Place-Making by Design
I remember making the trellis to grow the beans. There was three of us, me and two other friends, we got to do it ourselves.
We all got our bamboo sticks and we put them on the ground on top of each other and then tied them together and turned it into the right shape. Well we needed a bit of help because it was a bit hard, and then we put it up. We needed to get another three people to put it up. And now we've got plants that help them grow around the climbing beans.
(Josh, age 10)
Josh's trellis-building story comes from an outdoor lesson in a garden- ing/environmental education programme at The Patch Primary School in Victoria. Affectionately referred to by the children as 'enviro', the garden programme supports student learning through innovative inquiry and design oriented approaches that draw on interdisciplinary knowledge. As part of the 'learning by doing' model, students are encouraged to collect and apply knowledge in a range of gardening and environmental activities that occur predominantly in the school grounds. In the bamboo scenario students have been asked by their teacher to construct a trellis that will eventually support crops of summer vegetables such as climbing beans, snow peas and cucumbers that rely on physical structures to support their upward growth. Prior to its construction the teacher has shown the children how to join 1-2 metre long pieces of bamboo using the technique of Trapping' where twine is lashed across, around and under two pieces of bamboo. Once pieces of the bamboo are joined together the children build upon it to create a freestanding garden structure.
At the completion of the task the small group participates as part of a whole class discussion to share the thinking, ideas and challenges behind their trellis-building efforts. Although the finished product is important in terms of its capacity to support the weight of a climbing plant with eventual fruit, significant emphasis is given to how children approach the task through collaboration and the application of specific design principles to achieve an outcome. Comments from Josh and his group about the appropriate actions they took for their construction, and acknowledgement that 'we got to do it ourselves', are valuable for understanding how children interpret and undertake independent and creative learning in garden settings. In response to children's gardening efforts in working through diverse learning challenges related to science, mathematics and the like, their teacher Michelle Rayner tells them:
You've acted as an engineer would in this situation because they're always trying to come up with ways of constructing things that are safe. You've just put your science lab coat on doing that little test there. That's what scientists do, they find out with hard data, they make a hypothesis, they have an observation, they test it and then they find out whether they're right or wrong, and you've done that.
The trellis experience and the subsequent feedback from Michelle sit within a pedagogical framework that uses design to encourage children's participation in collaborative and interactive place-making activities in the school's newly initiated garden project and gardening programme. Just like the countless other learning activities that support children's designerly ways of thinking, the trellis activity encourages them to draw on personal, general, old and new ways of knowing as part of their garden learning. In response to the children's efforts Michelle emphasises the real life correlations between garden learning and the wider world.
Across the garden project activities, design literacies foreground teaching and learning by asking children to draw on their acquired habits, knowledge and skills through a continuous process of doing and reflecting; this involves
intensive work and taking distance, of naming and valuing, of questioning and answering, of diverging and converging, and of seeing what is and what could be there. It is a process of balancing between opening up possibilities, seeing new ways, analyzing, discovering alternatives, associating, encircling a subject and abstracting on the one hand and on the other hand reducing possibilities, testing, selecting, evaluating and making decisions.
(van Dooren, Boshuizen, van Merrienboer, Asselbergs, &
van Dorst, 2013, p.59)
Each of the design attributes acknowledged in van Dooren et al.'s definition is a key characteristic of the gardening pedagogies that inform and guide children's participation as co-designers in a new and extensive ecological school garden site. In this particular programme children are encouraged to use many elements of the design process as a way of envisaging the garden, constructing the garden and later through everyday garden learning and inhabitation. Complex and dynamic in nature, the design process as described above requires students to operate and learn through higher order thinking and learning that is far removed from right/wrong, teacher directed pedagogies. In this gardening context, uncertainty is everywhere, and the challenge for children is to work with that ambiguity.
While the burgeoning school garden movement gains international traction in primary school settings, little is known about the ways design pedagogies and principles are used to support and advance children's learning. Notwithstanding its emphasis on student consultation and collaboration, the concept of design and associated pedagogies tends to be an overlooked and under-utilised dimension in broader educational settings and in garden-based contexts. The focus of this chapter is concerned with the design principles and pedagogies that have been implemented in an innovative garden project and gardening programme at The Patch Primary School. Specifically, the chapter considers the design informed collaborations and pedagogies that frame the garden's evolution and children's participation in it.