About our project: What If? A Time Travel ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ in 1800s Western Australia
Taking as its inspiration the life of Moondyne Joe, an English convict and reputedly the first Australian bushranger, this project aimed to pitch 30 Year 5 students into the drama of 1800s Western Australia by posing several ‘what if’ questions. What if Moondyne Joe hadn’t escaped prison? What if he’d time-travelled to visit our classroom? Through this HASS-focused Creative Schools project, our students had the opportunity to view life through an 1800s prism and consider its differences and similarities with today.
About the class:
The students at Winthrop Primary School are generally high achievers, often focused on grades and correct answers, and the teacher reported that before Creative Schools, this class were generally not happy nor able to effectively work together in groups outside their friendship circles. The teacher, Amy Williams, is a former creative business owner in her second full-time year of teaching.
Instead of treating 1800s Western Australian history as a series of facts, Amy and podcaster and writer Amanda Kendle wanted students to feel like they were really experiencing and inhabiting that era. In preparation, students were first encouraged to create multiple alternative endings for well-known fairy tales. They performed short dramas based on historical photographs with a ‘rewind’ to perform a second ending; made their own choose-your-own-adventure tales using a branching template; and recorded podcast-style stories based on creatively changing elements of traditional stories.
We then shifted to the main Moondyne Joe digital project. It was very important to us that our students made the key choices, even if we had our own ideas about what we wanted them to do. For example, students co-constructed the criteria for assessment of the project, and they also chose how to create their project, such as the kind of media they would use for each snippet of their storyline. We gave them tools and tasks that helped them use a variety of methods, such as video, soundscapes, paintings and text.
We assigned everyone to groups comprised of students they usually didn’t work with, and together they brainstormed long lists of ‘what if’ questions for Moondyne Joe’s life. These could be realistic, for example, ‘What if Moondyne Joe had never escaped jail?’ or speculative ‘What if Moondyne Joe had time travelled to our classroom?’ Groups chose their favourite ideas and created branching pathways, then used various modes of storytelling – drama captured on video, soundscapes, paintings, etc – to illustrate their story. Finally, these ideas were combined in a Keynote file with ‘choose your own adventure’ style pathways. In total, groups contributed 96 story segments between them and there are many, many paths through from beginning to end!
I love how it gets us to work together. Some people say I had a bad team. I thought it was terrible to start with, having to work with different people than I normally do, but we are collaborating really well. I love it.
Our project (along with the other Creative Schools team at Winthrop) culminated in a full-day, whole-school showcase event. Every class at Winthrop participated in a series of five activities reflecting each Creative Habit and viewed exhibitions of the two projects. There was significant positive feedback from the other teachers and students. Parents were invited to attend with their children after school and dozens of parents explored the displays, despite the rain! Winthrop also hosted a local member of parliament, and deputies and Principals of other nearby primary schools, exploring the showcase and learning more about Creative Schools.
How did we use the Five Creative Habits of Learning?
This class was initially eager to learn but could not readily access the Five Habits and struggled in particular with being collaborative and imaginative (they were used to having one correct answer, not a multitude). Accordingly, our warm-up activities focused on Collaboration and Imagination: reimagining fairy tales they knew well or making connections between unconnected objects to create new animals.
Teacher Amy ensured that she mentioned the Five Habits throughout the week whenever they were relevant, not just during Creative Schools sessions. This class had articulate students who could reflect honestly and effectively about their engagement with the Habits.
What we discovered:
By including ‘what if’ questions which contrasted history with present day society (e.g. ‘what if’ questions about gender) and asking students to imagine the various consequences of their ‘what if’ questions, they were really able to understand how life was different then at a substantially deeper level. With practice, this class became top-level idea generators: when it came to brainstorming ‘what if’ ideas for their Moondyne Joe project, we thought we would literally drown in post-it notes, each of them representing a solid new idea.
With storylines being the main focus, we found students happily integrating other knowledge they’d covered with their HASS curriculum such as the timeline of Moondyne Joe’s life and other events in Western Australian history, or the characteristics of life (food, shelter, clothing) from those times.
In terms of collaboration, students would often complain (especially early in the project) about not wanting to work with particular classmates, but over time they all came to appreciate the value of the contributions and ideas of others.
We learn things in Creative Schools that we have not learned before. It’s great to not have to do things on your own. It’s teamwork: we’re working together instead.
There were also several students with special needs who shone throughout the program. One student had never contributed in class at all, but was able to raise his hand and offer his ideas during Creative Schools. Another who was too shy to accept her certificate at assembly earlier in the year was able to perform a drama play in front of the whole class and receive immense support and praise from her peers.
I have learned how to make mistakes and not be perfect.
The impact on the Teacher/Creative team:
As a relatively new teacher, Amy reported that she had struggled to get her class to work together effectively, and that this has now totally changed. She is naturally a very creative person, but I think had had trouble bringing this creativity through with the structured nature of curriculum and learning – this has also completely changed. She is a huge advocate for the Five Creative Habits of Learning and I’m sure this will impact the rest of her teaching career.
I had been a little doubtful about the value of Creative Schools in a high ICSEA school (having previously worked in low ICSEA and CARE schools), but this project completely converted me. While these students are academically advanced and have excellent behaviour, they struggled significantly with being imaginative (or perhaps, having permission to be imaginative), and also with working together with other students. They were results-focused and wanting to get the right answer. Our Creative Schools project completely changed both of these factors, and I see now that these students – who are likely to be in high profile professions like engineering, science and medicine in the future – will benefit hugely by increasing their ability to apply their imaginations and being able to collaborate well with all kinds of people.
- Creative Practitioner
Main Curriculum Focus: Humanities and Social Sciences
• Digital Technology