Vaud trainee teachers implemented research methods that went beyond observation. The group work methods were also different: while the Swiss teenagers worked on specific tasks that varied between the different groups (the expert group approach), the young Americans also worked in groups, but with an identical task for each group. The use of computing resources was important for the HEP Vaud trainees’ students, while the young pupils of the LU trainees did not use the computer as a tool but often expressed themselves through drawing. The learning evaluation methods were not of course the same, and the way of approaching the knowledge object itself differed, since the←282 | 283→ Swiss teachers were able to discuss more abstract concepts in class than the American trainees could have done with their young pupils. This particularly manifested itself through the priority given by the LU students to certain sustainability indicators that are more accessible for young children than others (for example green spaces, waste management, and water management).

5. Assessment and Perspectives

The main problem faced by the participants of this project was the fact that the student partners were on very different courses of study. This certainly limited the scope of the project, and perhaps its intrinsic interest. In many ways, rather than a project in which development, implementation, and evaluation were equally shared, this was an interdisciplinary project designed by the HEP Vaud, and then adapted by the LU students under the supervision of Cristin Ashmankas. Ultimately, this had a significant impact on the comparative scope of the project. It would also certainly have been interesting to research more deeply into the cultural differences between divergent visions of sustainable development, urban ecology, and the relationship between man and nature.

That said, the positive aspects of this project must be highlighted. Above all, it was an opportunity for all the participants involved to develop personally through numerous moments of exchange, during week-long visits to Boston/Cambridge and to Lausanne, and through the intermediary of social networking resources. For the student teachers, collaborating with colleagues whose views on ecology and on the teaching approach to social hot topics or scientific controversies were very different from their own, was doubtless instructive, for it led them to question and alter their own visions and views – a reflective approach that all teachers must or should implement on an ongoing basis.←283 | 284→

This project also led to several achievements that deserve to be mentioned here. Firstly, the project was presented at the PEERS Symposium organized as part of the World Association for Educational Research conference (WAER), held in Reims in June 2012. In addition to the three trainers involved (Cristin Ashmankas, François Gingins, and myself), the two Swiss students were able to participate in this research presentation thanks to support from the HEP Vaud. This was an important opportunity for them to gain their first experience of participating in a major conference, and of preparing a research communication.

Furthermore, the two HEP Vaud students focused their dissertation on the PEERS project. They also developed a detailed teaching guide allowing other teachers to implement a teaching unit on ecodistricts, and a redesigned version of this guide (Tauxe & Weissen, 2013) was uploaded to the website of the “Education 21” foundation, the national center for delivery and skills that supports the implementation of ESD in Switzerland. Teaching units looking at ecodistricts, with a structure more or less inspired by that developed by the two Swiss students, have been implemented in several institutions in the Canton of Vaud. Finally, the two students produced a brief article presenting their project in the Prismes journal produced by the HEP Vaud (Weissen & Tauxe, 2013). The American student teachers produced a website dedicated to the project, and many of the documents that they produced for the implementation of their teaching unit are still available from this resource12.

Plans for collaboration between the HEP Vaud and the LU in the field of ESD have not yet been finalized beyond a second experience of the PEERS project (see Alain Pache’s chapter in this volume) (Pache, 2017), due to Cristin Ashmankas having moved away from the institution. Focusing purely on the project described here, a particular highlight was the very strong engagement of the two Swiss students, who learned a great deal about interdisciplinarity through this experience, and who produced very high quality work; the two American students involved from the beginning of the project were←284 | 285→ also strongly invested once Cristin Ashmankas began supervising their work. The respective partner visits to Boston and Lausanne led to very rich personal and cultural exchanges. And finally, it is doubtless that the pupils taught by the students, and the students themselves, gained most from this project. The former, whether very young or teenagers, were able to acquire tools for understanding the world. The latter, as young teachers, gained personal, teaching, and methodological experiences that they will draw upon for the rest of their professional lives.←285 | 286→ ←286 | 287→


1 A third student from LU was involved in the first phase of the project before having to abandon their studies.

2 Cristin Ashmankas has since left LU to take up another professional role.

3 François Gingins has been retired since 2014.

4 This grouping is primarily pragmatic. Agreed with the trainers at the HEP, it allowed the Swiss students to make connections between the various theoretical frameworks they were using, and to make rational choices and interlinking even within these frameworks.

5 The different visions of urban ecology held by the students from LU and those from the HEP presented one of the obstacles to overcome in this project.

6 As described by the French Ministry for the Environment, Energy, and the Sea. Retrieved from <http://www.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/EcoQuartier,37480.html>.

7 This in fact was the approach implemented by the two Swiss students. Their unit plans will be covered in more detail later in the chapter.

8 The information presented in this and the following section (overview of the teaching-learning units) is based on the dissertation of the two Swiss students (Weissen & Tauxe, 2012).

9 See Sawyer Hill EcoVillage website. Retrieved from <www.sawyerhill.org>.

10 Retrieved from <http://halecb.wix.com/peersproject#!lesson-plans-for-pre-k-through-5th>.

11 A children’s short story written by Dr Seuss, the pseudonym of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–91). Very famous in the United States, this short story was used as the basis for a Franco-American animated film released in March 2012, around the time the LU students delivered their lesson sequence to their classes.

12 Home page retrieved from <http://halecb.wix.com/peersproject#>.