Big Ideas In Small Places

June 24, 2021
Andrew Frazer
James Duncan


Case Study: Term 3

School: Donnybrook District High School

Teacher: James Duncan

Year Group:

Creative Practitioner: Andrew Frazer

Creative Practice: Visual Artist and Arts Management

Main Curriculum Focus: Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) 

Cross-curricular Links: Science
Science Understanding - Chemical Sciences.
Science as a human endeavour - Nature and development science.
Science Enquiry Skills - Process and analysing data and information.


Donnybrook District High School is a small regional high school (120-130 students from year 7-10) located approximately 2.5 hours south/south-east of Perth. It is staffed by well equipped, passionate teachers who genuinely desire the best for their students. The class teacher, James, is a great example of this reality and it has been a pleasure to partner with him in delivering the Creative Schools program. Though the school provides a safe haven for many students, it has also previously struggled with social stigma and continues to battle against this challenge.


Our big question for the term was - “how does the use of sustainable building materials within an Australian regional town impact the economical, cultural and social structures?

We wanted to increase the overall engagement from the students and we chose to start this process by building a stronger community, by changing our language. We started calling the classroom our ‘collective’ and instead of lessons we now call it ‘learning sessions’. By changing the language we challenged the stereotypes of why school exists and what is available to each individual.

“This is an interesting, more engaging way of learning. I wish all learning was like this.” - Student

The above overarching question guided us in connecting the students to the curriculum. We wanted to connect the students through a sense of relevance and as Donnybrook is a smaller regional town it provides a brilliant opportunity to create focused case studies within the local area. We began to explore building methods as an entry point to understand why/how these methods influenced our perception of home. Though it wasn’t the original intent, the home became our focus due to the contrast of students' understanding/experience of what the home was/is. The questions of ‘what is the home?’ opened up a myriad of responses, which in turn gave personal context as to why materiality and the science behind these selections, were so significant. We researched different methods through hands on exploration … from spaghetti and marshmallows to cardboard and glue. The students embraced the implications of when a home is dysfunctional and were able to make a connection on how the built environment can influence these emotions. 

“In this process, our students are challenged to think differently and this naturally makes them uncomfortable. Interestingly, some of our kids who come from backgrounds of trauma were the first to engage with the process. They were able to articulate their thoughts clearly. These students are usually the most disengaged so if this process gets them talking and involved, it’s definitely worth it.” - Renee Reid (Principal)

The curriculum began to merge with everyday life and it was great to see the students respond to this reality through increased engagement. We applied the science research with a social responsibility through affordable housing design, making sure that each person had access to a home through a considered and well designed space that they could fill with their own memories.

We explored the Creative Habits of Mind with a focus on collaboration, as the class was (and still is to an extent) segregated based on friendship groups. We would change the layout of the classroom weekly to provoke interaction, allow the students to independently discover strengths in each other and to champion these unique qualities. We grew in inquisitive pursuits through introducing technology as an enhancement to learning and not something simply reserved for personal entertainment. These introductions provided increased relevance and also helped with expanding their worldview of what is possible.

“It’s more active than other lessons. It’s not one sided. It’s from all of us.” - Student

We continued to open up discussions around their own learned experiences, allowing the students to challenge what and why we were doing what we were doing. This helped to develop a more transparent approach to learning and an acceptance that we are all learning. The teacher James and I focused on making sure that the style of learning was beyond just a one day experience to more of a shift in learning, a shift in culture and a genuine change to the approach of learning in the classroom.

“We often talk about what we learn, but not so much about how we learn. There are different ways of learning.” - Creative Practitioner

“It would have been good if we were introduced to this style of learning when we were younger. We would have been more used to it. We have become so used to structured learning.” - Student


Teacher Impact 

“It has also changed the way I do things in my other classes. Today I let a different class in Year 8 design their own experiment. That is something teachers don’t do.” - Teacher 

“This group is really disengaged with school. They are so drilled with our education system, come in, sit down, and listen. They don’t think. Creative Schools is different. It is making them think. This is giving them time to think. It is so good for them.” - Teacher 

Creative Practitioner Impact 

“At the beginning of term there was a mix of excitement, hesitation, doubt and passion. I entered the classroom and after the first session I was honestly questioning how it was all going to work. It was a little chaotic and I second guessed the students' potential. I had to step back from this thought process and hit the restart button in my own mind. These students have incredible potential and once I re-embraced this truth, then there was a real shift in my approach. The desire became about offering opportunity and allowing them to embrace new ways of thinking and learning, but it was not about coercing them into this, ultimately it has to be a choice for each individual in order to maintain ownership in the process. This ownership has developed on my end too, which I'm grateful for and by the end of the term I was filled with hope for what term four would entail.” - Andrew Frazer

School Impact 

“As I had the first two sessions with the year ten group and the last two with the year nine group, it provided a great opportunity to bunker down in the staff room and chat with various faculty who were not directly involved in the program. Building these relationships is key, because ultimately the program has such a larger impact when the school community is invested in the learning of the students.” - Creative Practitioner 

Parent Impact

“Though there wasn’t any direct interaction with the parents this term, this will change in term four as we develop the project into a public presentation and welcome families to come in person and celebrate their child’s progress.” - Teacher