Going Out on a Limb

October 13, 2020
By
Daniel Burton
&
Teegan Parry

GOING OUT ON A LIMB

School: Brookman Primary School

Year Group: 3

Teacher: Teegan Parry

Creative Practitioner: Daniel Burton 

Creative Practice: Nature Pedagogue


When childhood experiences contain emotional connection and engage mind, heart and body, the learning that occurs runs deep and holds strong. Juliet Robertson, Author of Dirty Teaching, describes these types of learning experiences as moments of ‘sticky learning’, it’s as if the emotional component of the experiences provides hooks, like Velcro, for the learning (the content, the concepts, the curriculum) to stick on to. When educators take learning outside, the opportunity for heart-based connections to occur increases dramatically and deep learning occurs. 

This was the basis for the Creative School’s sessions at Brookman Primary School as Teacher, Teegan Parry and Creative Practitioner, Daniel Burton based the majority of their sessions together outdoors, in a patch of tree-filled nature on the edge of the school oval. This space became an outdoor classroom and the setting for lessons on mapping, colonisation, collaboration, laws and rules, and also a place to play out learning. The children’s engagement in this outdoor environment, with each other, with the curriculum content and with the space itself, increased over time as they became more comfortable in the space and started to make emotional connections. 

 

“This class is SO engaged and switched on and I’m loving how much they soak up all that we are putting in front of them.” - Creative Practitioner

 

Both Teegan and Daniel saw incredible changes in the children over the 2 terms of working together, utilising the outdoors as a learning environment. They witnessed increased attendance, higher rates of engagement from students, students who didn’t normally speak up were becoming louder contributors, being out in nature was having a direct impact on students’ personalities shining through and social relationships were developing in ways they hadn’t before.

 

“I’ve discovered the importance of making time in the curriculum for creativity and play – it definitely pays off! Students have a really powerful voice and if you take the time to unpack their thoughts and habits of learning, it’s amazing what you discover.” - Teacher

The most prolific experience though, occurred on the second last session, in the last week of the program. On their way to the outdoor classroom at the end of the oval, the class came across a giant fallen limb from a large tree on the edge of the oval. There was immediate excitement and keen interest in this fallen branch (a result of the windy weather the night before). The initial reaction was to run and explore the leafy branches, test the bouncy sections of the thick limb and hide amongst its boughs. It was in the next few moments that the pathway of magical, emotion filled experience was chosen, accepting that the original lesson was to be abandoned for a more authentic, in-the-moment experience that would have lasting impact on the student’s (and teacher’s) connection to the space. Daniel suggested, quietly, to Teegan, that he had a van full of saws and rope and that with these tools, some guided instruction and some trust in the children’s capacity to work safely, this limb could be turned into valuable resources for construction and cubby building, tools for collaboration and play and objects to enhance nature based teachable moments. 

After consultation with the administration team (a quick phone call), it was decided that as long as the limb was moved a safe distance from the base of the tree it fell from (still considered a hazard due to the potential of additional falling limbs) that the students were in fact, allowed to carry out the task of chopping up the branches. 

The adults worked together to move the limb and then Daniel introduced the tools to the class, discussing correct technique for use, tips for successful sawing, pointing out the anatomy of a branch and the important elements to note when choosing places to saw, as well as the hazards and risks associated with the task. The students then got to work as a team, using the saws of various sizes, identifying the best places to cut, transporting chopped branches to the outdoor classroom, looking out for each other, protecting their own and other’s blood bubble (the space around a person using a tool, used as a way to increase awareness of one’s personal space and safety). 

There was joy, excitement, hard work, collaboration, persistence and a sense of deep learning occurring through this experience. Insects and bugs were discovered, features of the branch’s structure were identified and shared, discoveries were made about sap, bark, tree structure, strong eucalyptus smells filled the air. Children felt empowered to have the opportunity to use tools, to be trusted with sharp equipment and with a task that was usually left to the adults. A few cuts and scrapes occurred, fixed with a band aid and some care from a friend or teacher, and all students, and adults, finished the experience with all 10 fingers intact!

At the end of the session the students were exhausted (after doing very physical, hard work) but joyous. There was an energy about the group that was indescribable, like a big spark of light had been ignited in their bellies. This was the joy of an authentic learning experience!

This experience may not have been planned out, linked to specific curriculum goals and followed up by summative assessments, but it was an experience that engaged the entire body, all of the senses and provided the students with a chance to show how capable they all are. It provided real life experiences to explore physical skills, but also allowed the space to develop persistence, resilience, collaboration, team-work, curiosity, knowledge about the anatomy of a tree and the microcosm of life that exist around its branches. It was real and it will stick in their memories for the rest of their lives. The best part about it is that any other learning experience that occurs in this space, whether connected to the branch experience or not, will have emotional hooks to stick on to, to adhere to the mind in ways a worksheet or desk-based experience wouldn’t be able to. Learning that involves the whole body, is situated outdoors and has emotional connection, is deep learning!