Case Study: Term 3
School: Glencoe Primary School
Teacher: Benita Swart
Year Group: 2
Creative Practitioner: Jodie Davidson
Creative Practice: Visual Art
Main Curriculum Focus: Science, Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS), Health
Cross-curricular Links: Sustainability, Personal and Social Capabilities, Critical and Creative Thinking
What can nature teach us? What can we learn through observation, collection and being in nature and where can this lead? In an already non-traditional looking classroom full of armchairs, different height desks and exploratory tables housing an assorted collection of baskets holding various seeds, nuts and rocks, the goal for the term was to undertake a student driven inquiry into sustainability by linking together Science and Humanities.
‘Where do you want to go today to learn? Where would you like to explore?’
For this class of 24 year 2 students it was using their own personal and social capabilities alongside recognition of Creative Habits that enabled them to determine who and what are the makers, the takers and the breakers in the world.
Students were already learning about the world’s oceans and the importance of water through the development of a floating village with their class teacher. Through Creative Schools they were given the opportunity to explore the qualities that a successful scientist would need - questioning, imagining, curiosity and searching for clues to investigate the role that gardens, animals and waste play in providing for a community. Taking time to explore the vegetable garden space, complete with chickens, worm farms and composts, enabled students to break into three smaller groups and observe what was happening in each mini ecosystem.
Exploration of materials sourced from nature were used to scientifically document and find connections. On long lengths of paper, they identified through observational drawings, living things within the garden space. Paper was folded with a collection of leaves, weeds and plant materials interspersed between the pages and left in the elements for three weeks. Upon opening the pages, they were able to see what decomposition looked like on paper, observing colour changes, eco prints and breaking down of the paper. In other sessions, reflecting on the importance of being able to recycle and reuse in their class project of a floating community, students used leftover shaving cream and dye from an earlier in class rain cloud science experiment to create a series of mono prints. For some students, the disintegration of the paper through excess water proved frustrating, but with imagination, this was able to lead into a session on paper making using the wet and torn paper, enhancing their ability to look at objects from nature and consider how and what they can be used for by experimenting with their uses.
Time was always a challenge, as just as they were engaged it would be time to finish. Their pace is much slower than older groups, meaning that they needed to be allowed time to explore. By using clear short verbal instructions with a limit to the number of steps to complete a task and reflecting on the students’ curiosity; we were able to delve deeper into what objects are and how they could be broken down by structuring activities over two sessions and keeping all of the sessions outside of the classroom. This provided time and space for hands on exploration, collecting feathers, chicken poo and eggs from within the chook pen, weeds, leaves, fruit and flowers from the vegetable garden and soil, worms and worm wee from the worm farm. These spent a week in the classroom providing accessibility, visual awareness and time to intrigue the curious mind.
“Working with this particular class and Benita taught me a lot. Not only do we need to allow the children time to process, we need to allow ourselves the same time. By slowing down, it gave space to observe, to listen and to learn through both the eyes of the teacher and the child. The more time you allow for a child to make connections, the more connections they make.” - Creative Practitioner
Answer the question. Question the answer. What is the question?
“Some of the questions are hard but I like being outside in a new space.” - Student
Students processed and analysed information through verbal, written and visual communication using self-reflection journals after each session and via casual conversations within their groups, questioning and predicting outcomes. Questions from previous weeks led to activities for forthcoming sessions in exploring different spaces. They wanted to taste the gooseberries, passionfruit and chilli. They wanted to know what was inside the skin surrounding seeds that could be replanted to grow new produce. Using hula hoops as the circles in a Venn diagram, they observed cockroaches and bugs inside the compost and were later able to determine that these, alongside the worms were the ‘breakers,’ breaking down organic matter but also the ‘makers’ by making soil in which produce can grow. They fed weeds and scraps from the gardens to the chickens, collecting eggs and determining that they too were ‘breakers’ and ‘makers’ but they were also ‘takers’ taking the produce and turning it into eggs. The gradual familiarity of producers (makers), consumers (takers) and decomposers (breakers) enabled students to reflect on the various ways in which the Earth’s resources are used.
“They are really enjoying it and we want to continue to grow this style of learning in our school.” - Karl Palinkas (Principal)
In order to increase their efficiency of working in groups, warm ups were devised to also increase collaboration and participation. The human knot which involved students using discipline and persistence to unravel, worked for two groups, however, for a group of boys it was more of a challenge. It became a time of reflection as they were prompted to discuss why their warm up wasn’t working and attempted to put into place some solutions.
“Some people are being silly.”
“Some people won't listen.”
“Some people won't pay attention.” - Students
Space for personal and group reflection enabled strategies to slowly evolve on how to work with others more effectively through collaborative activities and games. A group challenge to make something out of nothing using only the space within the nature playgroup indicated that their observance of others and ability to interpret feelings through facial expressions and body language had evolved. They were totally immersed in the process, the conversations, the planning, construction and compromising. They negotiated exchanging of resources, built houses complete with solar panels and created desalination systems for freshwater. This project was so detailed that they had ensured there would be no plastic particles and people could “drink from the toilet water because it would be fresh!” There were gardens built, sharks caught from an ever-expanding jetty and a special house just for the animals. Their ability to succinctly explain their logic, process and problem-solving, also demonstrated the forming of alliances for an extended period of time and increased visibility of resilience in the playground, indicating that what was happening both inside and outside of their classroom was having a positive impact on behaviours.
“As teachers we need to focus on more authentic teaching. Creative Schools has given me the permission to do this. I have heard feedback from other teachers that the group collaborates better … they gel. They work as a community. It is authentic, which leads to agency, which leads to engagement and that leads to activism. It’s mind-blowing what they can learn when they want to. Never underestimate the brainpower of an 8 year-old if they have agency of their own learning.” - Teacher
Persistence grew with each process, from warm ups through to collaboration. Working through things might sometimes seem difficult particularly when tolerating uncertainty when they didn’t know the answer. By encouraging their natural inquisitiveness, they were urged to explore and wonder ‘what if?’ ‘What are possible alternatives?’ ‘What could it be?’ ‘What could it mean?’ ‘Where could it lead?’ These students became inspired to create a new and better world. They taught children in other classes warm up activities and took their ideas beyond the classroom, demonstrating discipline in sharing what they were learning.
“I have told my mum and dad not to use the car for close journeys.” - Student
“I have told my cousins to turn off the lights.” - Student
“I am happy when I hear it’s Creative Schools day. Creative Schools is one of my funnest lessons. I want to do it all the time.” - Student
Students became fully engaged in the process of building and creating, utilising what they had been doing over the term with their floating village in class alongside their discoveries in the vegetable garden. They were beginning to learn how they could be their own learning resource by increasing their skills instead of always turning to a teacher/adult for answers. This was evident when visitors came.
“Maybe the visitors could ask us some questions.” - Student
They chose their own group warms ups, used handmade paper to write a note or draw a picture to the Earth as a promise to protect it and then planted this in the garden.
“I have told everybody to protect Mother Nature. She was here before we were. Maybe we can be her little helpers.” - Student
Their group approach to tasks began to improve, slowly building relationships within the group in order to improve methods of understanding, problem-solving and developing resilience. They began to listen to each other, suggest compromises and work collaboratively, particularly in building something from nothing. By imagining the space and turning it into something physical, they showed persistence and curiosity, considering how each of their parts could expand. They were more considerate of each other and how the groups could work together, even when each group were making something different. They were learning how to work together, but also independently.
“I faced my fear. I am not scared anymore.” - Student