As a sustainability educator, it has been interesting to watch schools make the transition to the new Australian Curriculum which requires the teaching of sustainability as a cross-curriculum priority. Some schools have embraced sustainability in many forms – implementing programs as part of infrastructure, daily operations, curriculum, student leadership programs and community celebrations. However, others have found it challenging to engage with sustainability – and this is often due to a range of perceived barriers including a lack of support, training and confidence, as well as limited time and funding.

Transport Sustainability Audit - Warburton PS
Transport Audit – Warburton PS

I’ve also realised that one of the biggest obstacles is actually misunderstanding about sustainability education. Here are some common myths I’ve encountered and some ideas on how to overcome them…

Myth: Sustainability is a curriculum ‘add on’.

Some schools view sustainability as something that is in direct competition with other educational demands. They couldn’t be more wrong. Traditionally, sustainability was taught by Science and Geography teachers, but there are entry points within all key learning areas which achieve learning and teaching outcomes. On the Australian Curriculum website, ACARA uses a leaf symbol to indicate content that lends itself to the theme of sustainability. This shouldn’t, however, limit what is explored in the classroom. Writing persuasive texts? Choose a local environmental issue to debate. Exploring volume in Maths? Measure the volume of your bins and calculate how full they are when collected. Analysing financial markets in Economics and Business? Investigate the impact of climate change on business costs, revenues and profitability.

port fairy community sustainability program
Port fairy community program

Myth: Sustainability is all sad faces and bad news.

There is a general misconception that sustainability education is all about doom and gloom. In fact, the opposite can be true. Sustainability education helps develop capabilities, skills and knowledge for 21st century learners in positive and engaging ways. It supports students to expand their critical thinking, refection and evaluation skills. It encourages optimism, hope and resilience. It allows students to connect to nature, which boosts physical health and mental well-being. It provides an opportunity for students to act in ways that contribute to a prosperous, sustainable and socially just society. The not-so-great news about our natural environment can easily be balanced by empowering young people take meaningful action in their personal lives and community.

Myth: Sustainability drains a school’s budget.

Quite the opposite. The school budget often benefits when students embark on school sustainability projects. This alone is not a reason to embed sustainability in the curriculum but it is definitely an added bonus. Significant funds can be saved on utility bills such as water, electricity, gas and schools will benefit through lower paper and waste collection fees. In turn, this money can be channeled into other important projects around the school.

Myth: There isn’t enough support out there.

Never fear, Cool Australia is here! Along with our partners, we offer a suite of FREE to access resources – written by teachers, for teachers – that cater for a range of learning areas, year levels and student needs. We also offer a range of online professional development webinars, workshops and courses.

cool australia logo

Find out more on the Cool Australia website: and see the courses offered o help you integrate sustainability into your curriculum check out  TTA’s website:

We need to start busting these myths so that schools are energised to implement this valuable cross-curricular (and planetary) priority. Teaching young people about sustainability has never been more important. My advice is to start with the ‘easy wins’, find where the interest and passion lies within your colleagues and students and build your sustainability education program from the ground up.

Kirsty Costa, Professional Development and E-Learning Manager at Cool Australia

Autism and iPads- Setting up parameters Part 1

I’m sure you’ve read all the hype about how an iPad can assist your students on the Spectrum.

There is significant research out there celebrating the use of iPads in the Autism Community. Then you have well known people, such as Temple Grandin.

suggesting in a number of interviews that iPads can play a huge role in successful learning for children who have Autism.
You may have heard about Carly Fleischmann and how technology literally opened up a world of communication for her.

and you just have to go to YouTube, Autism Communities and the many parent blogs out there to find applaud for tablet technology and the benefit for children with learning differences.

While I concur as I’ve spent the last five years researching, trialing, experimenting and designing programs using iPad and apps for all students, but especially for those on the Spectrum, I also believe that the last five years has taught us hugely about how we should implement and integrate this technology. I am extremely concerned by some of the stories I hear from teachers on how the device is being used and how the technology is being set up. We have to be clear, iPads are individual, personalised technology. They are not meant to be used as a fill in or a reward, because then you are missing the real benefit of it’s use and they shouldn’t be used for ‘iPad’ sessions, like we used to have ‘computer’ time.

Technology is now an assimilated, instilled part of everyday life. Technology is also quickly becoming as integral as pen and paper was in the past. We use technology to tell the time, read the news, write a note, send a message, research answers, do our banking, book a ticket, navigate a route and so on. As integral as technology is to daily life; we need to treat technology in the same way in education. Timetabling technology as a unique part of curriculum is a thing of the PAST!

Consequently, I came up with the following guidelines. Some are simply questions you should ask yourself and ask your school and some are some parameters that you can set with your students. I’m sure you could come up with some extra points that suit your particular clientele, but this will at least provide you with a starting point.

Also, most of these points I’ve written with the child who has Autism in mind, but you can easily relate this to the neurotypical child as well.
AutismHow will you use the iPad?

1:1 iPad use is the most appropriate or viable way to deploy iPads into the classroom for students on the Spectrum. This gives each student ownership over their iPad; all of their work is stored on the one iPad; and the iPad is readily available when students need to use it. This avoids all kinds of confusion for the student who has Autism and also means they open up a screen that is familiar and personalized for them. Not doing this would be similar to handing a child with Autism a different ‘workbook’ each day.

AutismSecurity Issues

Ensure iPads are all set up to prevent students from accessing sites, videos or apps that are not appropriate for them. The iPad has extremely good security options inbuilt into the iPad’s settings. You can set the iPad to only be able to access G rated apps, music, videos and other content. You can also prevent students from accessing the iTunes and App Store.

This is vital for students on the Spectrum because they are extremely ‘tech’ savvy and while we need security for the iPad, we also need to make available sites like YouTube that are normally restricted for students. Being able to restrict the content by setting age and ratings limits, means students can still watch age and education appropriate content. YouTube is an invaluable resource and I think shutting it off altogether cuts off access to some really great educational videos.

AutismSelecting Apps

Having a core list of apps really helps. When I first started out on this journey, I had too many apps. It was overwhelming for me to try to learn how to use them and then teach the students how to use them. I now, think it is wiser to start with a few apps….get to know how to use them and how to use them in your classroom. Then you can add apps as you go. Be clear about what you want to do with the apps and this helps you to narrow the selection further.

AutismMake sure you know how the apps work

I suggest using the apps and playing with all the settings. Go through each step of the app and know how it works. Can the app be adjusted and differentiated in the settings section? Is there a way to make the app easier, or harder? Think about how you can use these apps in an educational context for your students and how you can integrate the technology into your lessons.

Taking courses on iPad use can help you to navigate your way through the minefield of apps and get some idea of what apps to use. Go to for courses on how to use iPads in the classroom.

Go to Vimeo, Teacher Tube and other teacher educational sites for reviews on how to use apps. Additionally there are lots of videos made by educators on how to use certain apps in the classroom. This is a fantastic resource and one I highly recommend.

AutismAllocate the iPad for educational use only.

One of the very early decisions I made was to only have educationally based apps on the iPad….this did include educational games….but I left all other games off the device at the very early stage of iPad deployment into my classroom.

I believe this is a vital decision to make because I think children have plenty of opportunities to play games using various other technologies like the Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, Computer games etc. Keeping the iPad as an educational tool ensures that students will view the technology from this perspective.

The iPad should not be used as a ‘fill in’ or for ‘rewards’ – if the technology is being used this way, then it is not being used effectively and more importantly is not being utilized to create the best possible educational outcomes for your students.

AutismThe device cannot do the work for you or replace you as a teacher

You have to drive its use and be at the control panel. You decide what apps to use, how to use them and how you connect them to your overall curriculum and lesson plans. You will need to differentiate the use of the iPad and apps to suit your students who have Autism.

It is NOT enough to just had a child the device without some preparation and instruction, let alone determining how the device will best assist each student’s learning outcomes. The iPad is essentially an educational tool and it will only be as effective as the teacher who is overseeing its use.

AutismFinally a couple of words on setting up parameters for using device for students who are on the Spectrum

All children, and especially those who are on the Autism Spectrum need firm guidelines and parameters for using iPads both at home and the classroom. If we do this from the very start, then this will become a part of what is expected. We all know that developing routines and structures are extremely important, so it makes sense to introduce the iPad with some routine and structure.

Karen Barley

Part 2 coming in the next few days:

 Introduce the iPad as a Personal Learning Studio

Whole-school sustainability planning and the Australian Curriculum

The whole-school approach to sustainability was recently shown to be the preferred method to embed Education for Sustainability in a systemic way in schools to facilitate sustainability learning across the Australian Curriculum. Read about the Education for Sustainability (EfS) and the Australian Curriculum federally funded project here:

The research also revealed that, whilst 92% of teachers consider sustainability an important concept for their students to learn, less than 20% of teachers know how to integrate sustainability into their teaching.

There are many opportunities in your school grounds to highlight EfS (Education for Sustainability) concepts, which encompass social, cultural, economic, personal as well as environmental sustainability, and provide a start for sustainability projects.

Staff at Wetland optimised

For example, a tour of the school grounds during an onsite workshop at Maitland Grossmann High School in the Hunter Valley, in July this year, surprised many of the teachers with the resources available at their fingertips for exploring EfS.This included remnant historical features from the original settlement of the school site, a constructed wetland, vistas of the Hunter River floodplain, an Aboriginal yarning circle, a Zen garden and food garden beds.


Projects in the school grounds can feed into subject outcomes and promote 21st century skills such as leadership, working in teams, social cohesion, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.

How do I get started with sustainability?

A great way to start on your school’s sustainability journey is to let the students take the initiative! If your school doesn’t have a green team, find some interested students and get them to survey other students and staff to find out where to start. For the survey template, sourced originally from the Sustainable Schools SA website (, click here

,Screen Shot attitudinal survey

Fnd some interested students and get them to map the school grounds to identify areas for a project to kickstart the process e.g. a biodiversity area

 by Sandra Nichols

More templates and resources are provided at the forthcoming course: Whole-school sustainability planning Friday 14 November

Visit for ideas and resources on EfS and workshop testimonials.



Autism: Changing the Fabric of Education

Abandon girl

This year has been an interesting journey for me as an educator as I find my role to be increasingly one that is ‘teaching the teacher’. I came to this place by osmosis in a way as I sought to share more about autism awareness and how this knowledge can change the way a teacher teaches this unique student clientele.

I offer a number of courses on Autism Awareness and Using iPads in the Classroom Setting and I’ve been inspired by the passion and dedication by the many teachers who have taken these courses. Most have sought answers to the lack of knowledge they have on Autism and are desperate to make a difference to their students. Over the last two terms, I’ve felt excited and heartened that so many teachers not only want to make a difference, but want to ‘be’ that difference and have been open to make even the smallest change to help their students.

Autism is an increasing problem in education. The statistics in Australia are that 1 in 88 children are being born with Autism, which means in 15 years we are going to have 1 in 88 adults who will be on the Spectrum.  We have to as a community start thinking about the bigger picture and some significant changes need to occur as to how we approach this issue.

There is NO ‘one size fits all’ solution to the problem that is Autism. I think we need to spend less time on trying to finding a ‘cure’ and invest more energy into understanding the condition. There is a saying that “if you know one child who has Autism, you know one child who has Autism”.  So this tells us NO child is the same, therefore NO one therapy or intervention will work for every child.  However, what we do need as teachers is education, knowledge and awareness. Simply knowing how these children ‘think’ ; that they tend to be more visual, can instantly change the teaching dynamic. Knowing that many children on the Spectrum can’t look you in the eye because it is uncomfortable and even painful for them means that you won’t spend a huge amount of your teaching time insisting that your students look you in the eyes. Being aware that sitting to the side of a student on the Spectrum is far less intimidating than facing them can be the key that opens up trust and connection.

One thing I believe Autism teaches us is the nature of individualism and uniqueness. We just can’t put children in a box, irrespective of whether they have Autism OR if they are ‘neurotypical’.
All children learn differently. All children have different skills and abilities. All children have different interests. Some children will learn visually, some by doing, some verbally and some emotionally. Some children love Math and don’t like English; some love Science but don’t like Sport.  Doesn’t it make sense to create a differentiated curriculum to suit each child?

Does this idea make the job of the teacher harder?  Initially, yes. There will be more work and preparation to do, but ultimately if the child loves what they are learning, then behaviour problems will diminish, motivation will increase, concentration will improve and children will WANT to attend school.

The principle is the same for children on the Spectrum. Before I even consider a program for my students I need to spend some time observing, assessing and connecting. I need to understand how my student learns, what motivates them and what their sensory issues are. Each program needs to be uniquely and individually tailored to that child.

Parents with children on the Spectrum need our support. They need our understanding and they need our awareness. We owe children this!  Not only because of the benefits to them individually, but we owe it to them because as a community, we will be better off when we understand the importance and value of the Autism mind.

One of the greatest gifts I can give to parents is to ‘get it’. To understand what they are experiencing, to understand their child; and to see what they see in their child. I see parents’ faces light up when I recognize their children as more than just autistic. They often resolve to tears when I say “oh your child has the ability to achieve; we just have to find what motivates his desire to learn.”

 painted smiley on human fingers

Parents of children on the Spectrum are no longer willing to accept ‘less than’ education. Dr Tony Attwood, a well know expert on Asperger’s Syndrome said, “Parents of children on the Spectrum have a PHD in their child”. I find this to be profoundly true. They’ve also battled systems and authorities and have been constantly told to give up as their child will never achieve anything. Can you imagine how disheartening this must feel? Parents of students who have any kind of ‘disability’ are often the hardest to deal with because they’ve had to battle the hardest.  By the time that they get to school, they are in combat mode! Just letting them know you’re on their side will make a world of difference and YOU can’t just say it, you have to ‘be’ on their side. Parents after all want to be collaborators in their child’s education.

I view Autism through the eyes of potential and when I communicate this concept to parents I give them hope. Let’s make the path easier by supporting faster diagnosis methods, funding for support and therapies, and funding for community, education and professional awareness programs. In ten years we need these children to be shining with potential and productive, thriving members of society. Please watch this Ted Talk by Chris Varney. It is not only inspiring, but life changing for any educator.

by Karen Barley

“Taking education into the 21st Century”

Karen Barley is an internationally recognized educational consultant specializing in the needs of children with autism and their families. She has over 25 years of expertise as an educator, private one-on-one consultant, course developer and educational technology specialist.
Karen is especially successful connecting with children who have autism and creating behavioral, sensory and educational strategies that help children reach their full potential. Her highly personable style, combined with extensive research, knowledge and firsthand experience of the needs of children with autism, makes her extremely effective and innovative in tailoring individual solutions for families and their schools. Using new and existing approaches Karen integrates her pioneering work with iPad technology to create differentiated educational programs where children with autism can consistently experience success while learning.

In addition, Ms. Barley is an accomplished and engaging, sought after public speaker and teacher trainer. She has shared her significant insights and knowledge on such subjects as, Technology in Education, Technology and Autism, Autism Awareness, 21st Century Learning, Technology and Curriculum Development and other subjects in the United States, Australia and as a keynote guest speaker for international face to face and online conferences.