Schools The Living Classroom

Teacher Anthea Rafferty with students Munnah Atkinson, Jay-Dee Chatfield, Ethan DeBono, and Shane Harrison. Image supplied.

Warrnambool College teacher Anthea Rafferty has long been a fan of embracing applied learning pedagogies – particularly those that reflect real work conditions. “I’m an advocate for project-based curriculum which fosters creative, critical, and solution-based thinking,” says the Year 10 architecture teacher.

This year, Anthea has led both her architecture students and Indigenous students from Warrnambool College and Grasmere Primary School in a collaborative, hands-on project called The Living Classroom – and the results are nothing short of spectacular.

The project, involving the designing and planting of two Indigenous Gardens, one edible, emerged through her desire to provide real-world, project-based curriculum for her students through sustainable landscape design. The idea of involving Indigenous students from Grasmere Primary came about after a conversation with a colleague whose child attends the school.

“When I contacted the principal, I learnt that they have a significant number of Indigenous students and value integrating cultural connections in their learning,” Anthea says.

Left: Teacher Anthea Rafferty with student Lochlan Brown. Top right: AEU branch secretary Erin Aulich and Geelong and South West Region Organiser Danielle Harrison with Anthea Rafferty (centre).

“Providing an alternative educational model to enable students to connect with the learning and feel proud of their achievements has re-engaged the disengaged.”

Anthea Rafferty, teacher

Cultural connection became a focal point and outcome of the project – both through the collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and the students and community members.

At the start of the project, the Year 10 architecture students engaged in extensive research through a series of excursions and incursions, fostering cultural knowledge in their planning, designing, construction, planting and linking produce to recipes.

“The collaborations with community members and local industry provided ongoing mentoring and leadership as an extension of the project,” says Anthea.

Once research and planning were completed, planting was undertaken by the architecture students alongside Indigenous Warrnambool and Grasmere students, who responded enthusiastically both to the cultural impact of the project, and the hands-on approach.

“Providing an alternative educational model to enable students to connect with the learning and feel proud of their achievements has re-engaged the disengaged,” says Anthea.

Top right: Food studies teacher Chelsea O’Leary with students Shelli Rantall and Kye Pettit; Bottom left: Students with teachers and helpers involved in creating The Living Classroom.

“The garden provided students with an opportunity to thrive in an environment which included physical work, student voice and collaborative learning. In addition, the garden and artwork depicting the ‘Six Indigenous Seasons’ has provided an opportunity for Indigenous students to see their culture, their storylines and their people in the heart of our school.”

Some of the students began to come to school for the garden sessions and, with an increasing sense of engagement and pride, Anthea saw half days turning into full days. “Attendance has improved and relationships have flourished; students are feeling a sense of connectedness to their learning.”

For Warrnambool College students, the Living Classroom has been worked into an array of subjects. Year 7 digital technology students have been learning systems engineering through building and programming their own Smart Garden device, while the Year 9 STEAM course will look at the garden and its six seasons in their analysis of astronomy, temporal concepts, and methods of expressive interpretation.

“I would rather hands-on learning outside than four walls and pen and paper.”

Lochlan Brown, student

As Indigenous Warrnambool College student Lochlan Brown says: “I would rather hands-on learning outside than four walls and pen and paper.”

In addition, food studies classes have been using plants from the edible garden in cooking, helping students to further engage with Indigenous culture and sustainable practices. Now, exploring Indigenous ingredients in food studies classes will remain and continue in the College, says Anthea, offering students myriad perspectives from which to approach their understanding of food, including culturally, sustainably, and via food systems and agriculture as well as food influences.

To further enlighten the students in sustainable ‘seed to plate’ practices, Anthea and colleagues who were involved in the Living Classroom have initiated a greenhouse reinvigoration project at the College, providing the opportunity for student learning through a horticultural lens.

“We’ve seen this approach to learning ignite a passion for education.”

Anthea Rafferty

Students from Warrnambool College and Grasmere Primary School engage in hands-on learning in the garden.

“The students are taking immense pride in the work already accomplished in the greenhouse. The journey from planting seeds to harvesting produce, and this sense of accomplishment continues to boost self-esteem, confidence and future career and educational pathways,” says Anthea with obvious pride for her students and for what is being achieved.

Anthea speaks of the Indigenous experiential way of knowing and learning – through doing, smelling, tasting, feeling, sharing and talking.

“We’ve seen this approach to learning ignite a passion for education,” she says excitedly. “We would love to inspire other schools to create an Indigenous Garden. Start small and include a few edible plants and see where the journey takes you.”

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