Beach School - An Education for all

June 24, 2021
By
Daniel Burton
Fiona Alexander

BEACH SCHOOL - AN EDUCATION FOR ALL 

Case Study: Term 3

School: Scotch College

Teacher: Fiona Alexander

Year Group: 2

Creative Practitioner: Daniel Burton

Creative Practice: Nature Pedagogue

Main Curriculum Focus: Science  –  How the World Works - An inquiry into the natural world and its laws; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles (States of Matter). 

Lines of Inquiry

1. Behaviour of materials.

2. Investigating the effects of mixing materials.

3. Uses of materials before and after change.

Key Concepts Function, causation and change. 


International Baccalaureate PYP Approaches to Learning:

Thinking Skills – Critical and creative thinking - Forming decisions, proposing and evaluating a variety of solutions and thinking about something in a new way. 

Considering New Perspectives Ask "what if" questions and generate testable hypotheses.

Reflection and Metacognition Using thinking skills to reflect on the process of learning - Students reflect on their learning by asking questions. 

Self-management Skills Managing time and tasks effectively, keeping an organised and logical system to document learning.


Cross-curricular Links: English, Humanities and Sciences. 

English – Handwriting, expressing and developing ideas, interacting with others, interpreting, evaluating and analysing. 

Humanities – Questioning and researching, analysing, evaluating, communicating and reflecting. 

Science – Chemical science, questioning and predicting, planning and conducting. 


CONTEXT

Initially meeting with Fiona, the teacher of this class of Year 2 students, it was evident that a focus on outdoor learning was going to be key. The class is made up of 25 boys, and Fiona and Daniel both shared a strong belief that these boys needed to move in order to learn, and that the outdoors (whether it be a grass space outside the classroom or a park or natural area outside of the school grounds) is a necessity when it comes to learning spaces. Fiona wanted to connect more with the outdoors and explore how they could use the immediate environment right outside the classroom door to engage in outdoor learning.

Our objective for the term became: ‘How does learning outdoors support children to engage with the learning process in a more developmentally appropriate way?’

When discussing the Unit of Inquiry, it became apparent that we needed to find a way to explore a large amount of a particular material. To explore properties of materials, we wanted to give the boys a chance to experience the material and 'live their learning'. Sand was selected as a common, everyday and very obvious material we could explore and what better place to explore sand than … BEACH SCHOOL. 

“It’s creative, it’s not like art, there are other ways that it’s creative. Like we go outside and do lots of things outside. Not many subjects allow us to work with nature. You learn a lot of stuff and you don’t forget it. I forget most other stuff that I learn in school.” - Student


WHAT WE DID

To make the curriculum come alive, Fiona worked on securing transport and permission to attend Beach School - an outdoor classroom hosted on the sand at Swanbourne Beach which was a short 15-minute bus ride from the school.


"The biggest joy of today was the fact that these Beach School days 100% define the reasons why an immersive experience like this is so much more beneficial than an indoor exploration of the same concepts. The boys are discovering, discussing, thinking about, exploring and understanding concepts out here that would never be possible indoors!" - Creative Practitioner


Personal development on the days we attended beach school, saw the boys engaged, passion-driven, playful, inquisitive, and so intrinsically motivated, you could sense the engagement. The time provided allowed for authentic exploration and play, discussions, planning and the ability to experiment and discover using the whole body through large scale ways. They dug, sculpted, tunneled, and built understanding through experience and play. 


"If we dig a hole the water stays in there. If we dig a bigger hole the water dissolves. Why does the water stay in that big puddle and not ours? But there is sand under the ocean but the water isn't dissolving, maybe there are different sands." - Student


"This learning isn't possible in a tray inside a classroom … being in a space to work out ideas is what is needed" - Creative Practitioner


LINKS OUTSIDE OF CREATIVE SCHOOLS SESSIONS

Fiona also noticed that regularly at lunchtimes, the student's work continued in the playground, and they even linked their play and investigating to the class book ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ which was read each day at lunchtime.


"It's so exciting when the learning and exploration we are focused on in one session spills out into other areas of learning and play.” -  Creative Practitioner


DISCIPLINED

Scotch is an independent multi-campus Uniting Church school. It was founded in 1897 and is steeped in tradition. A big focus at Beach School was what it means to be a Scotch Boy. The Scotch Mission statement is:

‘To develop young men with strength of character, self-understanding, a passion for sustained learning and spiritual inquiry who will become active members of the global community.’

Therefore, the expectations of being a Scotch boy were reinforced with the habit of being disciplined. 

This project is ongoing, we continue next term with a shift to River School, following a different Unit of Inquiry. However, the same process and overarching goals of connecting to outdoor spaces and seeing the opportunity to move in order to learn, are still essential goals. 

“Imaginative. It’s not like normal school, we don’t stay in the classroom all day, we do fun stuff like go to the beach and to river school.” - Student


A COVERT OPERATION

As well as the key outcomes and curriculum goals for the term, Fiona and Daniel also had a covert operation, focusing on the parents. The outcome they worked on was to support them to sit back, observe and listen. Their instruction each time they joined the Beach School excursion was, ‘you are not allowed to interact with the boys, you can only sit back, observe and record on paper what you hear them say.’

The overall aim was to get the parents to notice just how much learning takes place through play, when adults stand back, when we don't do things FOR children, and they need to rely on their skills and perseverance. In doing this, they can see how creative, independent and collaborative their boys are. One parent said to Fiona, "I seriously thought he was messing around, but when asked what he was doing, he was so engaged and imaginative in the process of building a sandcastle with a group, I was quite overwhelmed". We aim to stop the 'helicopter/lawnmower' parent.

“It is wonderful to see the collaboration with parents.” - Dr Alec O’Connell (Headmaster)


“The other covert operation for this class has been 'shoes off' and it has been a fascinating side project. I think I wanted to do research on this conundrum ... Most of the boys in this class are very strongly opposed to taking their shoes off and being barefoot! Even when it comes to being in sand, on the beach, outside and jumping in puddles (like we did as we were cleaning up after this session). There is a lot of 'learned' behaviour and opinion, coming from home, about getting cut or injured by not having shoes on. There are also a lot of the boys in the class who don't like being 'dirty' so the fact that their feet will get sandy, or dirty, or wet is a big deterrent from being barefoot ... I'm still working on it though and leading by example. I pretty much spend all my time at Scotch without shoes on.” - Creative Practitioner

SUPPORTED REFLECTIONS AND METACOGNITION

The boys are becoming more concise and focused with their weekly personal reflections which is marvelous to see. This process is supporting them to develop their concepts and understanding. What is also wonderful to see is their 'what should we do next' responses. They are often very much in line with Fiona and Daniel’s planning and other times it is used as inspiration for where to go next and then they get to share that with the rest of the class. Authentic, child-led investigations are possible.


WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?

Teacher Impact

In our short time, Daniel and I have already seen a difference in the following areas: The boy’s fine-motor skills - most of the boys in Year 2 are starting to join up their handwriting now and their writing is legible. Collaboration - as a group, they are all playing together in the playground, making up and evolving their games and they seem happier. Imagination - all are above or at level for writing. Their writing pieces are more imaginative and creative.

Starting each session with gratitude (for the earth, for each other, for the ability to come to beach school) has been a wonderful way to ground ourselves in nature and connect as a group in this new learning environment. We also do a ‘Sit Spot’ - opening our senses up to the sounds around us! The 'getting ready to leave school', the bus ride, the arriving at the beach etc. Takes up a lot of time.

The children have been able to solve problems independently of an adult and taken ownership of their learning. In the classroom, I have seen a profound change in their: Handwriting, due to the digging in the sand developing their thumb muscles, creativity and imagination (no longer needing a teacher for inspiration), collaboration and well-being (wanting to come to school). 

“I think I’ve been more creative. Usually I don’t take part in stuff, now I’m taking part in stuff and suggesting things. I think I’m being more cooperative because you have to work together.” - Student


As a teacher of a highly reputable independent school, there are a lot of pressures to succeed and make sure each child's data is above the expected. This year's group, bar one who has dyslexia, are at level or above level for reading. They have also all started join-up writing, and they are the most independent class I have ever taught. They can lead not only themselves, but their peers and me. An example of this would be one child who taught the class all about Isaac Newton, due to the fact we had learnt about a non-Newtonian fluid at the beach. Another challenge I usually face is parents controlling their children and at times, me. This parent group is so blown away with what their children have achieved this year that they have put their full trust in Daniel and me and come to us for advice.

“This partnership between the teacher and the creative has been really successful. You can see the students are engaged in their learning and the teacher is loving it.” - Cara Fugill (Director of Teaching and Learning)


Creative Practitioner Impact

I'm loving that a big part of the work I am getting to do here at Scotch is to work with Fiona from a pedagogical perspective. From day one, when I came to meet the class, observe and do initial planning, Fiona and I had developed a comfort level whereby I was able to challenge things that I observed in the classroom. I was also able to challenge the role in the learning process, from a perspective of the High Functioning Classroom.

Fiona is a very experienced teacher with an incredible style and honed teaching ability. However, she is open to being challenged on things that creep back into one's teaching practice out of habit or ease/convenience. She actively seeks out my reflections on things I see in the class and my observations of her practice. Behaviour management is one big focus, regarding two or three specific boys in particular. I'm enjoying being a sounding board for her thoughts and ideas, especially when it comes to the frustrations of working within the education system and the constraints and hoops that need to be jumped through.

“I think Creative Schools is very creative like the name. You have to do lots of activities and you have to be creative to do them. We play creative games. It’s very extraordinary. Not many work places would have done this. So it’s extraordinary that the person came up with the Creative Schools program. The people that work there really listen to kid’s questions and colleague questions. I like that we go outside. I know a lot more about outside things I didn’t know before. Like the cabbage butterfly that is the main butterfly that you see. I’ve learned more about feathers like that they have hairs on them. Most birds have different shades of colours in their feathers. Even magpies have some brown feathers.” - Student