Arts in education isn’t monkey business

A partnership between Flinders University and Adelaide Zoo is giving third-year student teachers a unique perspective on the value of the arts in education.

The compulsory Expressive Arts topic in the Bachelor of Education (Primary R-7) course this year aligns the new Australian Curriculum’s cross-curricular priorities (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Histories and Cultures, Asia and sustainability) with the Zoo’s own conservation messages.

With a focus on these themes, the 180 pre-service teachers developed 10 minute performances – creating their own costumes, songs, scripts and sets – and presented them at the Zoo in ensembles of 10 to over 600 students from metropolitan and regional primary schools.

The student teachers then paired off to reinforce the educational message of the performance to small groups of school children in arts-based workshops.

Dr Amy Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in Visual Arts and Arts Education in the School of Education, who has been involved in developing the national curriculum, said the requirement for primary school teachers to include drama, music, dance, visual arts and media arts can present timetabling pressures.

“It’s really hard to fit all five areas in, so integration is the key,” Dr Hamilton said.

“Since we created this topic, we’ve come to realise that for student teachers to believe in the value of the arts, they actually have to do it. Our focus is on hands-on activities,” she said.

“The partnership with Adelaide Zoo encourages students to integrate the arts and the cross-curricular priorities into their lessons without compromising the deep learning possibilities in both areas.

“They just do it and realise how easy and exciting it is.”

Mr Jonathan Noble, Department for Education and Child Development Education Manager at Adelaide Zoo, said the immediate feedback from teachers about the program was positive, especially in relation to the combination of performance and workshop.

“Some of the teachers noted that a number of boys, who are usually disengaged in learning, participated in the drama, dance and music workshops,” Mr Noble said.

“Anecdotally it seemed that the students reacted positively to the youth and vibrancy of the pre-service teachers as well as the practical and active nature of their workshops,” he said.

The program will continue at the Adelaide Zoo next year, with the Art Gallery of South Australia expressing interest in a similar collaboration.

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