Learning Our Way

January 18, 2022
By
Brad Crooks
Shona McGregor

Learning Our Way

Creative Practitioner: Shona McGregor

Creative Practice(s): Visual artist

School: Hudson Park Primary School

Teacher: Brad Crooks

Year Group - 2/3

Main Curriculum Focus – HASS

Cross-curricular Links  

Literacy and Language (listening & speaking, oral presentations, vocabulary, social interaction)

Maths (number, measurement, shape, data)

Science (physical & biological)

Arts (making ideas, skills & performance in visual arts and performance), Technologies (processes & production, knowledge & understanding of design and digital technologies)

Health & Physical Education (personal, social & community health)

What We Did

When Brad and I began our Creative Schools Journey in Term 2 this year we had a wonderful group of year twos and threes from many different cultural backgrounds and academic abilities who struggled to focus during class time and found it almost impossible to work together. As the weeks went by and we introduced the 5 Habits of Learning - collaboration, persistence, imagination, inquisitiveness, and discipline – we saw a real change in the students. Not only in their motivation and enthusiasm in the classroom, but also there was a newfound spring in the step of their teacher who had found a fresh way to entice his students to learn.

Our Term 3 Creative Schools journey was an experiment in how well our students had understood the 5 Habits of Learning during our sessions from the previous term and whether they would now try to utilise them as we set them free to embark on their own learning expedition. But this would be no easy feat; it would require creative bravery on our part too as we handed the reins over to the class to decide on what they wanted to learn and what form that learning would take. Their motivation came from our previous work based around the creation of an imaginary island and the many facets of the HASS curriculum that asked students to explore concepts such as mapping, national dress, and community constructs.

So, with a little brainstorming around possible projects, some thoughts about what their own interests were and a lot of haggling over group formation, we were ready to launch the seven groups on their creative learning travels.


This was not the perfect trajectory of learning and cooperation and focus. In fact, the adults in the room also had to utilise the learning habits to keep the mission on track. We had to be disciplined when things didn’t go the way we expected and be flexible in our thinking to support the students who were not used to this way of learning. Not to mention the noise and the mess! It was creative chaos in a good way, but it was a little startling for the uninitiated. Gradually however, with time and patience, we began to see how teaching creativity was going to pay off.

How did we make the Creative Habits of Learning come alive?


Collaboration

The habit of collaboration was not an easy one to master and while we had seen great improvement in the class as a whole it proved to be tricky for one particular group of boys who were building a 3D model of a city. Sharing, cooperating, and giving and receiving feedback proved almost too much for the trio (and us!) and after 3 sessions we decided to let them pursue their own project individually just to see what would happen. By the fourth session we were astounded to see them come back together of their own volition and our most headstrong student was even heard asking ‘what do you think?’ to his workmate as they created a working model waterfall. Without giving them the time, space and respect to work this out themselves we really don’t think this would have happened and it’s a wonderful first step towards working and learning with others for their future.

Persistence

The power of persistence was also a habit that did not come easily to our class but by term 3 we felt our message of ‘make lots of mistakes that’s how we learn’ was becoming second nature to the class. Brad could see this thought pattern becoming part of the norm in other areas of the curriculum too and the anxiety of getting it wrong started to fall away. One of the main ways we encouraged the class to stick with difficulty and tolerate uncertainty was to give each project group a challenge card. By giving each project constraints like ‘your 3D model must have a food source’ or ‘your volcano must have two different ways of erupting’, they were encouraged to push themselves outside the boundaries of what they knew and were comfortable with and try things that didn’t have just one solution.

Disciplined

With all seven of our groups having some aspects of building and design in their projects, being disciplined was a habit that was constantly being explored. Four sessions were available to allow students to take their time to craft and improve the city streets they were creating or develop their technique for building a trap for intruders in their space and we could see that this gave them the time and space to think through ideas, try them out and make changes to improve their initial designs.

Inquisitive

We could also see where inquisitive overlapped here as they explored and investigated the angle a water feature would need to fill up a container and challenged the assumption that a map could only exist in two dimensions.

Imaginative

Our biggest challenge, and one we didn’t expect from children of this age, was the groups’ struggle to tap into their imagination. Each week in our reflection time during the program we asked them what their trickiest habit was for that day and even though collaboration was a constant front runner, imaginative came a close second. While it’s hard to know whether this is an indictment on our education system or our society as a whole it was evident that the only way, we could encourage the students to make connections and play with possibilities was by allowing them to time to follow their intuition by doing what interested them with as little intervention from us as possible. It also meant that we had to be open to allowing a project to be process driven rather than relying on the final product as an example of their learning. No finer example of this could be found than the group who were making a 3D map using a sand tray and materials they could find outside. Each week the map was developed and erased, arguments fought and won about what went where and one session even turned into a snail hunting expedition to add wildlife to the map. Brad said he thought about trying to get them back on track but when he heard one particularly reluctant scholar talk about antennae, he knew he had to let them follow their own learning path and create their own connections regardless of our agenda.

As we watched our budding scientists create volcano models and our group of musicians compose their own songs, life size kitchen robots were forged, and a complex city of cardboard structures grew across the carpet; we could see that deep learning was taking place. Maybe not the exact learning that we had planned but the development of learning habits that they could utilise in any subject or context which would allow them to keep learning and growing for their whole lives. And you know the best part? It was fun. For everyone. Irrespective of age, ability, or language we could all learn and feel safe to make mistakes and try something new next time.

To sum it all up I’ll leave you with the thoughts of one of our young converts when he was asked how they were becoming more creative.

“Because we are learning creative things. We have changed, first we see the creative thing, and then we change it and make it different. Which makes it look different and good. It makes you feel great and excited.”  - Student
“In Creative Schools you are disciplined and persistent. Because you are always trying and never giving up in Creative Schools.” - Student
“Creatives Schools is awesome. The kids are really creative; they have very, very creative minds. What they create they really try to make it look awesome. The effort that each individual puts into their work is amazing to see.” - Education Assistant
“We started looking at Geography, building an island and focusing on survival, then we took it into history and from there we've taken it into writing. We have also brought maths in through creative warm-ups. We have also integrated technology and enterprise. It has really ticked all the boxes for us and linking it with a writing allowed us to present things like speech work and dialogue authentically. These students don't like writing, so this has been really good to get them to write about their projects in creative ways. They are telling a story through acting, through writing, through drawing, through making in lots of different ways. It gave them ideas to start with, which has been really good for their writing. I’m finding that we are really covering lots of areas of the curriculum and ticking things off. It has shown me that I have to be more hands-on. I've got to remember; it's not just pen and paperwork. Early on, we did life cycles. We said to the students: “show me what you can do.” They all did it in different, creative ways and then explained their thinking. It gave them time to express orally, which is so important for them. It has given them confidence to speak, so they can talk and say what they think, and realise it's not wrong. It has given them a chance to articulate what they think, and the working together has given them great confidence.” - Teacher

How is Creative Schools different to other lessons you do in school?

“Normally we are doing work. Normally it’s writing and listening. Creative Schools is more about making things and trying. It’s imaginative. And you are really thinking about what you need to do then you can create. It’s important to keep on going and never give up.” - Student
“In different lessons you have to write, and you do some work. Like spelling, maths, writing, reading and stories. There’s lots of questions. That’s all different to Creative Schools. Creative Schools is about having ideas and thinking differently. It’s a little easy and a little hard because to think differently you have to imagine things that you have never seen before. Like having a warm-up game to think differently. In Creative Schools you build houses, build a country and build an island.” - Student

Have you noticed a change in any of the kids in your class?

“Yes they are thinking about new ideas instead of thinking of the same ideas. They are getting more creative. Because Shona gives ideas and then we do those ideas and we get more creative.” - Student