We lit a fire…

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We’re overjoyed that a culture of ‘thinking about thinking’ has taken root at Heatherhill Primary School as a direct result of our Big Questions philosophy program. We’d expected that our eight-week program would ignite students’ curiosity about life’s big questions, but we didn’t dare hope for this kind of catalytic effect!

Teachers have been putting thinking front and centre, and it’s had a transformative impact on the whole school. Philosophy is now an established part of the school’s four-year strategic plan, with philosophical dialogue being incorporated into the mainstream Literacy curriculum.

We feel very privileged to be working with the remarkable teachers of this exceptional government school, a beacon of progressive thinking that is lighting a path for its students.

Throughout Term 1 this year, every student from Prep to Year 6 pursued a dedicated Inquiry unit focusing metacognitive questions. The students’ philosophical investigations culminated in a twilight ‘Festival of Thought’. The school was abuzz with activity for this very special event which attracted hundreds of kids, parents and citizens of the Springvale community.

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A diverse program of performances and interactive exhibits showcased the development of students’ thinking and creativity throughout the school term. Beneath twinkling fairy lights, the school grounds came to life with philosophical puppet theatre, lively ethical debates, dramatic role-plays and art installations, all reflecting the theme of ‘Thinking’.

Undeterred by stormy weather – and infected by the students’ enthusiasm – the community entered fully into the festival spirit. Visitors contributed their thoughts to a tower of ideas scrawled on woodblocks, perused students’ illustrated ‘Thinking Journals’, and pondered questions like “What makes a perfect person?”, “What would it be like to live without laws?” and “How do I know that I’m really free?”

Roving entertainment by students included puppet plays about moral values, a Chinese dragon that posed philosophical questions to passers-by, and provocative ‘thought bubbles’ that challenged viewers to reflect more deeply on the reasons for their opinions.

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The festival transformed casual observers into active participants, keen to share their ideas in words and pictures. Amid a hubbub of excited chatter, students guided their parents through the displays. Visitors were invited to explore philosophical origami and to wander through the Thought-Catcher, a human-scale cascade of weavings and ribbons modeled on a Native American dreamcatcher.

A wall of philosophical quotations displayed the insights of ancient philosophers (such as Aristotle’s “Excellence is not an act but a habit”) side-by-side with insights of the primary students (for instance, “Beauty is being true to yourself”). Another highlight was the unveiling of a striking mural, collaboratively designed and painted by students to represent the values of their school and community.

In a “literature circle”, students took on the personas of different characters in a story and explored a complex narrative from multiple perspectives. They demonstrated sophisticated skills in empathy, oral literacy and argumentation while exploring themes of animal rights, justice, crime, punishment and rehabilitation.

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A philosophical atmosphere permeated the event, from the formal classroom debates to the animated conversations around the barbecue stall. This whimsical and well-orchestrated festival vividly conveyed how important reflective thinking for us all, as individuals and as a society. It reminded us just how much we can achieve with a sense of wonder and a probing mind.

Nearly 2000 years ago, the ancient Greek essayist Plutarch wrote: “For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth.” We’re humbled to know that our work has lit a fire at Heatherhill, and we hope it will continue to burn brightly for many years to come.

 

The Philosophy Club runs co-curricular and extra-curricular workshops for children, and training for workshop facilitators. The Big Questions philosophy mentoring program is our flagship in-school program.

 

 

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