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The colour of velvet: A transdisciplinary approach to connecting students from a refugee background to the natural world.

What pedagogical strategies support students from a refugee background connecting to the natural world? What would these strategies look like for fifteen students participating in a language intensive New Arrivals Program (NAP)? These questions were the focus of a small collaborative project set up to investigate the impact of pedagogical initiatives on building educational and cultural connections, and enhancing educational achievement in science in refugee students. This article focuses on the events and outcomes of an interdisciplinary unit of work based around a newly established school garden. Science, mathematics, English and visual arts are the key learning areas covered. The study involves one classroom of students, one English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, one gardener, a volunteer community artist and three science and mathematics teacher education academics.


A small internal university grant was received to investigate the classroom practices of primary teachers who work with students with a refugee background. These investigations were centred on exploring topics such as: the ways that hip-hop programs promote connections to schooling, the ways students engage creatively with digital technology, and how students can be supported to develop connections to the natural world. This paper reports on the third topic: connecting students to the natural world. The students who participated in this study face the cultural, social and academic challenges and demands of adapting to Australian contexts. This project attended to and sought to explore practices that could support these students to develop a connection to place and a sense of cultural belonging. Hence, teachers were invited to voluntarily and collaboratively work with the researchers and a community artist to develop a program of work focusing on science and mathematics as a connector to the natural world, for us to document the rich experiences, and to make this available for our pre-service educators (PSTs) and early career teachers. The topic on which the interdisciplinary unit of work was based was 'fruits and vegetables that the students eat, both from Australia and from their home countries'. The project adopted a case study approach that could develop with the project rather than statically structure the project.


The focus school, which is the study site for this paper, is located in the western region of Adelaide and has a current population of 322 students. Of this population, 234 of the students come from non-English speaking backgrounds, covering 45 nationalities, 34 languages and even more dialects. Two-thirds of the student body is made up of mainstream students, with the other third enrolled in the New Arrivals Program (NAP). The purpose of the NAP is to develop the students' language skills to a level where they can join a mainstream class. This usually takes one year to accomplish and can see children entering and exiting the class continuously throughout the year. Whilst the school serves the local community, these students often live outside of these boundaries, travelling from other suburbs to join the program. The focus class participating in this study originally comprised 16 Year 4 'new arrival' students. These students had been in this class for varying amounts of time, resulting in some of the students gaining sufficient language skills to exit the class midway through the project; hence, only ten of the original cohort were involved for the duration of the project. Of these ten students, there were six girls and four boys who originated from six different countries: Kuwait, The Philippines, India, Iran, Pakistan and Ghana. The students are classified as Year 4 based on their age or where they had exited schooling from their country of origin, however, it is important to note that many would have experienced various levels of interrupted schooling.

Students enrolled in the NAP face enormous challenges in developing their English literacy and adapting to their new cultural and social norms/situations. Connecting to the experiences they bring from their diverse background, and providing opportunities to scaffold vocabulary learning, were two key elements of this project. Such a focus is encouraged by Gonzalez and Moll (2002) who note that, in order to make the science and mathematics meaningful, the subject specific concepts and processes must be connected to students' "lifeworlds" and to their ideas through funds of knowledge.

The students in this case study have experienced interrupted or very little schooling and one of the main hurdles to their successful integration into mainstream education is language. According to Miller (2009) and Creagh (2016), time spent in refugee camps often results in many having little or no literacy in any language. Therefore, providing learning experiences that are tactile and involve common, everyday objects (handling local fruit and vegetables), creative (observational drawing) and connect to a place in the school grounds (see Figure 1) can encourage the development of specific vocabulary and make connections to both written and oral language. Place-based education, described as authentic education, is a key feature of critical pedagogy that has always been rooted in place and tradition (Sterling 2004). Its primary value is the way in which it serves to strengthen children's connections to others and to the 'place' in which they live as it extends beyond the classroom curriculum (Woodhouse & Knapp 2000; Smith 2002; Tytler, Barraza & Paige, 2013; Ormond 2015) making for an appropriate starting point in terms of pedagogical approach. This thinking is not new, in fact it has been around for more than a century. John Dewey (Louv, 2008) advocated the immersion of students in their local environment as it offers a multitude of facets for education and connection to its literacy, artistic and scientific sides.


Real-world learning has a demonstrated capacity to increase, and maintain, student achievement in the languages, science, arts and mathematics as well as for developing skills in problem-solving, decision-making and critical thinking. The 2002 State Education and Environmental roundtable report, "Closing the Gap between Research and Practice: Foundations for the acquisition of literacy" (de Lemos, 2002), showed substantial increases in achievement in all the above areas by students involved in environmental education settings. Student interests and concerns are quite often connected to aspects of science and mathematics and in these situations science and mathematics can be drawn upon to help come to a better understanding of the interests or concerns and their resolution. In addition to real-world learning, a transdisciplinary approach was adopted because such approaches not only deal with real-world topics and generate knowledge addressing societal problems but also contribute to their solutions (Balsiger, 2004). In this case, the issue was scaffolding scientific vocabulary around the garden, common fruit and vegetables, life cycle stages of plants and caring for plants in the garden.

Implementing pedagogy in a socially critical way requires taking a non-deficit approach including: valuing the knowledge and experience that students bring (Comber & Kamler, 2004), and adopting socially critical contextual learning practices (Lingard & McGregor, 2014). This approach has the potential to engage students, increase attendance and provide them with the skills and knowledge to participate in daily life (Smyth & Wrigley, 2014). An American Institute of Research report showed that using this approach with 'at risk' primary students also has the capacity to elevate the levels of self-esteem, problem-solving skills and a motivation to learn (Louv, 2008). Finally, a numeracy perspective was also embedded, where mathematics was used as a lens to make sense of the environment, thus providing the students a relevant context for using and choosing mathematics, e.g., using estimation and then standard units of measurement to measure the daily growth of a bean plant. Educational experiences that were built into this project include the three-month focus on the garden starting with an initial survey, which was centred on valuing and building on the students' prior experiences. These experiences occurred with the artist, gardener and teacher providing rich opportunity for dialogue, and encouraged a connection to 'place' through spending time in the garden watering their plants at recess and lunch.

Links to the Australian Curriculum

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) reached an agreement in 2008 to have a unified Australian Curriculum across all six states and the two territories (Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority, 2015). The curriculum incorporates three key components that must be addressed in the learning and teaching programs; eight Curriculum Areas, seven General Capabilities and three Cross-Curriculum Priorities. This project aligned with all three components. Firstly, in terms of the curriculum learning area, science, the project focused on the three science strands: Science Understanding, Science as Human Endeavour, and Science Inquiry Skills. In this project, Science Understanding was primarily based on the biological science sub-strand, with a focus on the key ideas about living things. The emphasis was on germinating seeds, life cycles of plants, and physical conditions for growing plants. Science as Human Endeavour also featured, in that the students were also involved in learning experiences that included taking science outside of the classroom to transplant the seeds from a cup to a garden. The Science Inquiry Skills incorporated in this project include the key skills of observational drawings, collecting data about plant growth and communicating findings.

The mathematics embedded throughout the project encompassed all three of the mathematics curriculum sub-strands; Number and Algebra, Measurement and Geometry, and Statistics and Probability. The embedded mathematical concepts included classifying and sorting by attribute, measurement, authentic collecting and recording, and comparing and representing data. The mathematical tasks in the project also integrated three of the four proficiencies; Understanding (making connections, comparing and contrasting, and communicating their understanding), Fluency (choosing methods of data recording, using mathematical terminology and completing regular updates of measurements and recorded data), and Reasoning (justifying their comparisons and decisions and explaining their hypothesis for various observations and predictions) (ACARA, 2016).

Four of the seven General Capabilities components were also addressed. The seven General Capabilities include: literacy, numeracy, ICT competence, critical and creative thinking, ethical behaviour, personal and social competence, and intercultural understanding. Those most relevant to this project include: critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, literacy (oral) and numeracy. In fact, the project also aligns with four of the six key ideas of the Numeracy continuum: recognising and using patterns and relationships, using spatial reasoning, interpreting statistical information and using measurement (ACARA, 2016).

Liljedahl (2015) argues that it is widely acknowledged that mathematics alone is not enough in developing numerate individuals, suggesting more contextualisation and interdisciplinary focused learning is required. This is further supported by Kissane (2012), who suggests teachers need to seek out and identify connections between numeracy and other subject areas, irrespective of whether such connections are explicit or required by the curriculum. Within this project, the focus on the school garden and the design of learning opportunities linking science, mathematics and art demonstrates how this might be done (Whitney, Sellar & Paige, 2004; Paige, Lloyd & Chartres, 2008; Paige, et al., 2012). For example, as the balance and focus among science, mathematics and art shifted throughout the project, so did the emphasis on the various sub-strands of the mathematics curriculum. Similarly, student data collection was a strong part of the initial phases of this project, as was measurement, but there was a shift towards algebraic thinking, pattern creation and recognition through the art task that focused on seed rangolis. (Rangoli is an art form from India in which geometric patterns are formed on the ground using foodstuffs such as rice, corn and grains.)

Case study method: What we did

The initial starting point was to identify and approach appropriate schools in the area that offer new arrival programs. Once this was completed, the research team had a meeting with all interested teachers in the identified case school. While several teachers chose to attend this meeting, and could see the merit in such a project, none of the teachers were willing to volunteer to participate in the project. However, following this meeting, the school's gardener was interested in getting involved as she wanted the new garden to be part of the project and hence she and one of the teachers she works closely with volunteered to participate. The identified case class consisted of 16 children from refugee backgrounds, who were in the second term of a one-year program. Following a series of meetings which began in April 2015, the research team along with the classroom teacher, the gardener and the community artists, devised a unit of work which integrated mathematics, science and art around the classroom focus of learning and development of English language. The vehicle chosen was a science unit of work relating to the life cycle of living things.

As previously noted, this project adopted a case study approach that could develop with the project rather than statically frame or structure the project. It uses a single case study methodology that provides an in-depth understanding of this case, providing rich detail that is anchored in the reality of those involved as suggested by Ary, Jacobs, Razavieh and Sorensen (2006). Hence, applying a qualitative approach to data collection enables the research team to better understand the experiences of those involved as well as extract meaning from the events as they happened within the natural world of the case. The study aims to identify the potential of an interdisciplinary unit of work to enrich the classroom environment and connect students from refuge backgrounds to the natural world around them. The questions guiding the research are:

* What pedagogical strategies support students from a refugee background to connect to the natural world?

* What would these experiences look like for sixteen students participating in a language-intensive, New Arrivals Program (NAP)?

* How can interdisciplinary planning cater for difference?

The sample of students was originally made up of a class group of 16 Year 4 students, their teacher and the school gardener. However, due to transitional changes typical of such a program, only 10 of the initial cohort of students participated throughout the three terms. An interdisciplinary unit of work was planned involving: the science of plants and mathematics of measurement, the art of observational drawing, and English vocabulary. The data collection involved an initial survey of the students, students' science work samples, their observational drawings, photographs of various stages of their progress and emails that the gardener sent to the research team documenting the classroom lessons. The student survey contained questions intended to gain a deeper insight into the students' country of origin, their household fruit and vegetables and their access to these. These questions included:

* What fruits and vegetables do you remember? Please make a list or draw these in the box below.

* Where did you and your family get the fruit and vegetables?

The teacher and gardener taught a series of science lessons focusing on growing seeds in containers and then transferring them to the garden to be cared for. Following this, the students worked with a local artist, who volunteered to provide explicit experiences focusing on observational drawing, constructing rangolis with seeds and constructing two-dimensional large images to install on the garden poles (see plain poles in Figure 1 above). All these experiences, summarised below, were intended to support language development and empower the students with an alternative means of expressing their knowledge. The final phase of data collection involved an interview with both the teacher and the gardener to better understand their perceptions of the journey and their experiences throughout.

Learning Experience Sequence

Part A: Using the senses to explore 'seeds'

The first step was to present the students with a box of mixed natural objects. A diverse variety of natural objects was deliberately chosen to challenge the students' thinking and ideas. Students were to work in small groups (four or five) to explore the contents of their box. This initial examination provided a stimulus rich with opportunities for discussion and encouraged students to talk about what they could see in the box. They were then asked to select one object and to share a sentence about it. According to the gardener, the children's natural curiosity encouraged them to ask questions, which were channelled back to them to try and answer, or to ask questions of others in their group. The children reported on a variety of the objects, with one child introducing the term 'natural', saying that the box was full of "some natural objects". This allowed for a conversation about the differences between man-made/not man-made objects, and provided an opportunity to listen to the use of the children's language and their understanding of the language thus enabling the teacher to reinforce new vocabulary.

The next task was to sort the objects into two groups: seeds and not seeds. During this activity, there was some heated discussion and disagreement amongst the students about which belonged where. This provided an opportunity to introduce the concept of a Venn diagram to accommodate a third group of objects--the ones that they couldn't decide whether they were seeds or not. The avocado seed was one example which created constructive argument amongst the students.

Following this task, each group had to report back to the class about their sorting decisions and had to justify their reasons for identifying some objects as seeds or not. These types of questions challenged the student's use of vocabulary to qualify their choices, hence providing further opportunity to reinforce new vocabulary. The children were then challenged to use their eyes to describe their seeds. This was aided by the use of magnifying glasses, stereoscopes and light scopes. The task generated a list of words that were later grouped and added to under the three headings of size, colours and texture, and shape, thus developing their bank of descriptive mathematical and scientific terminology. The idea of using the senses was continued and the children were encouraged to describe what the seeds felt like and what they tasted like (seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and snow peas).
We also made a big diary when we were growing, when we were drawing how
it [the plant] changes, and describing the changes using the words
provided, like root, shoot, soaked, unsoaked so the children had to use
specific vocabulary to record the changes observed (Teacher interview).

The experience was concluded by reading 'Seeds! Seeds! Seeds!' (Wallace, 2004), which considers which plants grow from what seed.

Part B: The science of growing: Connecting the classroom and the garden

The next step, beyond classifying and describing seeds, was to conduct investigations on conditions for growing seeds. The students conducted a series of experiments on different indoor and outdoor growing conditions, made initial predictions, carried out ongoing measurements and recorded their daily observations. They wrote text about germination or parts of the plants and these tasks were integrated in a series of scientific, mathematics and art-based learning experiences. One investigation explored the impact of soaking seeds overnight before planting.
So when we put them in the cup, the two that were soaked, or the two
that weren't soaked, we put a blue dot outside on the cup so they could
see the ones that had been soaked and those that hadn't (Gardener

The teacher also commented about the use of language.
And they were really using that, in the observations they always say,
"Oh look at my un-soaked, my un-soaked didn't do... Oh, my un-soaked
grew roots quicker than soaked", because someone's soaked was watered
too generously (Teacher interview).

Throughout the tasks, the students were challenged to record their collected data, to discuss and explain their predictions and to compare these predictions with their observed findings. These discussions offered opportunity for language-rich discussions, for elaborating on new vocabulary and for reinforcing mathematical and scientific understanding and reasoning.
Whenever they saw me in the yard they'd always come running up and tell
me what was happening with their seed. Are we doing this, are we doing
that? So they were really actively involved... and excited (Gardener

This element of the unit of work oversaw the transfer of learning from the classroom to the garden. Following their indoor experiments with growing seeds, the students then transferred them into the garden.
We'd look at the ones in their cup here and then go out to the garden
and compare and there was a lot of interest in how the leaves were
unfurling at different rates, and of course they couldn't see the roots
in the garden beans but they could see them here, and we talked about
[how] this would be happening under the ground the same as it's
happening in the cup (Gardener interview).

They continued to observe the plants during recess and lunch time. While this was a scientific experience, the place-based learning experience provided the students with greater connection to the garden and hence their involvement in the garden's maintenance also developed with many students volunteering their break times to help with gardening and watering.

Part C: Using art as a medium for representation and discussion

Following the class discussion about seeds as a food source and in conjunction with germinating broad beans, an observational drawing lesson was undertaken under the guidance of a local volunteer, community artist John Whitney. Seeds and nuts from indigenous plants e.g., banksia, hakea, eucalyptus were drawn using black felt pens. This encouraged the students to see the individual components and to find words to describe them as they accurately represented them on paper. The next learning experience focused on observational drawings of all kinds of fruits and vegetables using different drawing medium such as felt pen, bamboo-made pen and ink, and charcoal (see Figure 5). Each table had a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables arranged as a 'still life'. The student conversations focused on the relevant fruit and vegetables in the still life arrangements, and connecting them with those fruit and vegetables they ate in their country of origin. These drawings were then made into a large book and left with the students and teacher to refer to.
I was definitely surprised how confident the children were to try to
draw all those different amazing variety of fruit and vegetables John
has provided, most of them they haven't even seen, and they were so
confident to try different media to sketch them, where before some of
them were very reluctant to draw, in some cultures they do very little
drawings... (Teacher interview).

The third art learning experience involved using a wide variety of seeds and nuts to create rangolis (see Figure 6). The basic design/pattern is drawn on the card first then the seeds are glued onto cardboard to create the overall design. The seed rangolis are based on the concept of Indian religious offerings which are created for the gods outside their houses on a daily basis. This learning experience gave the Indian students in the group an opportunity to share their knowledge of rangoli with their peers and it also opened discussion about pattern creation and recognition.

One of the intentions of the project was for the students' art to become a central part of the garden design. Hence, the artist selected a piece of fruit or vegetable from each student's work (from their original line drawings) and then copied them to shapes made of newsprint approximately 60 cm in size. He then traced this onto marine ply, cut out the shapes, sanded down each board and painted them with an undercoat. This led to the final art-based learning experience in which the students were given the enlarged shapes created from their own sketches and were asked to share the colours and features of the fruit or vegetable and then paint them. One African student described his aubergine as "the colour of velvet" (Figure 7). The cut-outs were then attached to the metal poles within the school's vegetable garden to both identify what was grown, to brighten up the garden and to highlight the students' connection with the garden. This provided a positive and practical contribution to the garden, designed and painted by the students, which will remain for coming years.


The following elements take account of what each group of participants (teacher and gardener and students) took away from their involvement in the project. This section is organised around the outcomes from the project. The first part discusses the findings of the initial survey, whilst the remaining three parts discuss the learning outcomes of the students and teachers participating in the project.

Initial survey

Ten students responded to the survey, which aimed to find out about what students ate and where they sourced their food. What was most interesting, but in hindsight not surprising, was that, whilst we gave them an opportunity to write or draw, most students chose to draw. Common images of fruit and vegetables that they could remember included vegetables such as carrots, peas, onions, lettuces, potatoes, eggplants and fruit such as rambutans, sabas, tomatoes, oranges and apples. There were a range of places where fresh fruit and vegetables were sourced including markets, shops, gardens and palengke (1). They mentioned that they grew eggplants, tulasi (2), wheat, alansa (3), carrots, apples, oranges and tomatoes. Where they were asked to draw 'a plant that reminds you of your origin' we received wonderful drawings of santol (4) and atis (5), a mango tree, coconuts, wheat, ful and tulasi. The findings from this survey were used as starting and discussion points for both English vocabulary learning and observational art lessons and thus provided connections to the students' backgrounds.

What did the students learn?

During the final interview, the teacher and gardener were able to identify key science concepts that the students learnt: splitting seeds for roots and shoots to emerge, plants needing air, sun and water and using fertiliser such as Seasol[TM] to promote growth.
They picked up on, like the splitting of the seed, that was something
that they had no idea happened, and even in their drawings they drew
the seed, so the front, and then the back part, and I asked the person
who drew it to describe what they'd done because I couldn't quite make
it out, but he had quite specifically drawn a splitting of the seed,
and it showed really well, and a lot of them didn't realise that the
seed would split in the roots and the shoot would come out of that, and
they highlighted that, and when they talked about what did they learn,
That seeds split when the plant grows. They talked about the needs of
plants, so air, sun and water... You can give plants more extra food to
grow better, some extra food to grow better, because we fed them with
some Seasol[TM] in the garden, the beans, once they started to grow
(Gardener interview).

The students learnt to use their powers of observation and understanding to draw conclusions relating to plant growth. Even though they had been told that plants needed sunlight, they needed to actually experience why the sunlight was so important to really make sense of that information.
In the garden plants grow quicker because of the sunlight. They came up
with the idea that because they were on the windowsill here they get
light but not so much actual sun and warmth, whereas in the garden they
were getting the warmth and sunlight, so they deduced from that that
they grew better in the garden because of that (Gardener interview).

The students also learnt the value of working cooperatively in groups and were given opportunities to work on their social skills.
When they were working in groups, and especially the discussions, can
have very loud disagreements... and how we worked around that and got
them to talk about the differences (Gardener interview).

In the final session, when the children were asked "What did you like the best?" the replies, below, were indicative of how very rich the learning experience had been for the students.

* Planting seeds in the garden.

* When the leaves unfolded in the cup ... just growing up really tight and then unfolding.

* Having the chance to grow things in the garden as well as in the cup.

* Tasting sunflower seeds.

* Doing different jobs in the garden, growing our own seeds, feeding the chickens with the seeds we grew, so the pea seeds. We gave it to the chickens and yep, they really enjoyed doing that.

* Planting the seedlings, really, really super-duper.

What did the teacher learn?

The teacher felt that the experience created opportunities for these students to fill in the gaps in their knowledge that may have been created due to their prior circumstances, such as an interrupted schooling or disrupted living conditions. She also noted that the use of the natural world provided valuable experiences that can be taken for granted, such as actually being able to grow things and watch them flourish and that it was these unexpected instances that provided the most impact on the children.
The things that they were excited [about] and highlighted were
different. They were just normal things that we didn't think were
special (Teacher interview).

The teacher also had a discussion with the students about whether seeds were dead or alive, however, despite her best efforts she was unable to convince them that seeds were living. She noted that they agreed that:
the seedling was changing size and other things... but they still
claimed that the seed is dead (Teacher interview).

The teacher also discussed how being part of a collaborative project with the gardener and artist resulted in a learning experience that had more depth and breadth to support students' learning. The expertise and resources provided by each person provided a complementary dimension to each contribution.
I also loved the lesson when you [the gardener] brought various herbs
and they had a chance to collect six. That was something that I would
never had done because I don't have herbs like you (Teacher interview).

The teacher did, however, note that the project did involve extra work and she was not sure what it would entail or what the outcomes would be at the onset but she took the risk and would do so again. Involving the teacher as a researcher and being involved in this small-scale research project has had a positive impact on both students and teacher. The teacher acknowledged in the final session that she and her students had all really benefited from volunteering for the project. It had been driven by good pedagogy that benefited teaching.


Given the nature of this project, and the period of time over which it was conducted, it was not surprising that the project impacted on the different participants in different ways. In summary, this project highlights how using the natural world as a medium can enrich and enhance the learning opportunities for all children and in this case, refugee children. It provided the students with the support and opportunities they needed to enhance their use of language, the curiosity to raise questions and seek answers and concrete materials to underpin their scientific and mathematical understanding. It offered opportunity to implement structured scaffolds to support their language development and created a pathway from their previous experiences, allowing them to make strong connections to their new environment. The incorporation of community members, and the wide variety of resources available, enhanced the teaching and learning environment, while the authenticity of the learning connected the students to their local place with a scientific and mathematical bond. Connecting to place also helped to reduce behavioural issues, increase attention, involvement and achievement and create opportunities to work collaboratively and develop social skills.

Through widening the circle of people involved in the project, the students were provided with an expanded and complementary pool of resources, not always readily available within the school. Community members brought with them a wealth of experience to complement and support the expertise of the classroom teacher. Developing the students' connection to the community and expanding their interaction with others from beyond the confines of the school gate should be a vital component for the education of refugee children. For most non-refugee background children, their identity and connection to community is reinforced by parental support and connections, and is largely built on their innate sense of belonging. However, many of the students involved in this study do not have the same opportunities for parental involvement, due to language barriers and the limitations of access to the school for the parents. It is apparent that the students experienced a tangible connection to the garden and a commitment to its wellbeing through their association with the gardener and the artist. The wealth of expertise in the community contributed to the inspiration of learning, developed relationships and left permanent artwork in the school garden to be admired. The legacy to the school community that they created in their artwork is a highly visible and enduring reminder of their contribution to the school community.

The garden was an excellent context for an interdisciplinary unit incorporating science, mathematics, the arts and language (Paige, Lloyd & Chartres, 2008). It not only provided the students with a vehicle for the acquisition of foundational knowledge of the science concepts being addressed, but created opportunities to integrate their ideas across a diversity of disciplines. An interdisciplinary approach provided a framework, and the time, to encourage them to naturally apply their knowledge in a variety of meaningful contexts. They were able to explore, relate and communicate their understanding of the scientific concepts and their findings from scientific, mathematical, language and art perspectives.

This research project is part of a multi-layered project that was an investigation of pedagogies in action for refugee children across a number of learning areas. One aspect of this project that is common across all aspects of the larger project was the difficulty the research team had in recruiting participants. The initial task of finding schools that were interested in the project was an easier task than finding teachers willing to participate within the schools. However, the discussion below shows how participation in small-scale targeted research is not only achievable and possible but also results in numerous positive outcomes, many of which were not predetermined, for all involved.

This aspect of the project was small scale--carried out in one school with one teacher, one gardener, one volunteer community artist, three academics, and most importantly, one class of refugee background children involved in a New Arrivals Program. However, it provides an Australian context for the American 2002 State Education and Environmental Roundtable report, which suggests that there are substantial increases in achievement in literacy by students involved in environmental education settings (de Lemos, 2002). As our project developed and evolved, so too did the impact it had on participants in the project. The teacher could see the productivity and depth that an interdisciplinary approach, using the natural world, brought to the learning experiences for her students and gained knowledge to inform her future classroom practice. The gardener, could see the positive outcomes her collaboration, expertise, resources and enthusiasm contributed to the project. Through her, the children really found a sense of belonging and connection to the garden and developed their views of self. The community artist was rewarded by the children's delight in his presence and the confidence that he inspired in each of them to create their enduring artworks that have left a permanent legacy to their school community. Through him, cultural barriers were traversed and connections strengthened.

Through the academics' ability to facilitate this project and to support the participants along the way, they were able to provide direction and guidance, and as such had an opportunity to document the findings. It is generally known from media coverage in the present and recent past that issues and policies around migration and refugees both nationally and internationally are complex and political. We know that schools catering for students with refugee backgrounds are at the forefront of these challenges and what this project has done has provided something hopeful for these students. Academic papers expound the benefits from a pedagogical aspect as well as from the social perspective of increasing cooperation skills, developing self-esteem and promoting an intrinsic motivation to learn. To see all these qualities being put into practice and brought to life in this project, together with the positive outcomes attained for the students, has deepened our commitment to continuing to model and include this approach when working with pre-service teachers.

1 A palengke is a type of public market (common throughout the Philippines) usually composed of several dozen stalls arranged in rows under a shared roof. [Source:, accessed 21 March 2016]

2 Tulasi, also spelled thulasi [Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as Ocimum sanctum) is an aromatic plant in the family Lamiaceae, which is native to the Indian subcontinent and widespread as a cultivated plant throughout the Southeast Asian tropics. It is also known as holy basil. [Source:, accessed 21 March 2016]

3 Alansa, also spelled alasa or adasma, (Chrysophyllum albidum) is spherical in shape and about three centimetres in diameter with either 4, 5 or 6 seeds. It is also known as the African star apple because a cross-section cut reveals a star-like shape in the inner portion of the fruit and its deep orange to red fruit are spherical in shape like an apple. [Source:, accessed 21 March 2016]

4 Santol (Sandoricum koetjape) is a tropical fruit grown in Southeast Asia also known as cotton fruit. [Source:, accessed 21 March 2016]

5 Atis (fruit of Annona squamosal) is a native of the tropical Americas and West Indies. It is also known as sugar apple or custard apple [Source:, accessed 21 March 2016]


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Leni Brown is a lecturer for the School of Education at the University of South Australia.

Dr Lisa O'Keeffe is a lecturer in mathematics education for the School of Education at the University of South Australia.

Associate Professor Kathryn Paige is Acting Associate Head of School (Research) for the School of Education at the University of South Australia.
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Author:Brown, Leni; O'Keeffe, Lisa; Paige, Kathryn
Publication:Teaching Science
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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