Colony 4

December 21, 2021
Kellie Kleinjan
Stephanie Reisch

Colony 4

Creative Practitioner: Stephanie Reisch

Creative Practice: Visual Artist

School: Marri Grove Primary School

Teacher: Kelly Kleinjan

Year Group: 4

Main Curriculum Area: HASS

Cross-curricular Links: Literature


During my first visit to Marri Grove Primary School, I was greeted by an eager, excitable and creatively curious cohort of Year 4 students who were quick to embrace my role as a Creative Practitioner in their classroom. At the meet and greet, we chatted about our respective interests, what their ideal learning space might look like and the sorts of things they enjoyed learning about. My teacher and I were surprised to hear that a number of kids expressed interest in becoming artists themselves. We also noted that for many, an ideal classroom involved either an outdoor learning setup or being in the company of animals. I recall thinking that this particular group was very receptive to new ideas and would probably enjoy and benefit from an outdoor-based program.

With this in mind, Kelly chose HASS as our main curriculum area with a focus on learning about the First Fleet – an English penal colony that left for Botany Bay in NSW in 1787 and became the first European settlement in Australia. In Literature, the students were also reading the book ‘Tom Appleby Convict Boy’ by Jackie French, so we used this as the source material for the term program framework. Our initial vision was to find a suitable outdoor site for the kids to re-enact some of the major events from the class text, and create a parallel timeline to record in the form of a memoir. We considered finding an area on school grounds but then discovered a plot of wild, swampy bushland right next door that was fortuitously owned by Marri Grove. We were very excited to be granted permission to access this site for our Creative Schools project, which we titled ‘Colony 4’.

The objectives for ‘Colony 4’ were set with the intention of learning about Australia’s colonial past by examining and re-enacting some of the experiences of the First Fleet. We started the program with an imaginary journey on vessels the students had to design and then construct from scrap materials. We used historical records of the First Fleet ship, The Scarborough, to help inform the design process. Once there, the class then had to arrive at a strategy for how they might begin taming this wild and untamed plot of land that we referred to as ‘the swamp’. To ensure the colony’s survival the class also had to plan for the provision of everyday needs such as food, water and shelter. How would they delegate tasks? What needed to happen first? Was skill-sharing a better strategy than working alone? These were all questions the class was faced with early on. Initially, Kelly and I stepped back and allowed the group to fully immerse themselves in the journey of wonder and discovery. It was also an opportunity for us to observe and assess emerging power structures and individual personalities.

Student voice and learner agency came from the realisation that lack of participation and cooperation not only had negative consequences but also resulted in low productivity. This meant the class had to reflect regularly on their progress and behaviour, then implement changes that would help towards achieving the basic objectives set out at the beginning of the term. During the project the class were able to select their own leaders and working groups as well as replace any individuals that weren’t contributing fully. Allowing the kids to shape and steer the program week to week resulted in robust group reflections and greater resilience to change and uncertainty.

Our focus habits for the term were Inquisitive, Disciplined and Persistent and this project challenged the group across all three areas, particularly in how students adapted to uncomfortable situations. ‘The swamp’ was unfamiliar to Kelly and me as well, so we were entering the unknown along with them. In many ways, this made the learning more authentic. In hindsight, I think the kids picked up on this and it reinforced the relationship and trust between student, teacher and creative. Over the course of 7 weeks, we endured and survived together; torrential rain, flooding, theft, wasps, wet socks, a lost gate key, a visit from the Governor General, Vanessa Bradley and an invasion by masked intruders. The latter generated some interesting, thoughtful and empathetic discussions about how First Nations people might have felt when the first settlers arrived on Australian soil.

Although the colonising of ‘the swamp’ required a lot of hands-on work, a large portion of the term was spent figuring out what good leadership looked like (mainly through trial and error) and implementing strategies for expediting the establishment of the new colony in time for the Governor General’s visit. In the end we noted 7 key learning events; The Trip, Arrival-Outside Looking In, Day 1-Chaos, Day 2-Crews, Dwellings, Dwellings Continued and The Invasion. We then paralleled our events with excerpts from Tom Appleby’s novel and presented them as a photographic and text-based timeline on the pin-up board outside the classroom. This was our way of making the learning visible to the class.

“We have activated a new learning space next to the school grounds for our Creative Schools project. We call it ‘the swamp’. The swamp is fenced off. It had a padlock on the gate, and no one had much information about it. Then we discovered that the school owns it and that we have a key. No one had been into the swamp before. Teachers and students were equally excited. This became the space to create our ‘new colony’.” - Teacher
“The first week we went into the swamp I found standing back really hard. I usually like an orderly class, so the change was hard for me to adapt to. Even taking them out of the classroom was challenging. Getting a ‘product’ took about 3 weeks. It was a slow process. We were doing intense reflections after each session. The timeline that we have created back in the classroom was a good way to connect the project to the curriculum that we have covered.” - Teacher
“A couple of weeks into the program I asked myself, “what value am I bringing to the program?” It’s an important question to tackle when you are working on a creative project like this one. The students have learnt so much from exploring the curriculum through this site-specific experience.” - Creative Practitioner
“‘The swamp’ was unfamiliar to Kelly and me as well, so we were entering the unknown along with them. In many ways, this made the learning more authentic. In hindsight, I think the kids picked up on this and it reinforced the relationship and trust between student, teacher and creative.” - Creative Practitioner
“In the first session there was fighting and stealing as they set up their new colony. By the second week they started to get along as we reflected on the previous week and decided that the behaviour needed to change in order for it to work. We decided to establish groups and leadership roles were formed.” - Teacher
“I’ve noticed that leadership skills have grown in the quieter students and not necessarily in those students with big egos. We have seen real leadership that is supportive of other students.” - Teacher
“I have had really good feedback on the Creative Schools Program from Kellie and David. We are taking the 5 Habits of Learning and working out how it will permeate throughout the school. We would like to focus on critical and creative thinking.” - Principal