The Story of Our Place

October 13, 2020
By
Daniel Burton
&
Melissa Crispin

THE STORY OF OUR PLACE

Case Study: Term 3

School: St Mary’s Anglican Girls' School

Teacher: Melissa Crispin

Year Group: Year 2

Creative Practitioner: Daniel Burton

Creative Practice: Nature Pedagogue

Main Curriculum Focus: HASS - Geography. People are connected to many places. Local features and places are given names, which have meaning to people and these places can be defined on a variety of scales, including personal, local, regional and national.

Cross-curricular Links: Science -Biological Sciences. Living Things grow, change and have offspring similar to themselves.

CONTEXT

On entry into this classroom it was obvious that Mel, a very experienced teacher, had a truly authentic relationship with her class of girls and had developed a wonderful sense of community within the group. We identified early on though that a key outcome of the program was the opportunity to provide experiences where the girls didn’t know what was coming next, where flexibility and persistence was required and that a sense of unknown was a positive element. Mel had identified that, for many of these girls, many aspects of their lives were very timetabled, calendarised and certain. Even within the school day, the timetable dictated when certain things would happen in very specific chunks of time and there was certainty in what was ‘coming next’. Our Creative Schools session was to bring uncertainty into their lives, challenge predictability and provide opportunities for the girls to become comfortable with uncertainty.


“When in our timetable do we have time to go with the flow and have that unexpected idea?” - Melissa Crispin (Teacher)


Initially, our plan was focussed on one central BIG QUESTION, “How can the children develop a sense of place in the outdoor spaces in their school environment?”. Inspired by the work of David Sobel and the concept of Place Based Education we planned to connect to the natural world in the vast open, natural spaces on the St Mary’s campus to ground ourselves in the space as well as the place of the school. 


“Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances students appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens. Community vitality and environmental quality are improved through the active engagement of local citizens, community organizations, and environmental resources in the life of the school.” - Sobel 2005, 7

We explored the grounds and sought out new and familiar spaces that were not usually ‘learning spaces’ and asked questions about how we could learn in the outdoors. We used sense meditation and nature connection routines to connect with the natural spaces we were spending time in and open up our awareness of the world around us, asking questions and imagining in the space.  

“I need to take a close look (in my mind). if I don’t look closely, I won’t get it perfect” - Student


In our time in these outdoor spaces we introduced and encouraged the use of the "Five Habits of Mind" and linked them to the school’s pre-existing Learning Assets with a plan to encourage the students to think deeply about the way they interacted with each other and the outdoor spaces as learners. 

“Sometimes there are students who can seem to talk for the sake of talking, feeling like they need to add something (often irrelevant to the conversation) but today all the comments were purposeful” - Melissa Crispin (Teacher)


Remaining connected to these spaces from a geographical point of view, we embarked on a process of mapping different areas, spaces and features of the spaces we visited - specifically the pre-primary nature play space. The students, with a progression of support and instruction, developed more detailed map-like representations of the space and started to really ‘see’ the detail in the spaces they were mapping. 


“Developmentally appropriate geography and sense of place activities are sometimes completely missing from the elementary curriculum, or they are often conducted in an inaccessible fashion with children… Provide children with many substantive experiences of making maps of visible, accessible places. These will then serve as metaphoric bridges to understanding those smaller maps of bigger places” - David Sobel, (Map Making 1998)

WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?

It was identified early on through a simultaneous project happening in the classroom outside of the Creative Schools sessions that the students were needing to develop their skills as storytellers and that they often stuck to predictable storylines, with expected pathways that were ‘safe’ and we wondered, using the outdoor spaces as inspiration, would it be possible to explore storytelling and challenge the girls’ storytelling ability?


“You have to be able to tell a story to be able to write stories.” - Daniel Burton (Creative Practitioner)


With that as a new provocation and a slight deviation from our original direction Daniel introduced one of his favourite stories to the group - Rivertime by Melbourne based Author/Illustrator Trace Balla, which sparked a new found passion and excitement for the exploration of the outdoor spaces. It became the focus of the group to create our own ‘adventure story’ just like Clancy in Rivertime and piece together our weeks of Creative Schools sessions as a story of our journey together. 


This quickly became a focus for the remainder of the term and continues into our project for term 4. The students work in groups, focussed on a ‘chapter’ each, outlining each Creative Schools sessions and are making decisions regarding the illustrations, the text, the speech bubbles and narration, characterisation and focus. Collaboration, persistence and discipline is being demonstrated, developed and highlighted each session as the girls work together to create something original and based on their lived experiences. 

In keeping with the underlying focus for the term, the project is not completed and still has a mind of its own, its end is ambiguous at this stage apart from the concept that it will end up becoming some type of published book… but what else is to happen along the way (book launch, publishing format, extra chapters, etc) is yet to be decided. There is uncertainty involved and this is wonderful!

The girls have learnt to solve problems and to think of different and creative ways to present their learning. (presenting a book in a different style similar to that used in Rivertime).

“I’m learning to be creative and turn things into beautiful things. I’ve learned how to control my attitude, sometimes I get mad when I make a mistake and now when I make a mistake I turn it into something new.” - Student

Creative Schools has given the girls opportunities to be collaborators by working in teams and it has encouraged them to be self-managers and to work together to complete their part of the book.Girls were given the choice of teachers choosing their group members or girls choosing and it opened up many discussions about what roles were needed in each group and why? When one group was not working well together, they were encouraged to reflect on why and discussions were had on how to solve the difficulties and how to move forward in a positive way so that all group members had a right to contribute their ideas.

It has also been wonderful for the girls to have a positive male role model as their teacher, they love seeing Daniel every week and enjoy listening to his stories, songs and ideas. The girls eagerly ask each week when Daniel is coming and are always sad to say goodbye when he leaves.

“Creative Schools has allowed me to step out of my usually timetabled day and give the girls time to explore, question and wonder. It has been wonderful to work with such a passionate and sincere practitioner as Daniel and I always bounce ideas off each other, so as an educator it has given me lots of opportunities to be a collaborator. Creative Schools has allowed me to often sit back and simply observe the girls, to listen to their conversations, watch how they interact with each other and chat to them about what they are doing and learning. As an educator it has been highlighted to me that it is ok to not have to always plan weeks of work in advance and that the students can dictate which path we take next on our learning journey together. I was extremely excited to be a part of creative schools as I am a firm believer that as educators we need to keep learning from others and sharing ideas. I have found that Daniel has taught me lots of strategies and given me lots of fabulous ideas that I will add to my suitcase of skills as a teacher.” - Melissa Crispin (Teacher)
“Creative Schools sessions at St Mary’s have been my most challenging sessions for me as a Creative Practitioner, in the most amazing way. Challenging in the fact that I have learnt so much and the collaboration between Mel, the students and myself has been a major focus. Mel has a wonderful teaching style and approach to relationships and I’ve learnt so much from her. It’s truly been a team effort in planning for provocations, reflecting on learning, challenging status quo and expanding repertoire.  I’ve found our reflections after each session so incredibly valuable and have reflected back to the students how even Mrs. Crispin and I work hard at reflecting on our own use of the "Five Habits of Learning" during each session, in our planning of future sessions and in our reflection on what we achieved and where to go next. I’m enjoying working on my own mastery of the five habits alongside Mel and the students.” - Daniel Burton (Creative Practitioner)