Year 6 Botanical Gardens trip shows value of creative teaching approach

On Tuesday 29th August 2017, Wellington’s year 6 pupils went on a historical hunt in the Shanghai Botanical Gardens, in order to discover what daily life in the heart of the region’s forests might have looked like over six thousand years ago. The trip was designed to support the pupils understanding of their studied text, Wolf Brother, an adventure novel by Michelle Paver.

“Actively exploring the forest and getting up close with nature really brought the ideas and themes of the book to life for us, helping us to get a much better understanding of what the woodlands would have been like before recorded history.” – Justin

Over the course of the day, the year 6 pupils were guided through a series of activities, each designed to allow them to actively explore the forest and gain a deeper understanding of their chosen text’s key themes and concepts. Firstly, they were tasked with fashioning prehistoric tools and clothing from the natural resources around them. This quite literally helped the pupils put themselves into the shoes of the book’s characters and see the forest from their perspective.

“Luckily, we didn’t actually have to hunt for deer hide, but instead we were given a garbage bag and were allowed to use whatever natural resources we could find and collect from the surrounding area. Leaves, rocks and wooden sticks all made their way into our collection, and we could only use string to tie our tools and clothing together, just like prehistoric hunter-gatherers would have done.” – Lucas

The following activity saw our intrepid explorers seeking out an ideal spot for their prehistoric clan to settle and build a community. The year 6s were encouraged to consider elements vital to their survival when picking their site: it needed shelter, security, access to fresh water and hunting grounds in order to be a suitable place to stake their clan’s future hopes. This experience took them out of their modern-day existence of easy convenience, placing them directly in the mindset of prehistoric humans focused only on survival.

“Given the ferocious heat of the day, so most of us decided that the clan should call the shady bamboo forest home. Certainly, this experience made us realise the hardship of prehistoric life without any air conditioning!” – Eva

Next, our survivors were tasked with bringing a little more colour and individuality to their respective clans. Each clan competed with the others to create the most fearsome war cry and the most exciting tribal dance. On the surface, this may seem like just a bit of fun; but the deeper message of the experience was to demonstrate the means by which the earliest forms of cultural identity were formed – an important concept for pupils who attend an international school which features an extremely diverse cultural background and student body.

For their final task, the pupils had to race against time to explore the forest and find one of their teachers, Mr Willis, who then read the second chapter of Wolf Brother to them. This brought the pupils full circle, ending the day with a chance to reflect on their activities, their enhanced learning opportunities and how they had impacted on the pupils’ understanding of the text.

Through this kind of excursion, Wellington aims to give its pupils access to entirely new learning environments and opportunities. By bringing subject materials to life in novel and exciting ways, it is our fervent belief that pupils will engage with their respective subjects with greater enthusiasm and curiosity for knowledge, ultimately leading to deeper levels of understanding and enjoyment.

“The trip was a fantastic start to the new academic year, as we were able to learn in a totally new and exciting place outside of the classroom, which brought the forest to life before our very eyes. Forming our own clans, making tools and clothing, building shelter and finding hunting grounds all helped us understand how different life was over six thousand years ago.” – Molly