Children’s Rights and Crises: A Child-centred Perspective

Children’s Rights and Crises: A Child-centred Perspective

Recognising the needs of children during a crisis

Within literature, children are frequently labelled as being in ‘crisis’, a term which broadly refers to a significantly threatening and seemingly unresolvable situation [1] [2]. Children are often considered to be one of the most vulnerable social groups affected by crises due to their need for a safe and stable environment to promote healthy development [3]. They are usually disproportionately impacted during times of economic depravity [4], political conflict [5] and natural disasters [6] due to infringements placed on their rights to access education and to participate in decisions which affect their lives [7].

Despite this, understanding how children interpret adverse experiences is vastly under-researched, and their capacity for knowledge about difficult events is consistently undervalued [8]. Research has found that children often have a unique interpretation of policy which affects them, and they can feel that their voices are being disregarded within decision-making [9]. However, post-crisis interventions designed for children have been shown either to be ineffective [10] or suffer from a high drop-off rate [11] [12], reflecting the adult-centric lens through which they are developed. As such, an urgent examination of how children are being shaped by their experiences of devastation and disaster is of critical importance.

A failure to protect the participatory rights of children

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and its near universal ratification by state parties of the United Nations (UN), has promoted developmental, survival, protection and participation rights as fundamental for children [13]. Subsequently, the UNCRC has gained recognition in education systems and curricula. However, when it comes to a crisis, the obligation of adults to uphold children’s rights to provision and protection seemingly ‘overwrites’ children’s participatory rights [7].

Fundamentally, child-centred research strives to respect the child as a person with rights and entitlement to participation [14]. This necessitates that children are placed at the centre of research about and in relation to them [15]. Reframing children as active citizens in learning from and rebuilding following a crisis event may, therefore, help them to address their experience, stimulating post-crisis growth [16].

Aims and study design

The following study aimed to investigate how children attribute meaning to the term, ‘crisis’ through their narrative discourse. Two secondary aims were; firstly, to encourage children to evaluate the support systems which may provide aid to them during a crisis; and secondly, to delineate what children perceive to be their role within crisis management.

To understand the unique perspective of children, this qualitative, exploratory study deployed semi-structured focus groups with 37 UK primary school children (aged 9-11). Data was analysed through a mixture of thematic analysis and narrative inquiry, with a particular focus on how meaning is co-constructed in children through discussing individual narratives [17].

A collaboratively constructed meaning of crisis

The study found that children demonstrated the capacity to build a collectivist understanding of crisis as a scalable and deeply personally affecting event. Specifically, children emphasised that the phenomenon of a crisis can be distinguishable based on several distinct markers. These included the number of deaths caused, the publicity an event received, its personal significance and the length of time it lasted. These factors were described to have variable and intermingling effects upon how easy a crisis was to overcome, with the most severe examples, such as war, terrorist attacks and health epidemics being characterised as resistant to recovery and something which is learned to be lived with.

Child agency within crisis management

Children demonstrated disillusionment with the authorities who they viewed as disregarding the true needs of children in times of crisis. However, these feelings did not automatically translate into a desire for more involvement within organising crisis management. Instead, children primarily sought greater inclusion within discussions about difficult events as they played out. Children often attributed their stress during a crisis as being higher and less manageable when they felt under-informed about why certain events were occurring and what impact they could realistically have in controlling them. It was assumed that adults should bear the responsibility of deciding how much to share with children with sensitive consideration of their age and emotional resilience. Overall, children perceived that information about difficult events was generally being unnecessarily and indiscriminately withheld from them to the detriment of their mental health.

Reconceptualising children as active social agents within crisis management

These findings paint the picture of children as active social beings, desperately seeking out reasons to attribute meaning to the difficult events they have experienced. Rather than protecting the ‘best interests of the child’ by perpetuating their ignorance, adults may, in fact, be eliciting unnecessary stress in children by avoiding troubling yet important conversations. In light of this research, post-crisis intervention programmes for children should create careful guidelines to direct adults on how to sensitively hold these discussions with children. The priority must be to educate in order to address misinformation and help them to anticipate potential future outcomes [18]. Doing so is likely to encourage children to feel a shared sense of responsibility with adults for tackling crises, thereby reducing stress-inducing helplessness.

Overall, this study further highlighted the need for a theoretical shift in the tradition of viewing children as objects of inquiry, towards including them as social actors with a unique perspective to adults [19]. Children are disempowered from becoming active participants in resolving crises which may reflect propagated narratives that children are unknowledgeable, vulnerable and incompetent [20]. Subsequently, policy which campaigns for child participation rights is being compromised and requires reform to better actualise children’s participatory rights.

Key Messages

• There is no clear conceptualisation of what it means to be a child ‘in crisis’, despite them often being one of the most vulnerable social groups affected.

• Current crisis response interventions appear ineffective at mitigating the damaging impacts on children.

• Children value their own inclusion within conversations regarding crises, mandated by adults in an age-appropriate manner.

• Children’s participatory rights, as cited by the UNCRC, are being compromised in times of crisis and require reform to be actualized.

Alex Bidmead

Alex Bidmead

Assistant Psychologist, Psychology of Education MSc graduate (University of Bristol)

Alex Bidmead is a Psychology of Education (MSc) graduate from the University of Bristol and is currently an Assistant Psychologist at an independent specialist school. Her professional background in residential childcare has involved cultivating safe and therapeutically supportive environments for children and young people with complex SEMH needs, utilizing principles of trauma-informed care.

Ms Bidmead’s research interests lie in evaluating the actualization of child agency and advocacy, with a focus on vulnerable children and young people. She presented her research on Children’s Rights and Crises: A Child-centered Perspective via an online portal through Edge Hill University on 7th December 2023:


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References and Further Reading

[1] Boin A, Ekengren M and Rhinard M (2020) Hiding in plain sight: Conceptualizing the creeping crisis. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy 11(2): 116-138. 

[2] MacNeil Vroomen J, Bosmans JE, van Hout HP and de Rooij SE (2013) Reviewing the definition of crisis in dementia care. BMC Geriatr 13: 10.

[3] Agrawal N and Kelley M (2020) Child Abuse in Times of Crises: Lessons Learned. Clinical Pediatric Emergency Medicine 21(3): 100801. 

[4] Lawrence JA, Dodds AE, Kaplan I and Tucci MM (2019) The Rights of Refugee Children and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Laws 8(3).

[5] Jones L (2008) Responding to the needs of children in crisis. Int Rev Psychiatry 20(3): 291-303. 

[6] Curtis T, Miller BC and Berry EH (2000) Changes in reports and incidence of child abuse following natural disasters. Child Abuse & Neglect 24(9): 1151-1162. 

[7] Harper C, Jones N and McKay A (2010) Including children in Policy responses to economic crises. Report no. Report Number|, Date. Place Published|: Institution|.

[8] Hohti R and Karlsson L (2014) Lollipop stories: Listening to children’s voices in the classroom and narrative ethnographical research. Childhood 21(4): 548-562.

[9] Perry-Hazan L and Lambrozo N (2018) Young children’s perceptions of due process in schools’ disciplinary procedures. British Educational Research Journal 44(5): 827-846.

[10] Thabet AA, Vostanis P and Karim K (2005) Group crisis intervention for children during ongoing war conflict. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 14(5): 262-269.

[11] Hendricks-Ferguson VL (2000) Crisis intervention strategies when caring for families of children with cancer. J Pediatr Oncol Nurs 17(1): 3-11. 

[12] Rhoades H, Rusow JA, Bond D, et al. (2018) Homelessness, Mental Health and Suicidality Among LGBTQ Youth Accessing Crisis Services. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 49(4): 643-651.

[13] Assembly UNG (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child. Available at: (accessed 3).

[14] Merriman B and Guerin S (2006) Using children’s drawings as data in child-centred research. The Irish journal of psychology 27(1-2): 48-57. 

[15] Toros K, Tiko A and Saia K (2013) Child-centered approach in the context of the assessment of children in need: Reflections of child protection workers in Estonia. Children and Youth Services Review 35(6): 1015-1022. 

[16] Mutch C (2011) Crisis, curriculum and citizenship. Curriculum Matters 7: 1-7.

[17]Savin-Baden M and Niekerk LV (2007) Narrative inquiry: Theory and practice. Journal of geography in higher education 31(3): 459-472.

[18] Harmey S and Moss G (2021) Learning disruption or learning loss: using evidence from unplanned closures to inform returning to school after COVID-19. Educational Review. DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2021.1966389. 1-20. 

[19] Brady L-M and Davey C (2011) NCB Guidelines for Research With Children and Young People.

[20] Oakley A (2002) Women and children first and last: Parallels and differences between children’s and women’s studies. Children’s Childhoods. Routledge, pp.19-38.



How interdependent national and EU-level policies for apprenticeship training are spreading through Europe

How interdependent national and EU-level policies for apprenticeship training are spreading through Europe

Education policy was being approached at a European level as early as the treaty of Rome in 1957, and its importance has been reaffirmed, again and again, through various monumental summits (e.g. Council of Lisbon), programmes (such as Erasmus), and processes (e.g. Bologna Process) ever since. The curious thing about education policy at a European level is that education is traditionally a mainly national policy field (Leibfried et al., 2007). Understanding how and by whom EU education policy is shaped, and how, in turn, it shapes and influences policy within the different member states, is a puzzle still to be deeper explored – and the puzzle is growing evermore relevant. Recently, the European-level policy suite for education has expanded even further. In vocational education and training (VET), a field typically bound to national borders, the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) was launched in 2013.

EAfA brings together governments and key stakeholders in an effort to enhance the quality, availability, and perception of apprenticeships throughout Europe. In doing so, it promotes apprenticeship training that is collectively governed by multiple public and private actors (Graf and Marques, 2023). The extent of cooperation between these actors, the distribution of power amongst them, and the structures that bind them together can vary between different national contexts. However, more generally, in this collective approach, apprenticeship training is coordinated through regular, decentralised collective action and deliberation by the social partners (firms and unions) and the state, at national, regional, and local policy levels.

The EAfA, with its collective approach, was followed only one year later by the founding of the German Alliance for Initial and Further Training, a structure often referred to as a national equivalent to the European Alliance (European Commission, 2017). Both alliances create new platforms for VET stakeholders at local and national levels to jointly develop innovative training policies, foster apprenticeships, and exchange knowledge of ‘best practices’. Following the renewals of these programmes in 2020 and 2019, respectively, we have studied them in juxtaposition and found that the two alliances are interdependent, being shaped by each other through their evolution, and shaping other EU states’ policies in the process (Rohde-Liebenau and Graf, 2023).

Parallel and interdependent development of the European and German alliances for apprenticeships

Soft coordination in the EU regarding VET development is an arena for the exchange of experiences and insights rather than for the establishment of laws. This soft coordination can, for instance, be accomplished through experimentalist forms of governance. One of the mechanisms of such coordination is Working Groups of relevant stakeholders, which often pursue the tools of comparisons (Nóvoa, 2013; Tveit and Lundahl, 2018) and learning (Lange and Alexiadou, 2010) to foster policy development at both EU and national levels. This soft coordination, therefore, allows for mutual interchange of EU policy, with the European Commission having the greatest role as the driver of such coordination.

Since the German VET system has gained the reputation of being effective in securing a competent workforce, along with its support for a stable labour market, German policymakers are in the position to partly “upload” their successes to the broader EU system, which we observed in the case of the EAfA. To some extent, aspects of the German approach are adopted at the EU level, in the form of ‘best practices’ for developing a VET system. At the same time, the EAfA offers inspiration for the German Alliance for Apprenticeships, providing a synergetic European context (Rohde-Liebenau and Graf, 2023). In light of the continuing trend of such parallel and interdependent developments, and in the context of increasing EU involvement in educational policy, it is possible that these policy systems will, to some extent, arc towards convergence, supported by the mutual learning of both systems, such that each system in some way and to some extent becomes part of the other.

Collective skill formation in statist and liberal systems?

Such convergence can be seen beyond the almost parallel development of the Alliances in Germany and at the EU level. Furthermore, the EU as the driver of soft coordination across Europe, can also be seen as having an influence on other states. For example, both France and Ireland, despite following traditionally different models for their skill formation systems (statist and liberal, respectively), have both shown indications of progressing towards a collectively governed skills training model which bears striking resemblance to the one envisioned and professed by the EAfA (Graf and Marques, 2023).

Certainly, a partly collectivised French system will look different than an Irish one, given the different starting points they have been built upon (this is the key concept of path dependency). Indeed, the traditional French statist apprenticeship system is based more heavily around the role of the state. Yet, since the onset of the EAfA, several measures have been undertaken to decentralise the VET system. In 2014, regional power was enlarged through a funding increase; in 2016 public institutions gained autonomy in determining contracts; and in 2018 the system had a major reform to simplify the system for users. In the Irish case, despite having built some collective organizing in 1987 and 1993 for the regulation and standardisation of apprenticeships and job training, the VET model is conventionally based around the importance of employers and free market dynamics (liberal). However, following a fulsome review in 2013, the system underwent major reforms, pointing towards the influence which the EAfA had on it. Thus, the reforms of both the French and German models largely follow the model laid out in the EAfA, especially considering newer institutions for collective cooperation.

Outlook: New directions for European skill formation?

Ultimately, there is a noticeable trend of mutual influence between the German and European cases of apprenticeship systems. In the context of the EU’s increasing involvement in educational policy, as well as the almost parallel introduction of the European and German alliances for apprenticeships within one year of each other, it is unsurprising to observe that they have a mutual influence on each other.

Looking forward, it can be expected that this parallel development will progress into further interdependence and possibly convergence. Using the cases of the French and Irish apprenticeship systems, we can reinforce this prediction with our finding of some indicators of convergence, as both countries are increasingly showing signs of European-level influence, despite having previously-existing structures which do not lend themselves to such an outcome.

Key Messages

  • The European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA), launched in 2013, brings together governments and key stakeholders to enhance apprenticeships throughout Europe.
  • The EAfA with its collective governance approach was followed only one year later by the founding of the German Alliance for Initial and Further Training.
  • Both alliances create new platforms for public and private VET stakeholders at local and national levels to jointly develop innovative training policies and exchange knowledge of ‘best practices’.
  • Following recent renewals of these programmes, we find that the two alliances are partly interdependent, being shaped by each other through their evolution, and shaping other EU states’ policies in the process.
  • For instance, both France and Ireland both show indications of progressing towards a collectively governed skills training model which bears resemblance to the one envisioned by the EAfA.
Prof. Dr. Lukas Graf

Prof. Dr. Lukas Graf

Swiss University for Vocational Education and Training, Switzerland

Lukas Graf is a Professor at the Swiss Federal University of Vocational Education and Training and Head of the Swiss Observatory for Vocational Education and Training. Previously, he was Assistant Professor of Educational Governance and Head of the Educational Governance Team at the Hertie School, Berlin. Lukas was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of St.Gallen, the University of Luxembourg, and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. He gained his PhD from Freie Universität Berlin.




Dr. Marcelo Marques

Dr. Marcelo Marques

University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Marcelo Marques is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Luxembourg. He holds degrees from the University of Lisbon (BA and MA), the University of Luxembourg (PhD), and the University of Essex (Bachelor of Laws). He was also a postdoctoral researcher at Hertie School in Berlin, Germany, and a visiting researcher at École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France, and Brunel University, England. Marcelo works on transnational governance and Europeanisation processes.




Dr. Judith Rohde-Liebenau

Dr. Judith Rohde-Liebenau

Hertie School – The University of Governance in Berlin, Germany

Judith Rohde-Liebenau works as a public sector strategy consultant. She is a research fellow at the Jacques Delors Centre at the Hertie School – The University of Governance in Berlin. Her research interests include (transnational) education, identity and socialisation, European integration and policy learning, and qualitative methods. She completed her DPhil in Sociology at the University of Oxford and holds degrees in Political Science from UCL London, Humboldt University Berlin, Sciences Po Paris, and Free University Berlin.


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References and Further Reading

Further reading

Graf, L, Marques, M(2023) Towards a European model of collective skill formation? Analysing the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. Journal of Education Policy38(4): 665-685,

Rohde-Liebenau, J, Graf, L (2023) Two instruments, one melody: The parallel evolvement of European and German alliances for apprenticeships. European Educational Research Journal, Online first access:



European Commission (2017b) European Alliance for Apprenticeships – Assessment of Progress and Planning the Future. Brussels: DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

Graf, L, Marques, M (2023) Towards a European model of collective skill formation? Analysing the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. Journal of Education Policy38(4): 665-685,

Lange B, Alexiadou N (2007) New forms of European Union governance in the education sector? A preliminary analysis of the Open Method of Coordination. European Educational Research Journal 6(4): 321–335.

Leibried, S, Rusconi A., Leuze K. (2007) New Arenas of Education Governance. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nóvoa A (2013) Numbers do not replace thinking. European Educational Research Journal 12(1): 139–148.

Rohde-Liebenau, J, Graf, L (2023) Two instruments, one melody: The parallel evolvement of European and German alliances for apprenticeships. European Educational Research Journal, Online first access:

Tveit S, Lundahl C (2018) New modes of policy legitimation in education: (Mis)using comparative data to effectuate assessment reform. European Educational Research Journal 17(5): 631–655.

5 practical tips for maths teachers for the design of emotion-sensitive classrooms

5 practical tips for maths teachers for the design of emotion-sensitive classrooms

“If I fill in this survey, will all mathematics classes be removed?”

That was one of the questions the participants asked most often when I was collecting my PhD data, aiming to examine middle school students’ academic emotions in mathematics classes. Many of the students completed the surveys in the hope that they would be excused from all future mathematics classes. The sad truth was that this sentence was a kind of reflection of those students’ feelings.

As described by Rosenberg (1998), emotions are “acute, intense, and typically brief psychophysiological changes that result from a response to a meaningful situation in one’s environment” (p. 250). Students experience such intense feelings during each phase of their academic lives in education, which foregrounds educators’ and researchers’ attention to work on this topical phenomenon. My study findings have motivated my continued interest in researching in this era to determine why students’ emotions matter at schools and what could be done to design emotion-sensitive classrooms.

Academic emotions are important, but why?

Imagine a fourteen-year-old child is taking a mathematics test on algebraic equations. Unfortunately, the questions are not easy, and the child cannot remember the formula. On the other hand, the child recognizes his parents’ expectations about the test, and time is passing. The heart and sweating rate of the child might increase; he might wish to have escaped from taking the test; the test might induce him to experience high stress, and all of these might reflect on his face. In short, the child is experiencing test anxiety.

As described in the given situations, emotion is a complex construct, including affective, cognitive, motivational, expressive, and physiological dimensions (Pekrun, 2006; Pekrun & Linnenbrink-Garcia, 2012, 2014). Based on Pekrun’s (2006) control-value theory of achievement emotions, students might experience various emotions due to achievement activities and achievement outcomes. These emotional experiences of students might exert an influence on their cognitive resources, motivation to learn, learning strategy use, and self-regulated learning, which have a place on their learning and achievement. The most crucial thing is that each element is reciprocally related, so the association between emotions, motivation, and learning-related variables would be dynamic. That foregrounds attention to why both educators and researchers should seek and construe students’ academic emotions.

Mathematics, in particular, has consequential effects on students’ emotions regarding the nature of the discipline, teaching quality, pedagogical knowledge and skills of mathematics teachers, and various student-related factors. Because of the rising focus on 21st-century skills and the “frightening” reputation of math classes, distinct student emotions may stem from their learning activities and outcomes in this discipline. Therefore, my research route specifically addressed students’ achievement emotions in mathematics.

A short glance at students’ mathematics academic emotions in Turkey

My research addressed the antecedents and consequences of the emotional experiences of middle school students (10-14 years of age) in mathematics. In Turkey, where the context of the study was built, mathematics is an often feared subject domain with an increased level of education (Çalık, 2014). Students often fall behind on mathematics competencies regarding Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results (OECD, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019).

In addition, students’ capability judgments towards accomplishing mathematics tasks were below, and their anxiety was above the OECD average (Education Reform Inıtiative, 2013). Those results might signify the changes in intensity and the variety of the experienced emotions in this subject domain across grade levels. As just a small part of my research, the findings indicated that 8th-grade students (13-14 years of age) tended to experience less enjoyment and more anxiety and anger than 7th-graders, which raises the first question of why such a decline occurs. Indeed, a number of student-related, teacher-related, parent-related, instruction-related, and assessment-related factors for this trend (Çalık, 2021) bring the second question to our minds: What could be done in designing emotion-sensitive classrooms?

5 practical tips for maths teachers for the design of emotion-sensitive classrooms

Here are several suggestions for designing emotion-sensitive classrooms regarding the potential sources and consequences of academic emotions based on the control-value theory of achievement emotions (Pekrun, 2006). These five tips might be beneficial for mathematics educators to improve the teaching quality of their classes. Those would also lend themselves to regulating students’ emotional experiences in mathematics.

Make a connection between the subject matter and real-life

As one of the basic process standards of NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics), students should be able to recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics, which requires the connection between subject matter in mathematics and real life. When maths teachers design authentic learning environments, students in those contexts could easily identify where they might apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in mathematics classes.

In particular, problem-based and project-based learning approaches might be adopted while creating lesson plans. In those cases, students would have the opportunity to learn, apply, and assess the knowledge by dealing with real-life problems, such as teaching how to calculate means or draw bar graphs through a given real-life scenario. Such practices promote the value of learning math and improve learning motivation for mathematics.

Plan the lesson around the student-centered learning activities to contribute to students critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, research, and communications skills

In line with the connection of mathematics with real life, planning mathematics classes around student-centered learning activities would ease students’ understanding of mathematics concepts. Accordingly, constructive learning practices, including problem-based and project-based learning approaches and cooperative learning strategies, would make students active in learning processes and hold them responsible for their learning.

During the teaching process, employing learning technologies, including Web 2.0 tools (e.g., concept mapping tools, assessment tools, interactive presentations, animation and video, Word clouds), dynamic geometry software, and statistical packages, make mathematics learning more enjoyable for students. Those tools captivate learners’ attention by cultivating inquiry, critical and creative thinking skills, and collaboration among learners. Besides, students have the opportunity to express themselves in more than one suggested way and receive immediate feedback from their teachers and peers in mathematics. That might also increase their engagement, motivation to learn, and positive emotions.

Give individual, prompt, and constructive feedback to students

Mathematics teachers may provide process feedback that reveals detailed information about students’ progress on what is expected of them and what they should do to achieve the intended knowledge and skills in mathematics. For instance, rather than comparing the student with his/her peers or telling the child, “Ok! You’re correct!,” for a typical mathematics problem, the mathematics teachers might come up with a statement, such as “I noticed that you came up with an original solution for this problem which you have not tried before, just amazing!”

In other words, teachers might individualize their feedback by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the child by relating their previous projects, homework, assignments, performances, etc. However, the weaknesses might be considered “yet to be accomplished sides” rather than deficits. Otherwise, students are more likely to attribute their failure and achievement in mathematics to unstable and uncontrollable situations, which might boost the rate of experiencing negative emotions. In short, individual and constructive process-oriented feedback foregrounds attention on the efforts put in by students, which also contribute to the level of interest in mathematics.

Make students feel successful by adding their mastery experiences

Self-efficacy is one of the strongest allies of positive emotions. In mathematics, students with high self-efficacy experience more positive and less negative emotions, so adding up self-efficacy beliefs might trigger students’ positive emotions in mathematics. Particularly, helping students reach success in mathematics adds to their mastery experiences in this field.

For this aim, mathematics teachers might divide the tasks into smaller chunks and make students form reasonable goals upon completing those chunks rather than at once. For instance, by giving short homework at first, then increasing the intensity and the number, or asking students to write math dairies or journals to see what they have accomplished and learned each day. Each student can learn at their own pace; however, completion of smaller steps would make students experience success and feel more capable, which, in return, would make them more optimistic and less of a ‘math hater’.

Display high enthusiasm for teaching and be sincere while communicating with students

As a last tip to design emotion-sensitive classrooms, teacher emotions are of value. Teaching is an emotion-laden job, so teacher enthusiasm is a key element for designing supportive teaching and learning environments. As well as enthusiasm and motivation, negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and boredom, would also be mirrored by students. Students are more likely to integrate the feelings experienced by teachers and experience similar feelings.

Therefore, the experience of high enthusiasm for teaching influences not only teachers but also students in the long term. In order to increase teaching enthusiasm and positive teacher emotions in mathematics, the bond between students and teachers should be so strong that both parties (teacher and student) would enjoy the teaching and learning process. That would be provided by ensuring sincerity during communicating with students. For example, mathematics teachers who make eye contact while talking with students, call students by their names, use humor while teaching math, mind their tone of voice, and are mindful of their body language. Those tips will not only support communication between students and teachers but also reduce the likelihood of experiencing negative emotions.

Key Messages

  1. Teachers should design authentic learning environments in which students are provided with learning opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills in different disciplines and real life.
  2. The mathematics lessons should be designed around student-centered learning activities that cultivate the 21st-century skills of students.
  3. The feedback given to students should be individual, prompt, and constructive.
  4. The increase in mastery experiences could make students feel successful and foster students’ self-efficacy beliefs so they may experience more positive emotions.
  5. Teaching enthusiasm is also critical for students’ emotions, so the student-teacher interaction is of value.
Dr. Başak Çalık

Dr. Başak Çalık

Assistant Professor in the Educational Sciences Department of Istanbul Medeniyet University, Turkey & Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Educational Psychology Department of City University of New York, Graduate Center, US

Dr. Başak Çalık is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Sciences Department of Istanbul Medeniyet University, Turkey & Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Educational Psychology Department of City University of New York, Graduate Center, US. She holds a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.

Her doctoral dissertation was supported by the Turkish National Science Foundation International Research Fellowship Program and the Middle East Technical University Academic Research Projects Grant. The dissertation study entitled “Investigation Of Middle School Mathematics Teacher Emotions And Their Students’ Mathematics Achievement Emotions: A Mixed-Methods Study” received the METU Outstanding Dissertation Award. Dr. Çalık received the Turkish National Science Foundation International Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to continue her studies at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. Her research interests include affective aspects in the teaching and learning process, academic emotions of teachers and students, self-efficacy, and teaching quality.

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References and Further Reading

Çalık, B. (2014). The relationship between mathematics achievement emotions, mathematics self-efficacy, and self-regulated learning strategies among middle school students. (Unpublished Master Thesis). Middle East Technical University, Ankara.

Çalık, B. (2021). Investigation of middle school mathematics teacher emotions and their students’ mathematics achievement emotions: a mixed-methods study. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). Middle East Technical University, Ankara.

 Education Reform Initiative (2013). Türkiye PISA 2012 analizi:Matematikte öğrenci motivasyonu, özyeterlik kaygı ve başarısızlık algısı [Turkey PISA 2012 analysis: Student motivation, self-efficacy, anxiety and failure perception]. Retrieved from

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2010). PISA 2009 results: What students know and can do – Student Performance in reading, mathematics and science (Volume I). Retrieved from 289

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2013). PISA 2012 results in focus: What 15-year-olds know and what they can do with what they know. Retrieved from

 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2016). PISA 2015 results in focus. Retrieved from

 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2019). PISA 2019: Insights and interpretations. Retrieved from

 Pekrun, R. (2006). The control-value theory of achievement emotions: Assumptions, corollaries, and implications for educational research and practice. Educational Psychology Review, 18, 315–341.

 Pekrun, R., & Linnenbrink-Garcia, L. (2012). Academic emotions and student engagement. In S.L. Christenson et al. (eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 259-282). Springer.

Pekrun, R. & Linnenbrick-Garcia, L. (2014). Introduction to emotions in education.

In R. Pekrun & L. Linnenbrick-Garcia (Eds), International handbook of emotions in education (pp. 1-109). New York and London: Routledge.

 Rosenberg, E. L. (1998). Levels of analysis and the organization of affect. Review of

General Psychology, 2, 247–270.

GenZ – the new generation of university students and implications for academic practice

GenZ – the new generation of university students and implications for academic practice

In order to enhance university students’ experiences, there is a real need to have a better understanding of the new generation of students, particularly in the higher education context, and to explore the implications for academic practice. Our research and experiences of working in higher education have shown that there are ways to support and enhance the diverse range of university students’ learning needs, such as flexible learning models, work-based and community-based learning approaches, prioritising relationships in learning and teaching, and engaging students as partners in the learning process.

In this article, we offer a critique of the concept of ‘Generation Z’ learners in higher education and assumptions about their learning needs. ‘Generation Z’, or GenZ,  is a term used to refer to young people born between 1997 and 2012, which includes a significant proportion of the university student body today. ‘Generation Z’ was born into a very different world from many of their educators in terms of access to information and life experience. This has deeply affected the way they seek, access, learn, and live information (Thomas, 2011).

Beyond the stereotype of GenZ

While it is true that they were born into the digital world, making them adept at using digital tools and accessing information online (Taslibeyaz, 2019), it would be unfair to limit them solely to the digital realm. It seems timely to revisit the implications for academic practice of the learning needs of the diverse student population in higher education today including but not limited to ‘Generation Z’.

Some researchers have suggested that ‘Generation Z’ has a particular set of characteristics of which academics need to be mindful in order to respond to their needs accordingly (Seemiller & Grace, 2016). The idea of assigning particular notional shared characteristics to these learners appears to be based on assumptions of collective experience and homogeneity. Arguably, this idea is, at best, of limited value. In fact, without more nuance and reference to diverse student contexts and individual experiences, it may be considered too widely drawn and of limited value to the educator in the development of inclusive practice.

Understanding the new generation of university students

Due to the massification of higher education, the university student body is now more diverse than ever. In addition, students in some countries are more affected by the marketisation of higher education than others. As a result, they have different expectations from higher education depending on their context. In their study, Gupta et al. (2023) found that many university students in Denmark, England, and Spain would like to see education as a right rather than a service or a product. However, at the same time, students recognise the implications of consumerist discourse on their university experiences. So, for example, as more students pay for their higher education, it is perhaps not surprising for them to expect certain returns on the ‘investment’.

Massification is a term used to describe the rapid increase in university student enrolment in many countries that was witnessed towards the end of the twentieth century. It is rooted in the shift from an élite to a mass higher education (Scott, 1995). The effect of massification in higher education is not only about student numbers but also about student body composition, character and aspirations. Rather than labelling the new generation of university students against assumed characteristics of a particular age group, massification of higher education also brings to the fore the importance of a better understanding of the student community we work with. So, we consider how to adjust our academic practice to be inclusive to facilitate students’ learning and support their learning needs. Rather than relying on generalised notions, we draw on our collective experience to identify some of the principles which guide our practice across the different geographical and cultural contexts we have encountered.

Flexible learning models

It is important to offer students flexible ways to engage with learning. For example, universities often structure learning and teaching with a rigid and linear time frame. Berg & Seeber (2016, p.xviii) note how ‘corporatization has compromised academic life and sped up the clock. The administrative university is concerned above all with efficiency’, and the result is a ‘time-crunch’ and a sense of ‘powerlessness’ for those subjected to it. This kind of timescape (time and space for learning) and organisation may not serve the distinct and particular needs of each student. Among other legacies, one thing we have learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic is that students appreciate the flexibility of learning modes, such as blended learning, rather than traditional classroom-based learning. Flexibility to engage with learning may be particularly important in times of economic hardship and cost of living pressures. Financial pressures and the need for some students to work whilst studying was examined by Henry (2023), who noted examples of strategies adopted by some UK universities to enable this:

Compact teaching timetables, where lectures and seminars are scheduled over two or three days rather than dotted throughout the week, are being introduced by a number of institutions. The move makes it easier for the growing number of undergraduates who must take on part-time jobs to make ends meet. More than half of students now work alongside their studies, up from 45% in 2022 and 34% in 2021.


We argue for the priority of relational pedagogic approaches within academic practice. Relationships matter for everyone, especially for those students who are traditionally marginalised in higher education (Su & Wood, 2023). As Bovill (2020:24) has argued, ‘Time spent building trust and relationships is time well spent, because relationships form the foundation of good teaching’. In their study in America, Felten & Lambert (2020:17) uncovered four interlocking relationship-rich principles that guide both effective programmes and generative cultures at colleges and universities: 

  • Every student must experience genuine welcome and deep care
  • Every student must be inspired to learn
  • Every student must develop a web of significant relationships
  • Every student must explore questions of meaning and purpose.

Students are primary actors in all four of these principles, but it is also essential for higher education institutions to ensure the learning climate and conditions that nurture these ‘relationship-rich’ principles, which we suggest can influence student motivation and engagement with the learning process.

Engaging students

In addition, we suggest it is crucial that academic and higher education institutions explore different teaching and learning strategies that encourage students to see the relevance of specific learning to experiences in the real world. In addition, we propose that using innovative digital technology can be advantageous for students, for example, combining real and virtual environments to maximise students’ conceptual understanding (Wörner & Scheiter, 2022).

Whilst higher education serves wider purposes than solely the development of employability, students expect that a university course of study will be useful and relevant to their career prospects after graduation. Embedding work-based and community-based learning as part of the curriculum may not only develop employability but also civic-mindedness and community engagement. In addition, there are benefits of engaging students as partners in the learning process and as co-designers of the curriculum (Bovill, 2000). For example, when higher education institutions design and review the curriculum, we argue that students have an important part to play in the process.


Our research and collective experiences of working in higher education suggest to us that generalised notions considered to represent common experiences of a section of the student body may be of limited value. In the development of academic practice to support the diverse range of university students’ learning needs, we suggest that educators reflect on the principles which guide the development of inclusive practice to recognise the rich experience and diverse learning needs represented by the student body.

In addition, we suggest that digital environments such as virtual applications and blended learning solutions should be utilised for the advantages and flexibility they offer, whilst also being mindful of equity issues in terms of student access to technologies. Reflection on our collective experience suggests to us the importance of flexible modes of learning, the role of work and community-based learning approaches, the priority and importance of relationships in learning and teaching, and ways to engage students as partners in the learning process by tutor guiding. Colleagues might like to add or substitute their own to these four principles as they reflect on the learning needs of the new generation of university students in their contexts.

Key Messages

  • The expectations of ‘Generation Z’ of higher education are not limited to the digital world.
  • A better understanding of the diverse student body in a particular higher education context is needed to support the development of inclusive practice.
  • There are ways to support and enhance the diverse range of university students’ learning needs, such as
    • flexible learning models
    • work and community-based learning
    • relationships in learning and teaching
    • engaging students as partners in the learning process.

Blog Authors

Elif Taslibeyaz

Associate Professor in the Education Faculty at Erzincan Binali Yıldırım University, Türkiye

Elif Taslibeyaz is an Associate Professor in the Education Faculty at Erzincan Binali Yıldırım University, Turkey. Her research interests revolve around various areas, including technology integration in the educational context, and the development of learning in higher education settings. 

Feng Su

Associate Professor and Head of Education Studies at Liverpool Hope University, UK

Feng Su is an Associate Professor and Head of Education Studies at Liverpool Hope University, UK. His main research interests and writings are located within the following areas: education policy, the development of the learner in higher education settings, academic practice and professional learning. 

Margaret Wood

Senior Lecturer in Education at York St John University, UK

Margaret Wood is a Senior Lecturer in Education at York St John University, UK. Her recent research and publications have explored: the centralizing tendencies of much current education policy and its relation to community and democracy at the local level; and the development of academic practice in higher education.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Berg, M. & Seeber, K. (2016) The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. University of Toronto Press. 

Bovill, C. (2020) Co-creating Learning and Teaching: Towards Relational Pedagogy in Higher Education. St Albans: Critical Publishing.

Felten, P. & Lambert, L. M. (2020). Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gupta, A., Brooks, R. & J. Abrahams (2023) Higher education students as consumers: a cross-country comparative analysis of students’ views. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, DOI:10.1080/03057925.2023.2234283

Henry, J.  (2023) ‘UK universities offer three-day-week to let students find part-time work’, The Observer. 26th August 2023. Available at:

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5): 1-6. DOI: 10.1108/10748120110424816

Scott, P. (1995). The meanings of mass higher education. Buckingham: SHRE and Open University Press.

Seemiller, C. & Grace, M. (2016) Generation Z Goes to College. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Su, F. & Wood, M. (2023). Relational pedagogy in higher education: what might it look like in practice and how do we develop it? International Journal for Academic Development, 28 (2): 230-233. DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2023.2164859

Taslibeyaz, E. (2019). Analysis of research trends related to generation z and their contributions to education. Dokuz Eylul University Journal of Social Sciences Institute, 21(3), 715-729.

Thomas, M. (ed.) (2011). Deconstructing digital natives: Young people, technology, and the new literacies. Taylor & Francis.

Wörner, S., Kuhn, J., & Scheiter, K. (2022). The best of two worlds: A systematic review on combining real and virtual experiments in science education. Review of Educational Research, 92(6), 911-952.

Fostering Creativity in the Classroom  – developing a cross-curricular module in ITE

Fostering Creativity in the Classroom  – developing a cross-curricular module in ITE

Outside of the core curricular content that makes up initial teacher education (ITE) programmes, there are increasing callsfor input on a variety of pedagogical, social, cultural, and competence-based issues that impact future teaching practice (MacPhail et al., 2022). Most higher education institutions possess expertise in a range of innovative areas, but the practicalities of timetables, student availability, and academic structures often mean students must choose one or two five-credit, level nine modules from a range of electives. This blog outlines an effort to combat this through an integrated module on the Professional Masters in Education PME (Post-Primary) at Dublin City University, Ireland, which combines Digital Competencies, English as an Additional Language, and Drama-based learning under the umbrella of ‘Fostering Creativity in the Classroom’.

Fostering creativity in the classroom  – developing the module

We know that cross-curricular and integrated teaching can facilitate students in making creative connections and solving complex problems (Harris & de Bruin, 2017). Motivated by this, we began examining our content, values and teaching approaches and quickly realised a common thread of creativity ran through our work. Our module, ‘Fostering Creativity in the Classroom’ places explicit focus on the role of the teacher in fostering creativity and innovation in the post-primary classroom. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we allowed students to explore and experience a range of creative, collaborative and playful approaches to fostering creativity in teaching and learning. This was achieved through lectures, workshops, and a range of strategies from the Digital Learning(e.g. digital storytelling), Drama (e.g. soundscapes), and Linguistic Responsiveness (e.g. multilingualism) domains.

Underpinned by theories of creativity in education (e.g. Gilhooly & Gilhooly, 2021), our students, who are pre-service teachers, worked together to experiment with creative approaches, reflect on their experiences, and plan their practical implementation in the future. In order to draw the different strands together under the theme of creativity, we designed an innovative assignment. The assignments tasked students (in small groups) with creating a digital story on the theme of ‘fostering creativity and innovation in the post-primary classroom’. Their target audience was future PME students and practising teachers. Videos considered how digital media, drama and linguistically responsive strategies can enhance practice and encourage pupil creativity. Groups reflected on the strategies explored during the module and considered their application across curricular subjects. Videos were to be presented as a cohesive narrative or story and include a variety of audio-visual content.

Our reflections

Reflecting on the process, we were pleased it did not result in merely fitting our ‘pieces’ together, but in creating something unique that was enriched by our individual curricular areas. As academic staff, collaborating on the design and delivery provided us with opportunities to learn from each other’s curriculum design and facilitation approaches while demonstrating to students the connections that exist between subject areas. Our challenges were primarily around articulating our vision and structuring the delivery. While, as academic staff, our initial vision for the module was clear, our individual ‘flavours’ of that vision came through at first. It wasn’t until the second iteration of the module that we began to speak in one voice. The structure of the module delivery was another aspect that we found challenging initially and that we improved over time. In the first iteration of the module, we split the content into ‘blocks’, where each team member delivered their content in sequence after one another. We found that this meant students saw the module as three separate parts, and while that made sense in terms of the coherence of each aspect, it took away from the overall flow and interconnected nature of the work we were trying to achieve. Rectifying this was more than the simple act of moving lectures from one week to another. Instead, it necessitated the alteration of certain aspects of content so they more naturally connected to the other areas of study. We also spent more time ‘in’ each other’s lectures in order to display a unified voice.

Students’ impressions

Feedback from students on the experience of participating in this integrated module contained positives and potential areas for improvement. Students commented on the module’s ambitious and forward-thinking nature, saying it was ‘pretty ambitious’ and ‘very relevant in modern education’. They noted that they learned a lot from each strand and, perhaps most importantly, they learned more from how the strands linked together. Comments included: ‘Lovely to have different strands (E.g., Digital Media, Drama-based learning) each week. Helped the creativity’ and ‘It helps shift your focus from the ways in which you were taught at school and to focus on all of the possibilities that exist for enhancing your lessons and making them more meaningful’.

 On the other hand, students also found areas challenging. For example, they found that the three strands meant there was a lot to take in. Comments included ‘There was a lot of information in each module[strand] and not enough time to get to grips with all of it’. Some also found it difficult to see how everything aligned under the umbrella of developing pupils’ creativity in the classroom. Comments included ‘personally felt that there was a bit of a disconnect between the three strands’ and that they ‘did not find the necessarily all aligned under the umbrella of creativity’.


Our efforts to combine three elective strands into one coherent module were not without their challenges. However, as lecturers, we found that the process not only allowed us to examine connections across curricular areas but facilitated the development of a more nuanced version of ‘creativity’ than we had delivered before. Students also recognised the value of our integrated approach, which is encouraging. However, their comments also provide scope for improvements in the future. For example, further work may be needed to increase the connection between strands so that students see the module as a cohesive approach to develop pupils’ creativity in the classroom.

Key Messages

  • The practicalities of ITE programmes often make the provision of additional pedagogical, social, cultural, and competence-based initiatives challenging
  • We document the development of a cross-curricular, integrated module “Fostering Creativity in the Classroom”
  • The module integrates Digital Learning, Drama-based Learning, and Linguistic Responsiveness
  • The process provided us, as academic staff, with the opportunity to enrich our individual curricular areas and practice by learning from each other’s design and facilitation approaches.
  • Students found the module to be ambitious and forward-thinking, and learned more from how the curricular areas fitted together to ‘foster creativity in the classroom’.
Dr Peter Tiernan

Dr Peter Tiernan

Associate Professor in Digital Learning and Research Convenor for the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University.

Peter is an Associate Professor in Digital Learning and Research Convenor for the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University. He lectures in the areas of digital learning, digital literacy and entrepreneurship education. His current research focuses on digital literacy at post-primary and further education level as well as entrepreneurship education for third level lecturers and pre-service teachers.

Peter was shortlisted for the DCU President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in 2021.

Find Peter on Twitter.

Dr Fiona Gallacher

Dr Fiona Gallacher

Assistant professor in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies (SALIS) at Dublin City University

Fiona Gallagher is an assistant professor in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies (SALIS) at Dublin City University. Before this, she worked as a teacher and CELTA teacher educator in Sudan, Italy, Spain, Ireland, the US, Australia and Portugal.  Her research interests lie primarily in the fields of second language acquisition, TESOL and bi/multilingual education with particular reference to: L1 use in language learning and teaching; translanguaging and plurilingual pedagogies; and teaching and learning in the linguistically and culturally diverse primary and secondary school classroom. 

She has published widely in her field, both as the author/co-author of various EFL textbooks and teacher guides and in high-ranking peer reviewed journals and edited volumes. 

Dr Irene White

Dr Irene White

Assistant professor in English and Drama Education in the School of Human Development at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University.

Dr Irene White is an Assistant Professor in English and Drama Education in the School of Human Development at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University. She is the Programme Chair of the Professional Master of Education and teaches across a range of initial teacher education programmes. Irene taught English and Drama at the post-primary level for twelve years, during which time she was a mentor for initial teacher education students and a State Exams Commission examiner for the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme.

Irene’s research straddles the arts and education sectors, with a particular focus on creative mindsets, creative learning environments and creative activity for health and wellbeing. Her PhD examined creativity in participatory arts initiatives and articulated a Participatory Arts for Creativity in Education (PACE) model, an applied participatory arts model aimed at fostering creativity in education.

Irene is Chair of the Board of Directors for Upstate Theatre Project, a community-engaged participatory arts organisation funded by the Arts Council of Ireland. Her work in the field of participatory arts includes her role as artist and director with Upstate Theatre Project on The Crossover Project, a cross-border, cross-community participative drama programme, and her work with students from the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, New York University on the study abroad programme. Irene has also worked with Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company on the ‘Acting for the Future’ programme using drama and theatre performance to promote positive mental health and the ‘Acting for Change’ programme using drama to explore cultural diversity and identity and promote anti-racism, anti-sectarianism and equality.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Gilhooly, K. J., & Gilhooly, M. L. M. (2021). Aging and creativity. Academic Press.

Harris, A., & de Bruin, L. (2017). Steam education: Fostering creativity in and beyond secondary schools. Australian Art Education, 38(1), 54–75.

MacPhail, A., Seleznyov, S., O’Donnell, C., & Czerniawski, G. (2022). Supporting the Continuum of Teacher Education Through Policy and Practice: The Inter-Relationships Between Initial, Induction, and Continuing Professional Development. In Reconstructing the Work of Teacher Educators: Finding Spaces in Policy Through Agentic Approaches—Insights from a Research Collective (pp. 135–154). Nature.

Using eTwinning to improve learning outcomes when teaching English in rural areas

Using eTwinning to improve learning outcomes when teaching English in rural areas

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional education systems have been extended to include modern technology. And this has given us the opportunity to develop professional skills through eTwinning. We asked Aysen Demir Aygün to explain what eTwinning is, and how educators can use it to engage students.

General Aspects of eTwinning: The community for schools in Europe

eTwinning is the community for schools in Europe. It offers a platform for staff (teachers, headteachers, librarians, etc.), working in a school in one of the European countries involved, to communicate, collaborate, develop projects, share and feel, and be part of the most exciting learning community in Europe – the School Education Gateway.

Two teachers from different countries create a project idea and present it in brief to the platform. After that, the project is ready to start, and welcome new partners! Whatever your project idea, the basic aim is to create a simple, student-based proposal. Through this platform, any school in Europe can use ICT to exchange ideas with another school, establish pedagogical partnerships, and share good practices (Papadakis, 2016; Pham, Klamma & Derntl, 2012). This is a great way for professional development among teachers, especially for the ones who work in rural areas with limited resources.

The evidence from (The Center for Innovation in Education in Romania) TEHNE evaluation report suggest that:

  • 35,4% of the teachers surveyed from the rural area attended online course
  • 43,6% of the teachers investigated used the eTwinning portal for continuous professional development; after attending the eTwinning program
  • 75,2% of the teachers surveyed from the rural area are putting more accent on using ICT support tools in their teaching. (Scoda, Andreea- Diana) 

There is no time limit on eTwinning projects. Of course, the project has a time schedule but project partners can extend the date. Some projects have only three months duration some have one year. You can adapt your project according to your goals or in the event of unexpected circumstances, you may change it completely. During the pandemic, we had to take a two-month break on all projects, and later we extended the deadline.

eTwinning projects bring together language learning, digital literacy, ICT use, and science and mathematics, as well as various social sciences (European Commission, 2013), encouraging active student participation. They learn, implement, and use ICT tools and – even learn new languages – through different project types. Most importantly, pupils meet their European friends regularly, even if only online. Maybe for the first time in their lives, they meet different cultures and people. This is a wonderful opportunity.

Quality Evaluation and Awards for a Successful eTwinning

After your project has been completed and submitted, there are quality labels that indicate the project has reached a designated national and European standard.

At the first level, if you fulfill the following criteria you are awarded a National Quality Label (after applying to your National Support Service within their deadline).

  • Your eTwinning project has common goals and a shared plan
  • It is finished or in its last stages
  • You and your students have contributed to all the project’s activities
  • You and your partners have organised collaborative activities
  • You have taken into consideration data protection and copyright issues

All projects are evaluated by taking into account these five criteria. (European School Net) If your project is outstanding, teachers and students may receive the ultimate honor: the European Prize.

Teaching English through eTwinning!

Today English as a lingua franca (ELF) is a sine qua non in various aspects of life, including human relations, international, political, and business affairs, technology, and education all over the world. (Kemaloğlu, Şahin, Muazzez, 2022) That’s why English language teaching is necessary for international communication skills, the use of digital tools, and global opportunities like eTwinning projects.

As a dynamic English teacher for eight years, I have been teaching English as a second language in remote areas. As an active eTwinner, I can easily compare the effectiveness of integrating eTwinning projects with my lessons through my experiences as there is little research about English teaching in rural areas with examples.

The quality of language teaching differs significantly in rural and urban areas. Teaching a language as a second language can be harder in remote areas for pupils with prejudice against learning a language, limited resources for language acquisition, and a lack of parental interest. Even though the same curriculum and policies are implemented in rural and urban areas in education in Turkey, this system does not always match with the interests or cultural or social differences in the rural areas and fails to supply knowledge that is discernible and relevant to all students. (Çiftci and Cin, 2017 )

Also, in rural schools, we are dealing with poverty and transportation hardships. Teachers must prioritise improving relationships with families and other communities to get attention and provide financial services for education.

As Şahin (2021) states, rural teachers often get demotivated by the limited conditions of their environment identified as technological deficiencies, defects in school buildings, inadequate resources, and lack of opportunities for professional development. This makes everything harder for teachers in rural areas. But schools are a source of life for pupils. That’s why as educators we have to create healthy and fruitful teaching environments for them. According to the report published by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2012), children from disadvantaged environments can take advantage of skills and strategies learned at schools which are especially more difficult for them to acquire at their homes.

 The solution for all these challenges is absolutely eTwinning!

Before I ran my eTwinning projects, nearly half of my students got demotivated by English lessons and the use of English in practice and digital tools. However, after three years, the number of my students who were willing to speak English in front of the community doubled. eTwinning gives courage to pupils to practice English as the main focus is not the English lesson, but rather enjoying time with their peers and learning at the same time.

eTwinning in my Classroom

I keep a good number of students focused on my English lessons with interactive activities and the effective use of eTwinning. My first project in eTwinning is “Let’s be Safe Digital Users on Social Media”. I ran the project with five partners from Europe during the pandemic. Pupils researched and used social media to make it better and safer. They learned to use digital tools and be safe users at the same time. They made friends from all over Europe and started to chat in English with one another in their daily lives.

At the end of the project, they made a presentation for their peers. It gave me a chance to observe my pupils during the whole process and see how they became confident speakers!

The powerful impact of this new generation project platform changed and shaped my perspective towards eTwinning. The projects I run helped my pupils raise their awareness of English as a communicative tool rather than a subject to be studied. It improved not only their language skills but also active participation,  collaboration, self-confidence, individual and social values, and relationships with their peers and teachers around Europe.

Since I started carrying out eTwinning projects with European partners, my project language has always been English. It helps my students use English in a non-formal environment with native speakers. They meet their peers through the project and get in touch online. Some even become close friends and keep communicating through social media. This is a great opportunity for students with a limited social life in their small province. The pupils whom I work with in my eTwinning projects have developed their English speaking skills to a great extent.

Still, it has some pitfalls in rural areas. Although teachers can shape or design the activities for students according to their needs and conditions, for a pupil in a remote school, the internet connection can be problematic. In that case, virtual activities can be held with concrete materials so that students can be included. Afterwards, in their project “twinspace”, teachers or designated students can add their works in scope with the project schedule.

Student feedback on eTwinning

As they make new friends through eTwinning projects, students’ social skills develop and they gain problem-solving skills, learn to work and produce together with a team, develop a project culture, and gain ICT skills, their competence in Web 2.0 tools develops and their digital literacy increases (Acar, 2021), their self-confidence improves, and their willingness to learn a foreign language increases.

eTwinning projects motivate students and contribute to students’ language learning as well as deep learning (Demir & Kayaoğlu, 2021; Fernández & Tena, 2013; Leto, 2018).

This research shows that eTwinning has a highly positive effect upon teachers in terms of professional development – not only for their linguistic development but also digital competencies.

I’m Jale, from Turkey. I was really shy to take part in the project at first. I barely could express myself with my peers online. It was lockdown. We were all at home. During the project, we joined all online activities and really enjoyed them. I both developed my English skills and got some confidence to make presentations. It’s a great pleasure for me to be an eTwinner.

Teachers can benefit from this perception to increase motivation, broaden the students’ perspectives, and lead them to improve their interpersonal relations along with language skills (Hardré et al., 2008). In doing so, they can develop and apply novel methodologies for their students including project-based language learning. (Kemaloğlu, Şahin, Muazzez, 2022)



Even if conditions are not the same for a pupil who lives in a village or in a big city, technology helps educators involve these students through design-driven projects like e Twinning which doesn’t require physical mobility. There are no limitations in terms of content, number of participants, means of communication, languages of communication, time limits, and forms of assessment. Digital technology is seen as a means to implement various pedagogical approaches (Gajek, E.). 

Last but not least, eTwinning enables students to acquire 21st-century skills, develop a project culture, improve their use of technology, boost their self-confidence, social skills, and motivation, and ease foreign language learning. They also build communication and cooperation between schools, students, and teachers at national and international levels, bring technology integration into classroom environments, and contribute to the spread of a European culture among them.  (Gökbulut, 2023)

Key Messages

  • Students in remote areas often don’t have the opportunity to socialize, and eTwinning enables students to make new friends all over Europe.
  • Teachers can use eTwinning to work with other European teachers on a project in a range of subjects.
  • eTwinning provides students with an opportunity to practice English skills actively while developing ICT skills.
  • eTwinning develops ICT skills.
  • eTwinning is an excellent and practical tool for professional development for teachers.
Ayşen Demir Aygün

Ayşen Demir Aygün

Coordinator of eTwinning and Erasmus Projects, R&D Dept, Directorate of National Education, Türkiye

Ayşen DEMİR AYGÜN as a lifelong learner, educator, dedicated eTwinner has been teaching English for nine years in Turkey. She graduated from Hacettepe University and got her MA in Translation Studies in 2021. She has been the coordinator of eTwinning and Erasmus projects in the R&D department in the Directorate of National Education since 2018. She is a team member and content developer for the Educational Magazine of the Directorate. She volunteers in many non-governmental organisations for educational purposes and youth work.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Cin, F. M. (2017). What matters for rural teachers and communities? Educational challenges in rural Turkey. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 48(5), 686-701. 

Ҫakıroğlu, E., & Ҫakıroğlu, J. (2003). Reflections on teacher education in Turkey. European Journal of Teacher Education, 26(2), 253-264.

Çiftçi, Ş. K., & Demir, N., & Kayaoğlu, M. N. (2021). Multi-dimensional foreign language education: The case of an eTwinning project in Turkey. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 1-38.

European Commission, (2013). Education for Change. Final Report—Study of the Impact of eTwinning on Participating Pupils, Teachers and Schools; Publications Office of the European Union: Luxembourg.

Gajek, E. (2006). eTwinning Europejska współpraca szkół Polska 2006 /European Partnerships of Schools Poland 2006. Fundacja Rozwoju Systemu Edukacji

Ghimire, B. (2022). Blended learning in rural and remote schools: Challenges and opportunities. International Journal of Technology in Education (IJTE), 5(1), 88-96.

Gökbulut, B. (2023). A Study To Determine The eTwinning-Related Views Of The Teachers In The eTwinning Network Countries, And Their Digital Literacy Levels, Journal of Teaching

Kemaloglu-Er, E., & Bayyurt, Y. (2019). ELF-awareness in teaching and teacher education: Explicit and implicit ways of integrating ELF into the English language classroom. In N. C. Sifakis, & N. Tsantila (Eds.), English as a lingua franca for EFL contexts (pp. 159-174). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Scoda, Andreea, Diana. The Impact Of Implicating Teachers From The Rural Area In Using Ict Skills And Tools – A Milestone. Carol I National Defence University Publishing House.

eTwinning National Quality Label

eTwinning – the Community of Schools in Europe–the-largest-commun.htm

EU report on new eTwinning group of small and remote rural schools

Resisting the marginalisation of children’s right to play

Resisting the marginalisation of children’s right to play

Why have we, as educators, accepted that play now occupies the margins of early childhood education and care? Whilst a long tradition of international research positions play as essential to early learning (Wood, 2015), tensions remain with play being foregrounded in classroom life. But can – and should – educators subvert the marginalisation of play in early childhood and care (ECEC)? It is one question that has provoked the recent scholarship on the resistance practices of educators. Dr Jo Albin-Clark and Dr Nathan Archer share their research and thoughts on the marginalisation of play in education.

Play in the current context

Over time, as researchers in ECEC, we have found that play seems to have slipped down the agenda in the push for formalised learning in countries such as England, as accountability bodies frame teaching within standards agendas that can sideline child-initiated play (Wood, 2019). Play seems to occupy a contested curriculum space (Fairchild and Kay, 2021, p. 1). Yet play is not just under erosion in school life, the pull of structured time and the chasing of high achievements reaches into family life (Sahlberg and Doyle, 2019). The result is the withholding of play from children (Murray et al., 2019).  

But play is much more than educational experiences. It is deeply associated with childhood itself. The entitlement to play is part of Article 31 of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights OHCHR, 1989). Significantly, the right to play is an innovative component that acts as a gateway to other rights related to health and broader development (Davey and Lundy, 2011). Even though play is strongly associated with many domains of learning and development, it is not always taken seriously and because of that the status of play has suffered (Brooker and Woodhead, 2013).

Resistance practices

Play is a matter of social justice (Souto-Manning, 2017), and, for that reason, needs policymakers and educators to protect children’s entitlement to play, including through resistance to its marginalisation. As such, a growing body of literature in early childhood education (Moss 2019; Archer and Albin Clark 2022) focuses on the multiple manifestations of these resistances by educators.  Much of this resistance scholarship takes an explicit social justice position, with reconceptualist writers having increasingly called for greater advocacy and social activism in terms of both policy and practice (e.g., Bloch et al., 2018). Research reveals how the scope and scale of this resistance and activism varies from micro resistances to collective action. Nonetheless, both small and large-scale actions can produce sites for hopeful and flourishing pedagogies that can shift from marginalisation to more active politicised resistance.  

Resistance stories

Building on this prior work, we came together as researchers with two cases from separate studies (Albin-Clark, 2018; 2022; Archer, 2020; 2021). What is common to both case studies is a shared interest in how ECEC educators make sense of their experiences and enact forms of resistance. Through the stories of two early childhood educators working in England, we identified their commitment to ‘being the right thing’ and ‘doing the right thing’, foregrounding play in their practice as a matter of social justice. As such, both educators resisted and subverted pressures, scrutiny, and colleague expectations to make play happen, and demonstrate how play is implicated with concerns of justice (Nicholson and Wisneski, 2017).

Call to arms

In conclusion, we need to further problematise the implications and risks of mobilising play (Shimpi and Nicholson, 2014). Making play happen requires a critical awareness of the relationship between rights and play agendas and the tensions involved navigating the value of play in the complexity of ECEC (Wong, 2013). Saying ‘no’ to play’s marginalisation brings teachers into a professionalism founded on resistance (Fenech et al. 2010).

 Now is the time to acknowledge and amplify resistances that promote the right to play. But for educators there are risks of being labelled a ‘disobedient’ professional (Leafgren, 2018). In promoting play, it can mean thinking carefully about how curriculum content is framed (Wood and Hedges, 2016). Moreover, children’s access to and entitlement to play is positioned as a moral imperative by both educators in our studies, which suggests how seriously the right to play is positioned (Nicholson and Wisneski, 2017; Wood, 2007). Social justice needs serious play.


Key Messages

  • Play has an essential role in children’s educational lives and matters to their childhood.
  • Play and educational justice are related concepts.
  • There are both implications and risks in marginalising children’s right to play.
  • The increasing formalisation of education for our youngest children needs scrutiny.
  • Making play happen in educational practice might need forms of resistance.
Dr Jo Albin-Clark

Dr Jo Albin-Clark

Senior Lecturer Early Education

Dr. Jo Albin-Clark is a senior lecturer in early education at Edge Hill University. Following a teaching career in nursery and primary schools, Jo has undertaken a number of roles in teaching, advising and research in early childhood education. She completed a doctorate at the University of Sheffield in 2019 exploring documentation practices through posthuman and feminist materialist theories in early childhood education. Her research interests include observation and documentation practices and methodological collaboration and research creation through posthuman lenses. Throughout her work, teachers’ embodied experiences of resistances to dominant discourses has been a central thread. 

Dr Nathan Archer

Dr Nathan Archer

Researcher at Leeds Beckett University

Dr Nathan Archer is a researcher at Leeds Beckett University. Originally qualified as a Montessori teacher, Nathan has worked in practice, policy and research in early childhood education for twenty-five years. He gained a PhD from University of Sheffield in 2020 and has undertaken policy analysis with Sutton Trust, Nuffield Foundation and University of Leeds. He continues to research early childhood workforce policy, and the resistance and activism of early childhood educators. Nathan is Associate Editor of Journal of Early Childhood Research.  


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References and Further Reading

Albin-Clark, J. (2018). ‘I felt uncomfortable because I know what it can be’: The emotional geographies and implicit activisms of reflexive practices for early childhood teachers. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 21(1), 20-32. https://doi:10.1177/1463949118805126

 Albin-Clark, J.  (2022). The right to play: Are young children free to determine their own actions?

 Albin-Clark, J. & Archer, N. 2023, “Playing social justice: How do early childhood teachers enact the right to play through resistance and subversion? ” Prism: Casting new light on learning, practice and theory, 5 (2), 1-22.

 Archer, N. (2020). Borderland narratives: Agency and activism of early childhood educators [Doctoral dissertation, University of Sheffield].

 Archer, N.  (2021). ‘I have this subversive curriculum underneath’: Narratives of micro resistance in early childhood education. Journal of Early Childhood Research https://doi:10.1177/1476718X211059907 

 Archer, N. & Albin-Clark, J. (2022, July 20). Telling stories that need telling: A dialogue on resistance in early childhood education. FORUM for Promoting 3-19 Comprehensive Education, 64 (2)

 Bloch, M. N., Swadener, B. B., & Cannella, G. S. (Eds.). (2018). Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education and Care-a Reader: Critical Questions, New Imaginaries & Social Activism. Oxford: Peter Lang.

 Brooker, L., & Woodhead, M. (2013). The right to play. early childhood in focus, 9. The Open University with the support of Bernard van Leer Foundation

 Davey, C., & Lundy, L. (2011). Towards greater recognition of the right to play: An analysis of article 31 of the UNCRC. Children & Society, 25(1), 3-14. https://doi:10.1111/j.1099-0860.2009.00256.x

 Fairchild, N., & Kay, L. (2021, November 26). The early years foundation stage: Challenges and opportunities. BERA blog.

 Fenech, M., Sumsion, J., & Shepherd, W. (2010). Promoting early childhood teacher professionalism in the Australian context : The place of resistance. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 11(1), 89-105. https://doi:10.2304/ciec.2010.11.1.89 

 Leafgren, S. (2018). The disobedient professional: Applying a nomadic imagination toward radical non-compliance. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 19(2), 187-198. https://doi:10.1177/1463949118779217 

 Moss, P. (2019). Alternative narratives in early childhood. Abingdon: Routledge

 Murray, J., Smith, K., &Swadener, B. (2019). The Routledge international handbook of young children’s rights Abingdon: Routledge. https://doi:10.4324/9780367142025 

 Nicholson, J., &Wisneski, D. (2017). Introduction. Early Child Development and Care, 187(5-6), 788-797. https://doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1268534 

 Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR). (1989, November 20). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

 Sahlberg, P., & Doyle, W. (2019). Let the children play. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 Shimpi, P., & Nicholson, J. (2014). Using cross-cultural, intergenerational play narratives to explore issues of social justice and equity in discourse on children’s play. Early Child Development and Care, 184(5), 719-732. https://doi:10.1080/03004430.2013.813847 

 Souto-Manning, M. (2017). Is play a privilege or a right? and what’s our responsibility? on the role of play for equity in early childhood education. Early Child Development and Care, 187(5-6), 785-787. https://doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1266588

 Wong, S. (2013). A ‘Humanitarian Idea’: using a historical lens to reflect on social justice in early childhood education and care. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood14(4), 311-323.

 Wood, E. (2007). New directions in play: consensus or collision? Education 3-13, 35(4), 309-320. https://doi:10.1080/03004270701602426 

 Wood, E. (2015). The capture of play within policy discourses: A critical analysis of the UK frameworks for early childhood education. In J.L. Roopnarine, M.Patte, J.E. Johnson & D. Kuschner (Eds.), International perspectives on children’s play (pp. 187-198). Buckingham: Open University Press.

 Wood, E. and Hedges, H., 2016. Curriculum in early childhood education: Critical questions about content, coherence, and control. The curriculum journal, 27(3), pp.387-405.

Do current curricula hinder student understanding of complex global water systems?

Do current curricula hinder student understanding of complex global water systems?

Every day, we use water – either direct or hidden – from the moment we wake up until we go back to sleep. Water has multiple values and meanings in our communities, reflected in our languages and traditions in many spiritual, cultural, and emotional forms.1  Even though we appreciate the importance of water for life, the pressure that we put on water resources and aquatic ecosystems continues to threaten the future of our planet.2,3

We learn/teach about water as a concept from early childhood years to the end of high school. Water is considered as an important concept providing a basis for understanding of:

  •  weather and climate4
  • complexity of life and interconnectedness of the earth systems5
  • sustaining cities and ecosystems6
  • effects of water use on the environment7, economy8,9, and society10 such as water pollution, human health, food security, energy supplies, and climate change11.

Yet, we are not very good at understanding its working mechanism, engaging with water systems sustainably, or equipping educators with the necessary knowledge and skills to teach the dynamic, complex, ambiguous, and interconnected nature of water systems.

Researchers working on water concepts in science education (as well as environmental and sustainability education in general) have been providing powerful arguments about the dysfunctionality of current curricular practices that embrace a reductionist approach rather than a holistic approach to the natural systems. Current depictions of the water cycle in curricula usually focus on the phase change of water on Earth which hinders students from developing a holistic understanding of the issue, and limits progress towards the achievement of sustainable development goals including water and natural systems.

In this blog, I intend to summarise the arguments about the possible reasons students fail to develop a sound understanding of water system(s), and recap how to support middle school students’ learning based on both existing literature and our own research findings.

Students’ conceptions of the water system are generally composed of factual knowledge.

From the beginning of the integration of water into education in the 1960s,12 educational studies have consistently revealed that students have been developing only a rudimentary understanding of water and water-related concepts13,14.  

Some of the reviews in the literature reported that most elementary and middle school students have a naïve and fragmented factual conception of water-related subjects which solely require memorization.15,16 Thus, the water cycle becomes one of the challenging concepts to be fully grasped by the students in a middle school context.17 Several studies indicated that even though students can draw a water cycle which looks quite similar to the textbooks’ diagram and explain how water cycles, they fail to provide a scientifically correct answer to explain the procedures within the cycle.18,19

Research in Türkiye

In our research, we aimed to see if there are any similar patterns in a Turkish context and improve students’ understanding of water systems by examining their background. We collected data from the students who completed middle school, through conception tests (short, informal, targeted tests that are administered to help instructors gauge whether students understand key concepts), drawing tasks, and semi-structured interviews. We administered a concept inventory to a sample of 358 eighth-grade students from both rural and urban areas in five schools located in four different districts of Ankara, the capital city of Türkiye. Among them, six students were interviewed to gain a deeper understanding of their conceptions of water systems.

In terms of possessing factual knowledge, our research findings were compatible with the literature. For example, every interviewee stated that water cycles on Earth, listed the components and processes, and drew a cycle similar to their textbook, but they had limited answers about the processes in the water cycle. During the interview, we asked follow-up questions to understand the level of their procedural knowledge.

Even though they explained that water cycles on Earth using examples (factual knowledge), when we asked them if there is any starting/ending point of the water cycle, some of them said, “Yes”. Even if they said, “No”, they failed to provide a comprehensive answer for how it cycles. Further, some of the participants offered alternative conceptions such as “When water is absorbed by the soil, it is not involved within the cycle anymore”, and “Polluted water does not cycle anymore.” These responses might indicate that despite having the factual knowledge of ‘water cycles on Earth’, they still do have adequate procedural knowledge to explain how water cycles.

Students are often not able to transfer their knowledge from one context to another.

Another common finding in the literature was that even in the same course, students tend to learn things as “silo concepts”.20Students are taught about the law of conservation and mixture separation techniques in an elementary science course. In the same course, they also learn the basics of the water cycle. However, some evidence suggests that they have some difficulties integrating these concepts into explaining the water cycle.21,22

In our research, when we asked the participants, ‘What happens to polluted water in the water cycle?’, only a few students could transfer their knowledge on mixture separation to the water cycle context. Among the incorrect responses, there were some alternative conceptions such as, “Polluted water turns into acid rain”, or “Polluted water evaporates, and polluted rains make us sick”. In other words, most of the students failed to identify that (1) polluted water is a mixture, (2) evaporation is one of the separation techniques that water evaporates and pollutants remain, and (3) polluted water does not evaporate.

Curricular practices do not encourage viewing of the interactions among water systems.

Studies related to water-related subjects in education reported that curricular practices as well as science textbooks do not coherently link the interactions between water and other systems such as biosphere and anthroposphere.23,24,25  Not surprisingly, students have disconnected conceptions about the water cycle and its interactions with the other systems. These detached conceptions became evident in students’ drawings and statements pertaining to water systems.26,27 When students are asked to draw a water cycle, they usually tend to draw it without bio-spheric components.28,29 Similarly, when they are asked to draw or explain where the water comes from to their homes and where it goes after using it, they fail to fully explain the interactions between their residential area and the water system.30,31 It is argued that this disconnected nature of the curriculum has the potential to hinder students in developing a sound understanding of the water systems and their multiple interactions.32,33,34

The elementary science curriculum context, where our research was carried out, covers water-related concepts from 3rd to 8th grade with no explanation of these interactions. The curriculum involves water as a non-living substance, the percentage of water in our bodies, the importance of efficient water use, wastewater management, groundwater resources, surface water resources, phases of water, water pollution, water cycle, weather, and climate35 but it does not foster a holistic understanding of the interactions among these systems. Thus, participants of this study were expected to have a detached understanding of the interaction of these systems when they completed their middle school degree. Consistent with the literature, a few participants included bio-spheric components but none of them included human-engineered water systems in their drawings.

Students are not aware of their indirect water use, leading to underestimating their water footprint.

In addition to our direct use of water, we use water when we buy a product, use energy, and eat foods which is called indirect use of water. Our water footprint indicates how much water we use in our daily lives.36 To ensure the sustainability of global water systems on Earth, monitoring water consumption behaviour is considered essential but the concept of indirect use of water is not fully reflected in curricula, although some efforts are being made to increase awareness of this issue.37

Evidence suggests that middle school students are not aware of their indirect water use. 38,39,40 These studies report that primary and secondary students are not fully aware of their water consumption pattern, their self-report strategies are limited to their direct use of water, such as turning off the tap while brushing their teeth or taking a shower quickly, which are common suggestions in current textbooks.41 They think they use water efficiently, but this might not be an accurate assessment42,43 because most of them fail to share their strategies for reducing indirect water use, such as changing their shopping habits or eating less meat. This lack of knowledge of indirect water use also contributes to the inability to see the interactions between personal water consumption habits, local, and global water issues. In our study, the participants believed that they use water efficiently but when examples were requested of their efficient water use strategies, they provided examples of how to monitor their direct use of water in their daily lives, which was comparable with the previous studies.44 ,45,46

What teachers can do to improve students’ understanding of water systems

Students tend to explain phenomena based on either their formal educational background or daily life observations, which creates both challenges and opportunities for education policymakers and educators. Recommended within the literature are some extracurricular activities for teachers such as providing real-life experiences47,48,49, tailoring the human effect to the water cycle951, linking conceptual knowledge and practical experiences52,53, showing alternative models54,55 to enhance primary and secondary students learning’ on the complex nature of water systems.

Key Messages

  • Students need support to understand water as a system on Earth.
  • Students may struggle to grasp the dynamic and complex interactions among (in)direct water use, local, and global water issues.
  • We are failing to teach young people how water systems work, how we engage and affect those systems, and how we ensure the sustainability of these systems.
  • Revising current curricular practices and building capacity for teachers is critical in order to enhance students’ procedural knowledge and nurture their conception of systems.
Dr Sinem Demirci

Dr Sinem Demirci

Lecturer in the Statistics Department at California Polytechnic State University

Sinem Demirci is a Full-time Lecturer in the Statistics Department at California Polytechnic State University. Before joining Cal Poly, Sinem worked as a Postdoctoral Visiting Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Statistical Science at University College London. She received her PhD (2021) in elementary (science) education, MS (2018) in Statistics, MS (2014) in elementary science and mathematics education and BS (2011) in elementary science education from Middle East Technical
University, The Republic of Türkiye. Sinem is a teacher educator whose interdisciplinary research interests include Statistics & Data Science Education and Environmental & Sustainability Education.

This blog is based on the literature review and pilot study conducted during Dr. Demirci’s dissertation, which was also featured in her ECER presentation.

For more information about Dr. Demirci’s research interests,

Personal Website:



Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

[1], [6], [11] United Nations (2018). Value Water.

[2] Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Galetti, M., Alamgir, M., Crist, E., … & 15,364 Scientist Signatories from 184 Countries. (2017). World scientists’ warning to humanity: a second notice. BioScience67(12), 1026-1028.

[3] Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Barnard, P., Moomaw, W. R., & Grandcolas, P. (2019). World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency. BioScience.

[4] Sadler, T. D., Nguyen, H., & Lankford, D. (2017). Water systems understandings: a framework for designing instruction and considering what learners know about water. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water4(1), e1178.

[5], [17] Brody, M. J. (1993). Student Understanding of Water and Water Resources: A Review of the Literature. the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, (s. 1-18). Atlanta. Retrieved April 2019, 2020 from 

[7], [22], [53] Österlind, K., & Haldén, O. (2007). Linking theory to practice: a case study of pupils’ course work on freshwater pollution. International Research in Geographical & Environmental Education, 16(1), 73-89. doi:10.2167/irg207.0

[8], [10], [41], [44] Wood, G. V. (2014). Water literacy and citizenship: education for sustainable domestic water use in the East Midlands. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham].

[9], [50] DeLorme, D. E., Hagen, S. C., & Stout, J. I. (2003). Consumers’ Perspectives on water issues: directions for educational campaigns. The Journal of Environmental Education, 34(2), 28-35.

[12] Ewing, M. S., & Mills, T. J. (1994). Water literacy in college freshmen: Could a cognitive imagery strategy improve understanding? The Journal of Environmental Education, 25(4), 36-40.

[13] Ben-Zvi-Assaraf, O., & Orion, N. (2005a, March). Development of system thinking skills in the context of earth system education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(5), 518-560. doi:10.1002/tea.20061

[14], [20], [21], [24], [30], [34], [54] Covitt, B. A., Gunckel, K. L., & Anderson, C. L. (2009). Students’ developing understanding of water in environmental systems. The Journal of Environmental Education, 40(3), 37-51. doi:10.3200/JOEE.40.3.37-51

[15], [26] Dickerson, D., & Dawkins, K. (2004). Eighth grade students’ understandings of groundwater. Journal of Geoscience Education, 52(2), 178-181. doi:10.5408/1089-9995-52.2.178

[16] Havu-Nuutinen, S., Kärkkäinen, S., & Keinonen, T. (2011). Primary school pupils’ perceptions of water in the context of STS study approach. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 6(4), 321-339.

[18], [23], [27], [28] Shepardson, D. P., Wee, B., Priddy, M., Schellenberger, L., & Harbor, J. (2007). What is a watershed? implications of student conceptions for environmental science education and the national science education standards. Science Education, 91(4), 554-578. doi:10.1002/sce.20206

[19] Forbes, C. T., Zangori, L., & Schwarz, C. V. (2015). Empirical Validation of integrated learning performances for hydrologic phenomena: 3rd-grade students’ model-driven explanation-construction. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(7), 895-921. doi:10.1002/tea.21226

[25], [33] Shepardson, D. P., Wee, B., Pridy, M., Schellenberger, L., & Harbor, J. (2009). Water transformation and storage in the mountains and at the coast: midwest students’ disconnected conceptions of the hydrologic cycle. International Journal of Science Education, 31(11), 1447-1471.

[29], [31], [49] Gunckel, K. L., Covitt, B. A., Salinas, I., & Anderson, C. L. (2012). A learning progression for water in socio-ecological systems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(7), 843-868. doi:10.1002/tea.21024 

[32] Ben-Zvi Assaraf, O., Eshach, H., Orion, N., & Alamour, Y. (2012). Cultural differences and students’ spontaneous models of the water cycle: a case study of Jewish and Bedouin children in Israel. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 7(2), 451-477.

[35] Ministry of National Education [MoNE]. (2018). İlköğretim fen bilgisi dersi öğretim programı 3-8. sınıflar. Retrieved from 

[36] Water Footprint Network (2023). What is a water footprint?

[37] United Nations (2023). UN 2023 Water Conference.

[38], [40], [46] Benninghaus, J. C., Kremer, K., & Sprenger, S. (2018). Assessing high-school students’ conceptions of global water consumption and sustainability. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 27(3), 250-266.

[39], [45] Fremerey, C., Liefländer, A. K., & Bogner, F. X. (2014). Conceptions about drinking water of 10 th graders and undergraduates. Journal of Water Resource and Protection6(12), 1112.

[42] Venckute, M., Silva, M. M., & Figueiredo, M. (2017). Education as a tool to reduce the water footprint of young people. Millenium, 2(4), 101-111.

[43], [47] Amahmid, O., El Guamri, Y., Yazidi, M., Razoki, B., Kaid Rassou, K., Rakibi, Y., … & El Ouardi, T. (2019). Water education in school curricula: Impact on children knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards water use. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education28(3), 178-193.

[48] Endreny, A. H. (2010). Urban 5th graders conceptions during a place‐based inquiry unit on watersheds. Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching47(5), 501-517.

[51] Ben-Zvi-Assarf, O., & Orion, N. (2005b, September). A study of junior high students’ perceptions of the water cycle. Journal of Geoscience Education, 53(4), 366-373.

[52] Jacobson, M. J., & Wilensky, U. (2006). Complex systems in education: Scientific and educational importance and implications for the learning sciences. The Journal of the learning sciences15(1), 11-34.

[55] Duffy, D. L. F. (2012). The nature and role of physical models in enhancing sixth grade students’ mental models of groundwater and groundwater processes. [Doctoral dissertation, Old Dominion University]. Old Dominion University Theses, United States.