Notes from the Education Team: A Trans-disciplinary Approach

‘As part of the Global Generation and Middlesex University Masters Programme, we have been asked to view our work in the context of the knowledge systems that surround us. This has led me to explore the roles of cross and trans-disciplinary education within my own work as Gardens and Community Facilitator,’ writes Emma Trueman. ‘The following paragraphs are extracts from some of my recent writing, which is laying the foundation for my research inquiry.’

In my first essay for the Masters programme, I described my work as cross-disciplinary, noting how it relates to or represents more than one branch of knowledge, as I often use one topic to bring in different disciplines into workshops. For example, when conducting the Paper Garden forest workshops, we begin with a story, which emotionally draws the children into the space. Then, we will watch a time lapse video of an acorn germination, and this opens conversations about soil creation and how plants talk to the sun and the gases in the air. We talk about how London has changed throughout an oak tree’s 1000 year life span. Using these routes to explore why plants are important, I try to foster a sense of greater connectivity with the world around us, and less human-centric views within the children. We then move on to looking closely at leaves and bark, and creating our own paper forest. I am always struck at the end of the workshops when the children respond to the question, “What did you enjoy about visiting the garden today?” with such mixed answers. The individuals each value such different parts of the workshop, and I have recorded this with excitement in a recent journal painting, which I keep as a way to explore experiences of my work.

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I created this painting shortly after a forest themed workshop. The orange circles are the children, and they are all shown to be feeding in their different ideas on what they enjoyed about the workshop. Journal entry, November 2018.

However, since writing my first assignment and reflecting upon what children seem to gain from these workshops, I have been exploring the concept of trans-disciplinary education. Michael Savage and Susan Drake’s 2016 paper on Living Trans-disciplinary Curriculum spoke to me in particular, and after reading their research gathered when defining their subject, I felt drawn to the inclusion of ‘mind, body, and emotions’ within the trans-disciplinary world.

I think back to the aims my colleagues and I set when co-designing workshops. By discussing the similarities of plant senses to our own, and the importance of oxygen not just for us, but for the whole of life on Earth, we certainly aim to foster empathy for plants and communities within the children. A year 4 child remarked recently, after learning about how the fungal network underneath our feet helps trees communicate with each other, “I think the trees are like us, they talk to each other, they help each other, and sometimes they are bad to each other.”

This brings us back to the moments when the children begin to create their own leaves for the growing of a paper forest. I tell the children in the Paper Garden to imagine that their paintbrush is standing on its tiptoes, that its toes can dance on the paper, leaving the slightest impression it was there. The paintbrush lengthens their body. It is an extension of their eye, their mind, and their own story. Each child creates a unique coloured pattern to represent the leaves they see before them. We are attempting to grow their confidence in their own ability and creativity.

I have begun to wonder if this approach to using story and art to create emotional connections, and drawing on the bodily similarities between plants and humans to stimulate empathy, is a form of the ‘emotion, mind, and body’ that Savage and Drake describe. I am itching to explore this further, and now feel that my work does not go quite far enough into the realm of trans-disciplinary education.

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Making the paper forest in the Paper Garden - embodying the paintbrush and the leaves with Year 4, November 2018.

As I continue with the planning and facilitating of workshops I will be thinking about the role of transdisciplinary education, and how we can explore the bridges between the curriculum disciplines even further. With the days now getting longer we will begin to explore diversity as new theme at the Paper Garden. I wonder what realms of story, making, connection, and gardening this will take us into.