How I bring Australia Day into my classroom

Sarah Bedwell
Sarah Bedwell is, amongst many things, a teacher and unashamed geek when it comes to learning and technology. She is dedicated to improving professional learning and has run many events in order to allow other educators to do the same. She recently relocated back to Australia and is looking forward to a new career direction.

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So many of our schools and classrooms involve a multicultural mix of students and staff. Taking opportunities to include these cultures in lessons and other enrichment activities can help to teach tolerance and tackle prejudice. One way that I get to do that in my classroom, being an Aussie, is through the Australia Day Curriculum Olympics.

"I’m normally found wearing a cricket shirt, boardshorts and flipflops, with green and gold lips."

I’m really fortunate that I teach project-based cross-curricular learning with Year 7, and that I have no set curriculum to follow. We have both generic learning skills to focus on as well as subject-specific skills, but the thematic content is up to us to decide on, and that flexibility allows us to cover many varied topics.

For the past five years we’ve used the last week in January to celebrate Australia Day, which I think I’m very lucky to be able to do. Unfortunately it doesn’t include a barbecue and backyard cricket like it would back home, but teaching students about where I come from is a really fun and positive experience. They also get an opportunity to practice their accents and Aussie vocabulary, without it being an opportunity to poke fun at me!

"Our activities cover everything from Aussie literature to Australian animals, labelling a map, graphing the Ashes results, and a flip-flop throw."

The first clue that students get that they are doing the Curriculum Olympics is coming into a decorated classroom. Thanks to plenty of packages sent over to me by my mum (who sends me more things for my students than for me!), I have bunting, balloons, road signs, koalas etc. I also have a huge Australian flag that takes up one whole wall of the classroom, and a Boxing Kangaroo flag that I’ve taken to various sporting events over the years. They’re also welcomed into the classroom by several of us wearing various Aussie items - even though it’s January, I’m normally found wearing a cricket shirt, boardshorts and flipflops, with green and gold lips and an Aussie flag temporary tattoo or two on my face. It made for a memorable briefing with SLT one year when we had the dreaded Ofsted call and I didn’t have time to get changed before crossing the school to the deputy’s office…

We start the Curriculum Olympics by standing for the national anthem, and then we break students into teams. They choose an Australian-themed team name, and we then outline the tasks. There are twelve in total, covering English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, Design and Technology and PE. They cover everything from Aussie literature to Australian animals, labelling a map, graphing the Ashes results, and a flip-flop throw. We try to cover (and challenge) some of the stereotypes, as well as have them learn about the less commonly known aspects of Australia.

At the end of the week we have an awards ceremony and the winners of the Curriculum Olympics are crowned. A few times we’ve also celebrated with an Aussie morning tea, with Vegemite on crackers, ANZAC biscuits, mini pavlovas and lamingtons.

Students are always really engaged with this project, and are keen to complete as many of the activities as they can. They often remember the vocabulary in particular, and it’s entertaining to hear “G’day Miss, have a bonza day!” in a broad Lancashire accent as I walk through the corridors.

Do you celebrate Australia Day, or similar, in your school? Let us know in the comments.

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