“I can make a difference”: constructing context-driven environments for creative and critical thinking using immersive and experiential pedagogies

Year: 2019

Author: Wales, Prue, Samalca, Ethel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There is a growing call from around the world for educators to cultivate students’ creative capacities to help shape the skill needs of an unknown future workforce in a changing world. The value placed on nurturing creativity in the Australian context is not only located in subject specific curriculum but also with the inclusion of critical and creative thinking as a general capability of the Australian Curriculum.

This paper highlights four case studies from a one-week immersive experimental learning experience with students from early childhood through to Year 6 in which critical and creative thinking were used to explore environmental and sustainability issues. The project themes related to global food supplies, recycling waste, water filtration, and understanding ecosystems. The stakeholders worked to create conducive learning environments to develop 21st century skills in collaboration, critical thinking, problem posing and problem solving. The aim of this week-long series of multidisciplinary, inquiry-based learning programmes was to empower the participating students to be active change-makers in a rapidly evolving world.

This paper reflects on the pedagogical approaches the school community used to break away from their conventional siloed teaching practices and create engaging inter-age social and physical learning spaces. The key stakeholders believed that this would provide for quality learning that would challenge the current framework and broaden perceptions on what is possible and how “I can make a difference”.

A descriptive and comparative case study approach examined how educators can create different context-driven environments to engage students in critical and creative thinking. A variety of data were collected, including pre and post teacher surveys, parent surveys, blogs, archival materials (videos, photographs, emails, maps, planning notes, etc), reflective focus group discussions and interviews. Analysis and coding were done thematically with a particular focus on identifying the kinds of self-directed, embodied, experiential and collaborative learning that were observed.

The researchers discuss how the attributes of the environments and student centred pedagogical methodologies in each case study triggered a variety of thinking processes that re-ignited the students’ curiosity. The co-constructed environments enabled students to re-think serious global challenges playfully, building their motivation and engagement, openness to new ideas, willingness to take risks and to look at issues from multiple perspectives enabling them to re-imagine new ways of living in the Anthropocene.