Schools engage in online Indigenous learning experiences

Friday, 30 July, 2021

Schools engage in online Indigenous learning experiences

Lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions have not stopped City of Parramatta from providing learning opportunities to students in Sydney.

The council’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism team have delivered a range of educational excursions and incursions since 2015, but more recently have found ways to circumvent current social distancing requirements with a range of online learning opportunities.

City of Parramatta’s flagship program is the innovative Dharug Language, People and Culture Course, aimed at Stage 2 and Stage 3 primary school students, but meeting cross-curriculum requirements across many stages. Under ordinary circumstances, the course is launched with an active and engaging incursion or excursion, followed by six online video sessions presented by Dharug elders, and concludes with a live online Q&A session.

“This is a fabulous cultural experience. The program is professionally organised and delivered. The presenters are excellent and willing to share so much of their knowledge with students,” said Margaret Steed, a teacher at Artarmon Public School.

“I have struggled to find good resources to teach Indigenous perspectives, but this is an authentic experience that encourages true engagement with our First Nations people. Five stars out of five.”

The core of the program is the three online video sessions, which introduce various aspects of culture, including welcomes and smoking ceremonies; sustainable use of natural resources; the creation and use of traditional tools and aspects of both traditional and contemporary Dharug life. Each of these can be used either as a standalone lesson, or as a catalyst for further learning.

Three interactive cultural sessions enable children to learn a song in language, and then participate in both weaving and painting sessions, guided by Dharug elders.

To complete this engaging learning experience, students are then able to participate in an online Q&A session with the Dharug elders. The students prepare questions in advance and may choose to share their paintings and craft with the presenters, or sing the song they have learned. This event can be delivered via Zoom or other online tools.

Aunty Corina and Uncle Chris video introduction. Photo credit: Sasa Kennedy.

When COVID restrictions are not in place, guides from the team are also able to visit participating schools to present some Aboriginal games, which were traditionally used to teach children environmental appreciation and survival skills. They also offer an optional introductory Dharug language activity. Alternately schools may choose to bring children on an excursion to Lake Parramatta for an introductory lesson.

Making kangaroo tracks. Photo credit: Carol D'Amici.

Dharug language is included throughout the course and the children will learn a range of basic words as they participate. A resource pack includes a simple glossary of Dharug terms used in the program, and instructions for resourcing and preparing the interactive sessions.

Delivery is flexible and some schools may prefer the briefer Aboriginal Culture Online course, which includes just the three cultural videos and the online Q&A session.

For Stage 6 geography students, the popular Urban Dynamics excursion has also been reimagined as an online option. This lively and engaging presentation investigates current and future developments in the Parramatta CBD, including residential, economic, recreational and cultural developments.

Students learn about the major infrastructure programs which are underway to support these developments, the planning processes involved, the inevitable disruptions and the desired outcomes. Utilising an interactive web portal they will develop skills in collecting, analysing and communicating urban data.

The City of Parramatta team is currently working on a range of online resources to support existing excursions, including trivia quizzes and follow-up activities. While these are in development, the Parramatta Trivia Quiz, though not specifically syllabus-based, may be of interest to schools. This quiz is designed to be accessible for participants with either visual or hearing impairments.

It can be freely accessed at Parramatta Trivia Quiz | Parramatta History and Heritage and includes some topics which relate to the HSIE, science and geography syllabus strands. These include Early Days (HSIE), First Peoples (HSIE and Aboriginal Studies), Governors (history), It’s a Wild Life in the City (Science), Lie of the Land and Staying Connected (Geography), Waves of People (Migration) and World Heritage.

In addition, a series of short video biographies of significant people has been produced, which can be freely accessed at Parramatta People | Parramatta History and Heritage.

"[These are] fascinating short histories of Indigenous and non-indigenous people who played critical roles in the early colonising period within Parramatta and beyond. These can easily and effectively be embedded into a range of both primary and secondary teaching and learning programs,” said Rachel Powell, of James Ruse Agricultural High School.

The new education portal will be up and running within a month. In the meantime, for information on the range of educational programs on offer from the City of Parramatta Cultural Heritage and Tourism team, visit: Visitors Services Education Program_2021 by Russell Peek - issuu.

Image caption: Q&A session. Courtesy of Artarmon Public School.

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