Embodying the Middle School Philosophy in a Geography and Civics Class

Canberra Trip Banner

Mrs Suzanne Carty has taught Middle school Humanities for the past 30 years and watched with keen interest as the philosophical ideas of Middle school transformed into a practical teaching paradigm. What has remained throughout these decades, however, is the pressure for time in an assessment-driven and crowded curriculum that can leave social and life skills unexplored.

It came, then, like a breath of fresh air, when Suzanne and her enthusiastic year 7 class at St Luke’s Anglican School in Bundaberg, created a Geography and Civics project that was steeped in Middle school ideology. The enthusiasm and energy from her students remained high throughout what was often in the past, a stolid unit.

St Luke’s Head of Senior School Robyn Deer asked Suzanne Carty about the new and various ways she found to engage the social, emotional and metacognitive dimensions of her students.

  • What was the project, and what did you hope to achieve?

The Geography and Civics Unit was titled, Why people choose to live where they do.

The class was asked to conduct a geographical inquiry into why people choose to live where they do. First, each student had to choose a town, city or region to study, then as a class, they were to study the design of our Nation’s Capital as a preface to an excursion to Canberra.

With the Middle school paradigm in mind, I designed this project with a focus to engage all students and keep them motivated about their own learning in a way that achieved a positive outcome and continue to increase their independence. This project was able to cater for all students in their preferred learning style and level of ability.

  • There are obviously multiple steps that you took in studying this unit. What were they?
  • Did you add any elements that tethered this project to our current government?
  • Tell us about the Canberra trip?
  • Did your students respond to this unit differently compared to previous years when you taught it in a classical way?
  • It looks like the way you applied the Middle school teaching ethos to this Unit was an all-round success?

Firstly, students chose a town, city or region within Australia to study. Year 7 students used Street View to conduct a Street Survey for the purpose of identifying environmental quality. They also used Google Maps to identify city design, then created a climate graph of their chosen area and compared it to their home town of Bundaberg, Queensland.

Secondly, we studied of the City of Canberra as a class. Students studied the wheel-and-spoke design of the city. They collected information about the infrastructure, people’s access to services, and explored media and statistics to establish the safety and stability of the area.When students had conducted their own inquiry we had some fun and tied up some loose ends.

Our third task was to design a Most Livable City. Students were placed into random groups to design their city that was livable. Their challenge was to pitch the designed city to the class, their presentation was graded according to objective and subjective criteria: climate, environmental quality, infrastructure, safety and stability and access to services. The Most Livable City Award was a highly contested accolade!

Fourthly, a Government needed to be created for the winning city. Students made decisions using preferential voting techniques. Their model was based on the two-house system in Canberra.

We transformed our classroom into the House of Representatives and students role-played moving bills through Parliament. Students received job descriptions when they entered the room and sat in an area assigned to their role. Added skills practiced for this role-play included following a script and the art of debate.

Bundaberg’s local Federal representative, Keith Pitt MP, came to talk to the students before they embarked on their excursion to Canberra. His visit occurred the weekend before our last Federal election. Keith was honest and answered the student’s questions frankly.

Canberra’s excursion included stops at The Electoral Education Office, Old and new Parliament House. Students toured embassies and high commissions, as well as much of what Canberra has to offer: the National Gallery, National Museum, Questacon, The National Dinosaur Museum, Cockington Green Gardens, St John’s Schoolhouse Museum, the Mint and a day at Perisher.

What stood out to me was, at all times the students were self-driven and excited to plan where they would go next with their venture. Teachers and Tour Leaders were impressed by their interaction with presenters and educators. Students demonstrated that their retained knowledge from the hands on, interactive approach, had fully integrated into their personhood.

It is like I have made a full circle. Integrating Curriculum and creating student driven, independent tasks is so satisfying. The excitement, creativeness and laughter was refreshing.

Mrs Suzanne Carty

Middle School Teacher