The power of creativity in the classroom

Published 22 September 2021
‘ZELDA’ from the NORPA production ‘The Underlibrary of Unofficial Histories ‘ZELDA’ from the NORPA production ‘The Underlibrary of Unofficial Histories.’

Placements are a key part of many Southern Cross degrees; they're not only a chance to see what a job could look like after uni, but also to apply theory to real-world scenarios. As one student recently discovered, they can also be a lot of fun.  

Education Student Alice Tait
Southern Cross Education student Alice Tate

Southern Cross Education student Alice Tate worked with the renowned Northern Rivers theatre company NORPA, on a production for schools titled, ‘The Underlibrary of Unofficial Histories.’ Alice brought a particular focus to the project, thanks to her research on creativity in the classroom and how theatre can engage students with learning history.

The production partnered with the Diocese of Lismore Catholic Schools Office, in a showcase that was part-immersive theatre, part-game, and part-interactive research. Students and teachers from five Catholic primary schools across the region were treated to a theatrical Stage Two History syllabus spin, solving several mind-bending puzzles with main character ‘Zelda,’ on a hunt to find her brother and restart history.

Co-Creator, Director and Dramaturg of the production, Valley Lipcer, said Alice’s work, 'Historical Narrative through Immersive Theatre: The Benefits of Creative Pedagogies Used to Cultivate Authentic History Teaching’, was a significant contribution to the project.

“Alice’s research gave the project context in relation to the emerging fields of theatre in education and immersive theatre for young audiences,” said Valley.

A written piece from Alice was included in the comprehensive teachers notes that were sent to schools with the show and reiterated the connection between creativity and learning.  

“I think it's been a really successful project and a really great test of form and how we can move theatre out of the black box and into the real world, and reframe the child's world as a playful creative space where they are the main players,” said Valley.

While the NORPA production and its immersive student experience incorporated high-quality production elements, Alice says creative learning can occur at all levels.

“Whether it’s drama, art, movement, or just trying to reflect on something, that’s all still a creative process. Everything that we do, even writing, it’s still a creative process,” she said.

“In my experience of practical teaching, when you try and immerse the students in the content and encourage that creativity, that’s when they really get it and connect with it. Even if it’s maths, simply giving the kids permission to be creative, that’s when I’ve found that they learn best.”

Alice plans to graduate next year from Southern Cross University, and her student experiences have helped clarify her career goals to teach History and Drama.

“At the beginning of my degree I was aiming to teach Food Technology and Textiles, but now throughout my teaching experiences I’ve really found a passion for drama and history,” she said.

With a childhood background in drama and theatrics, teaching artistically for Alice feels somewhat natural. She offers advice to those who might feel out of their comfort zone teaching creativity.

“Watch them in the playground and watch how they interact. Get to know them on a personal level, their likes and dislikes, and how they learn. Then I think it'll come naturally to you,” she said.

Five Northern Rivers primary schools were lucky to experience the immersive history project in 2021, and NORPA hopes to reach additional schools later this year, COVID-19 permitting.

[Music] I have had the opportunity to partner and learn alongside NORPA in developing the UnderLibrary of Unofficial History [Music]. I'm from the Catholic Schools Office i brought along some friends from the Clarence Valley Council to do some investigations in your school. There's some kind of activity going on in your school that we need to find out more about [Applause] Saint Joseph's Mclean. The purpose of the project was to enhance the history syllabus through the art we don't know what's happening. One of the things that I've really loved is seeing the creativeness of the norpa team in bringing the kids and igniting their imagination into the world of story in history. Today we had Zelda turn up with an absolutely fabulous prop which was a box that she used to tell a story. I'm telling the story of Zelda and Albus who are twins who live in an old library but this is set far far in the future and a series of events take place but essentially my brother gets lost in time the head librarian was a man named Finch, and the head librarian, he's thrown Albus my brother into a bubble which is a time-travelling bubble so he's kind of lost in time and my job is to find him, but i can't do it on my own I need to elicit the help of the kids. I think he found a way to get this message to me from the past to the future from today to tomorrow. You see a book is a kind of time capsule we put ideas inside them and send them to the future and whenever someone opens it to read, well those ideas have traveled through time. Through that story, they've really engaged in historical inquiry, one story, one truth, and now we're all on the same page. It also helps their imaginations and that's really important and that critical thinking, imaginative thinking, the idea that we respond to things that we don't have. History doesn't happen to us, but we are engaged in the learning and we have that voice and choice and take part in the learning so i think it's an amazing opportunity. Albus loves puzzles and loves riddles and loves mysteries so he has set these various puzzles and code-breaking activities for the children and I to solve so that we can find Albus. [Reading letter] Dear Zelda, before you leave don't forget to take the postcards you'll need them to solve some of the puzzles I've left, Love Albus. Yeah there's been postcards and other artifacts i guess that have been mysteriously appearing in the classroom that the kids have absolutely loved they've come from the office, they've come from a postman delivery driver, they've appeared in kids books, every time there's a little bit more been added to the story and it's been quite a mind-blowing experience for the kids. They've been amazed by everything that's happening and trying to make connections and full of questions and theories [Music] and the kids looked at became historical detectives and they looked for all of the clues that they could find on the postcards. In the morning i would come in early and put them on the board and the kids would enter and go another one's arrived and you know - just the excitement was contagious it was amazing. [Music] having all the clues follow a sequence to lead them down the path of discovery was just it was very clever and i can tell like so much thought and effort and planning had gone into it and it just ran went beautifully and they solved a whole lot of clues and puzzles and on the back end of that they were able to help her in the premise of the story to get to find her brother. You're going to need a clue from D,E, and F to help locate the cocoons on the map in teams and groups. There's also another skill that you want to promote because collaboration is the key you know more the more brains together the more brain power you have it was a planned event, but it mimicked lots of skills that we want them to do in real life. They've actually engaged with the characters truly begging Zelda to go through time with her and to become part of the story with her or inviting her back into the classroom so that they can see whether the skills that they've employed throughout the show actually help to solve the problem that Zelda has. If you're listening to this that means you and your friends have solved the last of the puzzles that means you would have learned how to time travel and read my postcards and solved the timeline cards and made sense of all the clues. Look how smart you are! One of the really nice things about teaching this way is it really helps our kids to develop an empathetic understanding for someone else because they ask questions that they wouldn't normally ask when it's all taught in our flat recount mode, which is what our history syllabus says we shouldn't do, but we often do be a great launchpad for the kids into their writing in their creative arts, the drama side of things, and again the history with the research skills and investigating sort of events from time gone by and sequencing them in timelines and all that sorts of stuff [Music]. I think it's been a really successful project and a really great test of form and how we can bring theatre into schools and move theatre out of the box the black box and move it out into the real world and reframe the child's world as a playful, creative space where they're main players encourage our children to think differently to be creative and to use drama to help them understand their world and other worlds on every subject that you could possibly imagine [Music].


You can read more about ‘The Underlibrary of Unofficial Histories’ here.

Photo: Vanessa Kellas

Media contact: Media and content team content@scu.edu.au