Case Study: Term 3
School: Glendale Primary School
Teacher: Fiona Boath
Year Group: 2/3
Creative Practitioner: Trudi Bennett
Creative Practice: Nature Connection
Main Curriculum Focus: Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS)
Cross-curricular Links: English – Literacy, General Capabilities - Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability.
This is the teacher, Fiona’s, first year in the school, in a split class where a high proportion of students are on independent learning plans. During a year of many disruptions, it has taken Fiona 6 months to develop learning expectations and attentiveness in class. The school administration applied for a government grant to enhance the outdoor spaces of the school and asked if the Creative Schools program could include the children in creating a proposal for this project by mid term.
The scope of the proposal for the school administration regarding the use of the outdoor space for learning, was very large. There were three potential areas which could be used and a decision was required on where to set up, gathering and small group work spaces, what size the spaces needed to be, what resources could be used and what could be planted or added to enhance learning and the natural environment. The school grant of $20,000 is a large sum of money and a fantastic opportunity for 7 to 9 year olds to be involved in an authentic project that directly impacts their school life. We wanted the students to be able to direct and own this project and complete a number of investigations, assessments and discussions to communicate their opinion to the school administration.
Early on we discovered that the students did not yet have the planning and reflective skills required to lead this investigation. They also struggled to work collaboratively and pay attention to the ideas and suggestions of their peers. We needed to be clever in how we could lead the project and delegate smaller chunks of work to the students so they still felt a sense of ownership. We also wanted to communicate how important the opportunity was, and encouraged the students to take responsibility for their own learning.
To do this, we established a pretend company to bring the playfulness of role play to the classroom and delegate serious work. The Glendale Consulting Company was born and the teacher and creative became the Chief Executive Officers who needed to employ a team of various consultants to complete work for their very important first clients. The students were thrown into a state of uncertainty when one week they were greeted into class as arriving into a group interview for this new Glendale Consulting Company. The students were told about the company and were surprised to hear that they would be given ‘real’ jobs. The students could choose which job they wanted and then they had to apply for the position stating their skills and interest in the role. The following week acceptance letters were given out with great excitement and students were given props of lanyards and neck ties to enable them to dress-up and live the roles.
Five small teams were established with a manager for each. These included, Landscape Designers, Horticulturalists, Field Biologists, Community Consultants and Accounts Officers. Tasks were given for each group to work independently with meetings with the Chief Executive Officers to align with the requirements of both the outdoor classroom proposal and the HASS Skills in the curriculum.
“Do you mean you use your imagination to think what the outdoor classroom would be like?” - Student
One of the challenges found in using the outdoor space for learning was the collection and pack-up of equipment as there was no established position to obtain resources or culture of responsibility of belongings. Briefcases were provided for each group to help grow their personal capability in organisation and the collection and management of materials and work was led by the group managers.
The Creative Habits of Learning wheel was introduced as the work philosophy of the Glendale Consulting Company. It was an expectation that all consultants were committed to growing their own personal creative skills. During the interview day, the students were asked to complete the Creative Habits spider web as part of their job application. During the course of the sessions the wheel was used to remind students of what was needed or to reflect on what was happening during weekly sessions.
“We could go to the space and see what we can discover.”
At one time, when there was tension between the adults and children in the outdoor space which caused frustration for everyone, we used the wheel to explain where the frustration started. We discovered there was a tension between the students “daring to be different” and the teachers asking for “cooperating appropriately” that caused the tension. The tension arose from a difference in learning objectives between the teachers and the students. The teacher and creative had certain curriculum areas that they were targeting and a written and recorded outcome that was planned for the project.
The students in the outdoor classroom became curious about the plants and animals in the space and had a desire to explore climbing trees, building shelters and making bow and arrows. The students wanted to test whether they could work up in a tree. This was different to writing information in a table and practicing a script to be videoed. To follow a creative approach to learning, it is more effective to observe and follow the students’ learning interests first and then extend from this point. This often becomes difficult if the area the students are exploring has ‘already been covered’ or are taught by a specialist teacher.
“I was happy we got to locate animals because we got to learn about animals.” - Student
During one session we asked the students how they felt the project was going and the students were giving reflections that were ‘expected’ and positive. We used the wheel to highlight “Daring to be different” to elicit some more honest feedback. With this information we used a series of 4 poses the children could use to communicate their level of engagement. This was used during meetings and recorded through photographs to identify when they were interested or not.
“I was daring to be different because I wanted to work in a tree because I love heights. I think it would be cool in a tree and we could just use a clipboard to write.” - Student
We also wanted students to become more involved in meeting together and invited students to facilitate meetings. Students would be asked to place their thumb up on their knee if they had something to share and then the facilitating student would ask them to speak and thank them at the end. The position of ‘facilitator’ became a highly coveted role.
At the beginning the students were really uneasy with being outside. There was a massive fear of biting ants and also with snakes, homeless people, scratches, other animals that may hurt them, poisonous plants and even stink bugs. During the project, especially through the play of building an outdoor office to test out the spaces, the children became more comfortable in the space and sat down on the ground without concern.
“Happy we got to build our little office in our own style and work out what to do. You couldn’t make mistakes.” - Student
At the beginning, I struggled to let go of the teaching and being in control of what we needed to cover of the curriculum, instead of letting the children facilitate, be in control and discover the learning. As the project went on, it became easier for me to do this. I was also worried about getting through the curriculum content. At the end of the project when we sat down to go back through what was covered, I was surprised with how much content was met.
“Wow, we have covered a lot more of the curriculum than I expected.” - Teacher
Creative Practitioner Impact
As a creative practitioner, I work in the field of encouraging teachers to establish outdoor classrooms. Through this project, I discovered that it is not that easy and actually very difficult for some classes to establish new culture outdoors. It was particularly difficult with this class, as the students were yet to develop their “tolerance of uncertainty.” With their fear of the outdoors, insecurity in change and disengagement with school, it was incredibly hard to implement traditional school lessons in outdoor spaces. I learnt that it is very important to take things slowly and to be clear in the outcomes and intent for the session with the students as well as time to play and reflect on creative skills.