Stories

Hidden Lessons

Learning with Lleah Smith and Nadia Odlum
Photography by Garry Trinh

Who do we learn with? Where do we learn? What do we learn with?

Hidden Lessons created in Sydney on Darug Land over six months, is the culmination of a student-led, pedagogical project that encourages learners to interrogate their own educational experience: who we learn with, where we learn, and what we learn with in the wake of Covid-19, incorporating objects of everyday life from the Powerhouse collection.

The students from Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta, took part in this project developed and led by Lleah Smith, Artistic Associate of Powerhouse and Nadia Odlum, Artist in Residence at Parramatta Artists Studios. Through collective knowledge generated in the sessions together learners created their own temporary ‘Museum of Hidden Lessons’ which honours a significant shift in educative practices and invites speculation on how learnings from the pandemic may inform future pedagogical models. This ‘museum’ sits alongside a display of Powerhouse collection objects explored through the project.

Image of students learning
Students from Our Lady of Mercy College with Lleah Smith
Arising from the collective knowledge generated in our sessions together, the learners created their own ‘Museum of Hidden Lessons’
Lleah Smith
Tent for learning
Canvas tent housing Hidden Lessons workshops

Housed in a temporary structure, a canvas tent, this museum was erected first on the grounds of Our Lady of Mercy College, and later at the Powerhouse Castle Hill, alongside a display of Powerhouse collection objects explored through the project. As ‘caretakers’ of the Museum, the project participants were encouraged to share the project with their peers and school community, by inviting them into the tent and engaging in reciprocal knowledge exchange rooted in dialogical and material practices.

Students participating in learning workshop
Students participating in learning workshop
Students from Our Lady of Mercy College participating in Hidden Lessons development workshops with Lleah Smith and Nadia Odlum. Photos: Garry Trinh

Five Initial Questions (Learners)

How do we question our perspectives on the history of education? Who is this history for? What is its purpose? How do we question the complexities of the lockdown narrative? How do we question why we think certain ways or are taught certain ways? How do we know that these ways are correct or most accurate? Am I the only one having a spiritual experience of this?

Five Shared Findings (Facilitators)

Acknowledging the classroom as artwork, and people as the material enables a complex reimagining of our spatial, relational, and societal dynamics. The needs of the human body must be met. Comfort is vital for effective learning. Snacks are essential! It takes time to empower learners to recognise their agency. Saying ‘you have control over this space’ is not the same as empowering learners to act on that statement. We can create endless versions of ‘flexible classrooms’ and ‘flexible furnitures’ but without the impetus to disrupt architectures, satiate the needs of diverse learners, relinquish control and welcome surprise – the efforts are redundant. Enabling dialogue to flow through the material (weaving) unlocks freedoms in negotiation, conversation and connectivity; resulting in reciprocal learning opportunities and slippery exchanges.

ZINE: Hidden Lessons

Page from zine of museum objects
Page from Hidden Lessons zine showing objects from the collection that inspired the project and feature objects of modern education
Talking and walking with Tammi in the museum archives, looking at the bilum, linking it to the Ursula Le Guin essay, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, which talks about the carrier bag as the first cultural technology. Right after we looked at this object, we looked at the Auburn North Public School’s learning from home pack and noted the tote bag that the materials came in – the contemporary carrier bag
Lleah Smith
Page from zine of museum objects
Students visiting the museum collection stores in Castle Hill to view collection objects archiving modern education. Photo: Garry Trinh
The energy of bringing archives to life. Before knowing Tammi was a dancer, it was felt. Her ability to bring what are often thought of as ‘static’ objects to life with the body was = power. She made me question the ways that we think of collections and archives; I am excited by the potential of bringing this bodily activation to learners
Lleah Smith
Image of board game from museum collection
Image facilitator in museum store demonstrating to students
It has been fascinating to hear the learners describe objects from their own personal lives, then very intuitively use this to spark speculation on the lives that surrounded objects in the museum collection
Lleah Smith
Image of students participating in learning workshop
Students from Our Lady of Mercy College participating in Hidden Lessons development workshops with Lleah Smith and Nadia Odlum. Photo: Garry Trinh

Our Gift: ‘Gathering(s) take flight’

Materials: A4 paper, pens or pencils.

This is a collective mind mapping activity. Seat a group of learners in a circle. Each person has a piece of paper and a pencil.

Give the group a question, or provocation. Each person must write (or draw) something within 10 seconds that relates to the provocation. Then, they pass their paper to the person to the left.

Repeat.

Repeat until the pages are filled, or the minds are exhausted.

Observe your collective mind maps. Comment on commonalities, repeated ideas, unusual connections.

Fold the mind maps into paper planes.

Climb to a high place. Launch them into the air. Allow your gathering(s) to take flight!

Suggested provocations: Who do we learn with? Where do we learn? What do we learn with?

Page of a student created zine about learning
How to Use a Classroom created for Hidden Lessons by students from Our Lady of Mercy College, 2022

Participants
The Hidden Lessons project was developed and led by Lleah Smith, Artistic Associate, Powerhouse in collaboration with Nadia Odlum, Artist in Residence, Parramatta Artists’ Studios

Learners
Katherine Baker, Avria Bergado, Isobel Cassin, Siobhan Cassin, Evie Dean, Sara De, Belin Sathwika Dontula, Stefanie Gabriel, Nimrat Kang, Stella Kemmis, Leah Kolosakas, Selena Madrio, Emma Marounm Chloe Nguyen, Rhianna O’Neill, Izzy Power, Vidushi Trivedi, Jennifer Wang

Teachers
Matthew Esterman, Director of Innovation and Partnerships Ben Walsh, Head of Department, History/HSIE

Image of students participating in learning workshop
Museum of Hidden Lessons Opening Ceremony at Powerhouse Castle Hill. Photo: Garry Trinh

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The Powerhouse acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the ancestral homelands upon which our museums are situated. We respect their Elders, past, present and future and recognise their continuous connection to Country.

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