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Sustainability education as incorporating creative methods of inquiry and representation

Many of the teachers in this study described methods of inquiry learning in which children of all ages design their own sustainability projects. In these projects children are authentically involved in the design of places such as gardens but they are also involved in the design of their own learning. The creativity involved in children designing their own learning generates creative methods through which this is enacted and represented, a feature that is further explored in the chapter 'Placemaking by design'. These creative methods include many different forms of creative expression, from landscape designs to written text, drawings and sculptures to film and digital expression. There is much verbal data in the transcripts of teacher interviews about creative methods in sustainability education, but we also collected a body of visual data in the form of 378 photographs of children's sustainability projects. The photographs capture images of children's sustainability learning as it was exhibited on school notice boards, on tables decorated with freshly grown and preserved foods, flowers and plants and in cook books of children's recipes. They portray a diverse range of creative art practices including painted murals and collages, a mosaic pizza oven with images of children around its base holding hands, homemade garden scarecrows, a mosaic sundial and sculptures of painted cows made out of recycled 44-gallon drums. These creative expressions are a significant and integral part of the ways that children and schools enacted their collective sustainability practices.

In this section we have chosen to focus on 'The Botanical Garden Walk' as an example of creative arts-based responses. This walk is located in grassy woodland habitat at Stratford Primary School, beginning behind the football oval and extending towards the back of the school ground boundary. Scattered throughout the woodlands are mature eucalyptus trees and younger saplings that rise upwards from a lush understory of native grasses. The base of the tree trunks is dark in colour but changes into lighter grey-brown from about a metre up their trunks. While many of the local birds inhabit the hollowed branches and solid trunks of the dead trees, others take up residence in the olive coloured nesting boxes attached high up onto the thick branches of older living trees.

A wide gravel pathway winds its way through the woodlands and is used as a fitness and nature trail by the students both in and out of class time. Dotted along the path are children's paintings of birds installed as one metre square boards mounted between two solid black wooden posts. They are staggered on each side of the trail at five metre intervals. Each of the twenty vividly coloured paintings represents a distinctive Australian native bird. Across the top of each painting is a black strip with the name of the bird, the names of the two children artists and their grade level in white print. We have selected three of these paintings by children aged between 8 and 11 years to describe in detail. The discipline of attending to these expressions of children's sustainability learning helps us to see through their eyes. Rather than just assuming that we have understood and dismissing them generally as painted birds on boards, we look at the intimate detail of colour and form, the naming of bird and child together, and the arrangement of the large paintings of birds along the walk that constructs a ritual avenue of attention to other forms of life within Australian habitats.

Two birds with yellow beaks, black heads, plump white bellies with hunched brown backs are the main feature of the Spur-Winged Plover painting. Each bird has skinny stick-like black legs with three little claws at the end that stand in light coloured yellow-green grass flecked with shades of darker green. The bigger of the two birds is foregrounded at the front of the image while the smaller one is at the back of the painting. Behind the birds are two large trees with thick forked trunks and markings of greys, browns and oranges. Above the trunks are open green canopies that meet the purple-blue background sky. A band of light-coloured yellow grass foregrounds the picture.

A purple-blue background frames the entire painting of the Scaly- Breasted Lorikeet. On the left hand side of the painting is a narrow strip of blue with a map of Australia and some markings on the map highlighting where the bird might be found. The bird's sideways profile takes up nearly the whole frame and is coloured bright green with three main stripes of blues and pinks that run below its throat, across to its back and wing. The bird has a small eye socket with pink in the middle and a large yellow opened beak. The top of the beak is long and curved with a sharp pointy end and the lower part of the beak is half its size. Against the darker blue background 'Scaly-Breasted Lorikeet' is written in a lighter shade of blue.

In The Spoonbill painting three different sized white-bodied birds with very long round-ended beaks sit against a light blue background. A wetland in the middle of the painting has patches of green with long yellow and purple clumps of grass that overlap an island-like shape. One bird with long grey legs is looking downwards to the grass; another smaller bird is nesting on the island and has its lower body hidden. The third larger bird on the left side is in full flight with wings outstretched; the outline of its body is painted white and the blue of the painting fills its main body. Its legs are long and black and trail beneath its body as it flies upwards. The word 'Spoonbill' is painted in light purple and red at the top of the painting.

Each of these paintings is a work of art with carefully chosen and designed colour, form and background. The form and colour of the birds is not incidental but is based on the bird's adaptation to its ways of living in its environment. Child, bird and the ecologies of place are linked through the act of painting. Through creating the intimate detail of colour and form for each of the painted birds, the children engage in aesthetic and bodily learning. Their sensory responses to the birds are opened in this process of intimate observation through which their eyes and hands transfer their relation to the bird and its habitat onto the board. The linking of bird name and child name on each of the painted boards reflects the connection that the children make through observing and absorbing a particular bird in enough detail to be able to represent its intimate characteristics, the size and form of its beak, the length and structure of its legs, wings and body shape. The bird paintings encompass the assortment of coloured grasses, trees, bush- land, water, sky and clouds that represent the children's ways of looking at and knowing the kinds of places they share with birds. Placed on the walk they assemble a walkway of ritual significance in their collective representation and placement. The walkway structures a larger relationship to the social ecologies of the bioregion of this school through the enactment of collective relations of children and birds.

The creative expressions represented in the artefacts of children's sustainability learning make evident how sustainability education is both produced by and is productive of the social ecologies of bioregions. Creative methods of inquiry learning enable children to be the designers of their learning and the creators of visual and multimodal productions. Child-led inquiry and methods of representation disrupt the certainties of taken for granted sustainability doctrines and open a space for the not-yet-known of these children's futures.

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