Diving Into the Deep

October 13, 2020
By
Stephanie Reisch
&
Carolynne Thomas

DIVING INTO THE DEEP 

Case Study: Term 3

School: North Fremantle Primary School 

Teacher: Carolynne Thomas 

Year Group: 5/6

Creative Practitioner: Stephanie Reisch

Creative Practice: Visual Artist

Main Curriculum Focus: Biological Sciences – Living things have structural features and adaptations that help them to survive in their environment. Science as a human endeavour. Communicate ideas, explanations and processes using scientific representations in a variety of ways. 

The Big Question: How can humans live in harmony with nature?

Cross-curricular Links: Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) – Reflect on learning, identify new understandings and act on findings in different ways. Present findings, conclusions and/or arguments, appropriate to audience and purpose, in a range of communication forms. Reflect on learning, identify new understandings and act on findings in different ways. 

CONTEXT

My first visit to North Fremantle Primary School made a strong, positive impression on me, as I was warmly welcomed into the community by the principal, staff and my partner in creative crime, teacher Carolynne Thomas. The Creative Schools philosophy is already known here from their participation in the program last year, and when I was introduced to my class, I found them to be an eclectic and excitable group of year 5 and 6 students who seemed eager to embark on a creative learning journey with me.  

“It’s been amazing. It made such a difference to have someone to bounce ideas off. For me it reinforced what I believe in and it gave us two brains to resource ideas. That’s been wonderful.” - Teacher

I was equally impressed with their teacher, Carolynne, who had taken the time to research my art practice and given careful consideration to how my background and skill set might best inform our sessions. To my delight we settled on Biological Sciences and agreed to take the students on a tactile and inquiry-based learning journey to explore the deep sea and the strange and wonderful species that have adapted to survive in dark, hostile and high-pressure environments. At the heart of our project, which the kids titled ‘Diving into the Deep’ was the big question, ‘how can we better understand our environment and learn to live in harmony with the 8.7 million other species we share the planet with?’ We also considered which Creative Habits of Mind we would base our activities on. Carolynne felt the class would benefit the most from focusing on Collaborative, Inquisitive and Persistent, so these set the learning framework for the term ahead.

“They are valuing themselves and each other more. That is really important. It is improving the community here. They are learning to work well with each other, even outside of their friendship groups. That is a life skill and the impact on our school is huge. They are creating a true community of learning.” - Linda Chandler (Principal)

WHAT WE DID

Overall, our approach was to redefine the role of a student into that of a scientific explorer, before setting off on a hypothetical, deep-sea expedition to one of the most mysterious and inaccessible places on earth, the Mariana Trench (the deepest known chasm in the ocean floor). For this we allocated the students to four expedition teams (The Scuba Ducks, Project Deep, The Shore Savers and The Six Gills) and asked them to keep scientific logbooks of their journey as a way of making learning visible. Along with their team names they also had to create their own logos, banners and mission statements. These props and prompts played an important role in establishing a team identity as opposed to one centred on the individual. Further, to give the expedition a slightly competitive edge, Carolynne asked me to make an idol that the teams had to compete for on a weekly basis. Constructed from driftwood and decorated with bones and shells, the idol not only reflected the mysteries of the deep sea, but also became a desirable classroom token.

“We are learning about deep sea creatures. It wouldn’t be as good if we just sat down and listened to the teacher. That would be boring.” - Student

We observed that the biggest challenge for this group was learning to work collaboratively and communicate effectively. Many of the activities required the teams to make decisions together and they came to realise very quickly that even small disagreements, incompatibilities or general apathy from one individual had a negative impact on everyone’s progress. As the majority of the sessions were structured around team building and teamwork, the expedition groups had to learn to strategise, compromise and support one another to achieve common goals. 

“They are loving it. They are so engaged. They are working effectively together in teams. They are normally not that good at working together. They are becoming gentler with each other. It is good for them. They are enjoying it, so I am enjoying it.” - Education Assistant

Once the teams were established and settled in, we started to introduce the curriculum gradually. Carolynne had expressed early on that she wanted to find a way of merging science with more hands-on art making so we designed a drawing program that would: 

  1. Develop hand and eye coordination.
  2. Demonstrate drawing as a way of seeing the world as it is, and not as it is represented.
  3. Teach scaled and measured drawing techniques to better understand relativity.
  4. Encourage persistence through process driven inquiry.

Based on this, drawing became the vehicle for learning about the natural world, for materialising it, and for discovering our relationship to it. 

Over the course of 9 weeks the students were asked to complete a number of drawings employing various techniques and processes. We captured their imaginations at the beginning of the term by asking them to create an imagined, biological drawing of a deep-sea creature that could survive the conditions of the Mariana Trench, which they then had to complete multiple iterations of, over a number of weeks. Although this really challenged their persistence and knowledge of deep-sea adaptations, it also taught them the value of process, crafting and improving. Once they had completed their imaginary creatures, we introduced observational drawing from biological specimens, and from there, continued with activities that mostly alternated between drawing from the imagination and drawing from life. Occasionally we would shake things up a little and get the class to draw on cuttlefish bone or draw with squid ink. Learning to work with unique materials sourced from nature added a level of authenticity that the students found intriguing and very exciting.

“There has been lots of learning. They have learnt how to work as a team, they have learnt to be persistent, they have learnt to be disciplined and focus. Persistence is now becoming easier for them – I can even see it in their writing tasks.” - Teacher

WHAT WAS THE IMPACT? 

Overall, we found that identifying parallels between science and drawing, and alternating between creative and observational modalities, kept the majority of the class highly engaged. Prior to Creative Schools this had not always been the case. Carolynne commented that some of the activities and challenges we set for the class towards the end of the program, they would not have been able to complete 9 weeks ago. Grades also improved in this subject area, which I found very encouraging to hear. The feedback I received from the kids was that they loved this class and our approach to learning.


“It is basically learning, but not in a boring way. This is real. It’s way more fun than other lessons and I think I have learnt even more from it.” - Student