The Mystery of Ellenbrook

October 13, 2020
By
Trudi Bennett
&
Sean Bradstreet

THE MYSTERY OF ELLENBROOK

Case Study: Term 3 

School: Ellenbrook Christian College

Teacher: Sean Bradstreet

Year Group: 2

Creative Practitioner: Trudi Bennett

Creative Practice: Nature Connection

Main Curriculum Focus: Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) Skills, HASS History - The history of a significant site or part of the natural environment.

Cross-curricular Links: Biological Sciences, General Capabilities

CONTEXT

Ellenbrook Christian College leadership team has been encouraging teaching teams to focus on teaching skill-based learning. The year 2 class came from two smaller Year 1 classes, so they needed to learn more self-awareness and self-management skills this year. Many of the students also come from culturally diverse backgrounds where English is not their first language. Sean was keen for support in the area of HASS and Trudi is passionate about place-based learning.

WHAT WE DID 

The challenge for this project was to make learning about local history as adventurous as possible. We wanted a project which would allow children to use their sense of humour, develop empathy, encourage leadership, develop social skills, support literacy, engage quieter students, enable the setting and achievement of goals and assist the students to mature with zest.

Original discussions with the students involved the notions of “What is creativity?” “Can you create something that you cannot touch?” “Can you create an opinion?”

To start the project, Trudi came in with a provocation, stating that in her opinion, “She was one of the most important historical people in Ellenbrook.” She explained that 11 years ago she used to work for the City of Swan in Ellenbrook and started the first outdoor cinema in the area. The following discussion and brainstorming aimed to discover who and what were the most important people, places, buildings, animals and natural spaces in Ellenbrook. The project became a mystery to solve with the promise of an adventure around the local area, to discover the answer to the Mystery of Ellenbrook.

The students suggested places where they could start finding information and people that they could ask for help. They collectively came up with a mission statement and voted on the title, The Mystery of Ellenbrook, and these became the starting sentences for letters to local community members: “The year twos from Ellenbrook Christian College are on an adventurous mission to explore the historical places, buildings, artifacts, people or animals in Ellenbrook.” Letters were sent out to Ellenbrook Community Radio, Ellenbrook Local Newspaper, Midland Local History Library, City of Swan - Ellenbrook Place Office, the School Principal and a parent who regularly visits a local retirement village.

“We want to make children's voices visible in the community, and connecting with the local community.” - Creative Practitioner

The City of Swan, community radio and school principal responded to the student’s letters for help. An excursion was organised to visit some of the local council staff to find out about their important roles in the community and what they know of the local history. The students walked down to the community library to meet with them, hear their presentation and ask questions. The council staff gave the students an incredible amount of information and the students particularly engaged with the areas that they know well or have heard of, the animals of the location and asked clarifying questions like, ‘what is a quarry’. They also showed interest in the story of Ellen Stirling and the change of population in the Ellenbrook area. Back in class, this information was collected and sorted in timelines and on maps.

After this excursion and the abundance of information, it was clear that we needed to narrow the focus of the investigation. The students voted on the most engaging elements and it was decided to follow a research thread of the Western Swamp Tortoise. The journey into investigating the Western Swamp Tortoise started with gaining an understanding on water landscape features of brooks and swamps, then predicting where they may be found on a satellite map. We then took the class on a journey of discovering information about the Western Swamp Tortoise through a treasure hunt, collating information, representing the habitat of the tortoise in outdoor small worlds play and finally, celebrating the end of the project with an excursion to a local wetland.

HOW WE MADE THE CURRICULUM COME ALIVE 

The class has very active personalities and like to engage in a hands-on way. Considering we couldn’t have a hands-on experience with a critically endangered species, we needed to create a sense of adventure in a different way. We did this through devising a treasure hunt in the school grounds. Small excerpts of text on the Western Swamp Tortoise were hidden in envelopes around the oval. Students were given a clue to read and interpret the clue to find the hidden envelope, then return to make a note of what they had learned in the text. 

“Move around to find the clue as a group.” - Student

They were then given a second and third clue to find more hidden texts. After finding the third piece of information, groups were given final instructions to discover the buried treasure, western swamp tortoise chocolates, which were actually buried under a mound of sand. This categorising of information was followed up in the following session so that the students could share their findings as a category of information, population, help or threat.

“Read the clue allowed so everyone can hear.” - Student

 

The treasure hunt created a huge sense of joy and challenge which motivated the students to engage fully. It also came with the difficulty of persistence in reading and interpreting clues as well as working as a team. The acclaim and celebration in finding the chocolate was huge and students connected with the experience so much that they wanted to take the pieces of information home. The information had become a treasure!

“It is different to other lessons, because we get to help the school be more creative. If you don't have anything creative inside you, that would be bad.” - Student


HOW WE MADE THE CREATIVE HABITS OF MIND COME ALIVE 

Collaboration was a big focus of the project and the warm up games. Simply making a circle included discussion and feedback on personal awareness, identifying needs of the community and personal actions that could be taken. This still requires development and will become the focus of the Term 4 project. End of session reflections using the Creativity Wheel, helped to develop vocabulary and understanding around the Creative Habits of Mind.

“The children are really enjoying it. They are really coming to the forefront in the outside learning environment. But, I think it is also challenging them because they are practicing skills they are not naturally good at. Their persistence and collaboration are really developing.” - Teacher


In one session, we focused on using imagination and connecting ideas through listening to some text on the habitat of the Western Swamp Tortoise and then creating a model of their habitat in the school bush space. Models were made using natural materials, with the addition of clay and water, and students loved the playfulness and sensory nature of this activity. The Creative Habits of imagination and collaboration were awoken, as students recalled information and developed and communicated their ideas as they built.

Students experimenting with clay


During the excursion, students were led to reflect on the wetland using different senses. They were challenged to be inquisitive and search with their eyes for something interesting. They listened with their ears for quiet sounds, sounds of birds and sounds of frogs. They developed a sense of wondering while looking closely for insects in trees and in the water. They used reflective skills to discuss the threats of the tortoise and particular threats at the wetland we visited. Reflecting in this way tied the project together and provided a sense of celebration and closure to the project.


HOW WE ACTIVATED STUDENT VOICE AND LEARNER AGENCY 

Much of the decision making was made by the students in this project, removing some of the control from the adults and placing it in the hands of the children. This was particularly the case at the beginning of the project when deciding the title and focus of the mission and then redirecting it to the focus on the Western Swamp Tortoise. 


WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?

Student Impact 

Several students when surveyed, found that the learning in Creative Schools sessions was fun and exciting. Some were even able to comment on Five Learning Habits that they were now using. 

Teacher Impact 

The project has made me relook at my teaching style and how important it is for me to relinquish some of the ‘control’ and hand it over to the students to decide where we go next. This project also helped me to become more flexible (i.e. - if something does not work, maybe tweak it and try again or maybe try something completely different).  

“It is different to what I expected. It's been a big learning curve for me. When you don't have full control, and you have to share it with someone else. I never saw myself as a control freak until now. I have personally been challenged, but I am really enjoying it.” - Teacher


Creative Practitioner Impact 

In this project we needed to experiment with ideas and be flexible to change. The end point was a very different place to what I expected due to the engagement of community, abilities of the students and feedback from students interests and teacher curriculum needs. I grew in the area of down scaling ideas to be more realistic and being more flexible to what was needed during the session. I felt the most successful lessons were the hands-on ones including the excursions, treasure hunt and clay swamp building.

School Impact 

By engaging in the Creative Schools program, the students have been much more open to thinking, questioning and imagining, rather than just listening and accepting. The students are learning to be mindful of each other and how they can learn in many different spaces. The outcome of the projects has been wonderful to see and it's great to hear the habits of learning being used in other learning areas. The teachers and the students are richer for being part of the project and have thoroughly benefited from Trudi’s creative expertise working alongside them.

“We are discovering what creativity means. We are making stuff and imagining stuff. That is important because we need to figure out stuff in life.” - Student