Today’s post is by Richard Dawson and Ben Ballin. Almost three years ago they embarked on an ambitious project called Change the Story. A key aim was to reframe how young people age 9-12 respond to the climate crisis, and enable them to reflect on and rethink positive futures. Now, having piloted with KS2 pupils, this blog reflects back on the lessons learnt they feel might be helpful for others. As ever with our blogs, their views are not necessarily shared by the Association.

Creating a Narrative…

Change the Story deliberately framed the learning journey around the theme of change. It explored change in the past, how people are making change in the present, and how young people want to make change in the future. Through this approach, pupils learnt how change can be both positive and negative, and that choices made in the past have an influence on how we live today. Within this exploration, a particular focus was placed on how decisions have influenced the climate and resulted in the current climate crisis.

This approach has embedded the climate crisis within the larger reality of change – everything is changing and we need to engage positively with change if we are to steer towards the future we want. Teachers responded enthusiastically to this approach. They found exploring the past familiar and reassuring, and that it fitted well with existing school topics. The present they found refreshing – by focusing on changemakers in the present, the climate crisis had a more hopeful framing which navigated the challenge of climate anxiety. The teacher quote below nicely summarised this.

We had done climate change before, but this [project] definitely angled it more positively … more empowering, rather than just factual. Much more about being changemakers, changing things, where do we want to be, how we will change things. It changed how I would approach it.” (Year 6 Teacher)

Imagining and thinking about the future was harder.

Imagining the Future…

Whereas teachers felt positive about dealing with the past and the present, perhaps partly because, even though ideas are often contested and perspectives may differ, there is already accepted science behind the climate crisis and locally available evidence.  The future was more challenging.  After all, it doesn’t yet exist. The route taken was to allow pupils to think of their own actions and ideas for the future they wanted. This generally resulted in one of two responses: firstly, the ‘accepted wisdom’ responses of walking more, driving less, etc, or secondly, fantasy machines and magic buttons to make the climate crisis go away. Both perhaps should have been expected.

“It is hard for them to think about the Future: their ideas were very much ‘let’s get bikes’ and stuff like that.  We were saying ‘anything could happen in the future, trying to make it more interesting, helping get the ideas a bit more abstract” – Year 6 teacher

Pupils can imagine a future they want. But it became clear that teachers and pupils need resources to help understand the sorts of changes required to really make it a reality. Our response to this has been to create a set of Futures Cards. Each represents one idea which is currently being implemented together with an image and short description. They are designed to spark pupils’ imagination and scaffold their thinking. They range from simple to difficult, from behavioural to technological, from short-term to long-term.

The Futures Cards can be used to stretch pupil knowledge from something they already know to something new based on their initial idea. For example, many pupils will suggest using cars less and cycling more.  By presenting ideas from the Futures Cards which relate to transport, a teacher can invite the children to check if their initial ideas are sufficient, asking, “Have you thought about…? This is all aimed at taking pupils beyond their usual responses to the climate crisis and towards solutions to the challenges we face, solutions which are simultaneously more imaginative and more realistic than current received wisdom.  In doing this, we also offer a bridge between ideas about what pupils can do themselves and solutions that are bigger than what they alone can do.

Creating Stories…

In the project, pupils were asked to create stories about the future they wanted. Initially, digital storymaking was promoted as a tool which might engage pupils – and this was certainly effective and popular. Indeed, one challenge was that creating stop-go animation videos in two of the pilot schools became more exciting that the project itself – a case of unintended consequences. Overly focusing on digital storymaking also created some anxiety for those teachers who were not confident in the use of digital tools.

As a result, the focus in the final iteration of project materials has changed, to place a much stronger emphasis on first producing compelling stories, and only then considering how digital tools can help tell this story. In creating the stories, more scaffolding was necessary for teachers and pupils. And in telling the stories, a greater emphasis has been placed on simple digital tools e.g. PowerPoint, as well as more technically sophisticated forms of animation.

And So…

Change the Story is now completed in its first phase. Learning resources are freely available via the project website. These have been piloted and improved, and we hope the issues discussed above have been addressed. We look forward to more schools taking on these resources … improving them and making them their own.


Richard Dawson is Director of Wild Awake and Ben Ballin is project worker on Change the Story and an NAEE Fellow. They can be contacted at: and


  1. Good stuff. ‘We want to believe that the world we live in won’t change very much. But the very ground under our feet, the things we take for granted, can change.’ Susan Clayton, 2022

  2. This was such a fantastic project to be part of and I’m looking forward to continuing its use in my setting and seeing the impact it has.

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