Girl explains design of the obstacle she and a partner mapped out on a production design of Little J and Big Cuz's backyard
Credit: Eugene Hyland
Stories & Ideas

Sun 29 Jan 2023

Our Creative Learning Partnership

Susan Bye

Susan Bye

Senior Producer, Education, ACMI

ACMI's Education team works collaboratively with St Albans Heights Primary School to design, test and refine our programs to support screen, media and traditional literacy learning.

ACMI is a very inspiring place and just entering the building gives me great ideas for my narratives.

Jessica Year 5 St Albans Heights Primary School


If you visit ACMI on a weekday during term-time, you will see students and teachers from across Victoria engaging in our Education program. ACMI workshops, talks, films and exhibition visits connect with the curriculum across key learning areas – and are lots of fun. We know from teacher and student feedback that students gain great value from their visit to ACMI, and we have worked hard to make sure this is the case.

When the ACMI museum was closed for renovation (2019–20), we designed an updated learning program to fit our new spaces and to build on what we had already achieved since ACMI first opened in 2002. We threw ourselves into this exciting project, exploring and testing new technologies, reading up on creative and cross-disciplinary learning, digging deep into the Victorian and Australian curriculums, and best of all, consulting with our partner school St Albans Heights Primary School (SAHPS) to ensure we were creating programs and resources that would support student and teacher learning.

About our partner school

SAHPS is a dynamic school located in the western suburbs of Melbourne, with a student population of around 300. The school is warm and vibrant, and the students' creative energy is matched by the deep commitment of the SAHPS staff to student learning. SAHPS encourages family-school partnerships and parent involvement and has a dynamic Community Hub. The school has also just received a large grant for rebuilding their ageing buildings, and it has been impressive to see the principal Effie Sultana swing into action alongside the school's leadership team to make the most of this opportunity.

Large pencil sculptures are placed at the entrance of St Albans Heights Primary School. They portray the school values of: honesty, excellence, respect and belonging.

School values stand tall at the St Albans Heights Primary School entrance.

How it all began

It is hard to believe now, but March 2019 was the first time any students from SAHPS had visited ACMI on a school excursion. We had in fact invited the Years 5 and 6 students and teachers from SAHPS because the school had not previously engaged with our learning program. We wanted the school to help us evaluate ACMI's education program by measuring the impact of what we offer on students and teachers with no preconceived ideas about who we are and what we offer.

This inaugural visit included a talk on animation (Let's Get Animated) and a tour through our former permanent exhibition Screen Worlds. During the excursion, researchers from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education quietly observed each element of the excursion. The researchers were looking for learning through engagement and noted the students' genuine interest in the secrets of a great animation. They also reported that our ACMI educator got the nod of approval from a teacher who quietly commented to a colleague: “This guy is really good.”

The researchers followed up with post-visit interviews at the school where they discovered that, for a number of students, the visit to ACMI marked not only their first time on a train, but also their first visit to the Melbourne CBD. Many students talked about how their experience was a highlight for their families as well: They wanted to know “everything” and “asked so many questions”. What's more, a week after the visit many students could remember the number of frames per second typically used to create an animation.

After this initial connection, which revealed SAHPS to be such a productive and positive place, we approached the school with the idea of a partnership.

Our partnership

From very early in our relationship, we had the strong support of the school’s dynamic principal Effie Sultana, who arrived at the school in 2019. Effie and the school leadership team encouraged us to deliver professional learning programs to SAHPS teachers, that integrated screen, media and digital skills with learning around literacy. For us ACMI educators, the opportunity to develop and deliver professional learning over an extended period was invaluable. We could test new resources and teacher programs, and gain a better understanding of what teachers found most effective and meaningful.

It is probably no surprise that the greatest impact came from the SAHPS teachers learning through doing and working together creatively in teams. So far, we have covered: screen literacy, teaching literacy through videogames, the poetry of the moving image, stop motion animation, animating in Scratch, Foley sound and filmmaking for primary students. A highlight, which was along time coming due to COVID, was when the teachers came to ACMI for a full day of shared learning during which we mapped out possible future collaborative projects.

Three laughing people make a film at Federation Square.

St Albans Heights Primary School teachers meet the challenge of fast-paced filmmaking.

Activating creative learning

Most exciting for us has been hearing how the teachers have taken our shared learning into their classrooms. One of the lead teachers was quick to see how videogames could support students struggling to engage with literacy learning due to COVID lockdowns. They were inspired by Untitled Goose Game to dig deep into character and setting, and extend their descriptive vocabulary.

The Years 5 and 6 teachers have motivated their students with the creative possibilities of filmmaking using a green screen and voice-over, and the Years 1 and 2 teachers used Minecraft in a unit about place and belonging.

A particular highlight for us was when the Years 3 and 4 teachers riffed off our stop motion animation and sound design workshops to create a learning unit where students used animation and sound to bring their poetry to life.

Getting to know the SAHPS students

Hi my name is Harry and I’m in 3/4A. On Thursday last week I went to ACMI. I went in and I was the first one to get in!

Harry, Year 3/4 St Albans Heights Primary School

After meeting our very first SAHPS group of students in person in 2019, we seized the opportunity to go to the school later that year to test some of our new workshops. We then looked forward to inviting the students to the renewed ACMI the following year for further program testing. But, of course, we spent most of that year locked down in our homes. Be that as it may, we connected with both SAHPS students and teachers in 2020 to roll out our Scratch Coder learning modules, and then collaborated with the fabulous Mr R (aka Dylan Reithofer) and his class to create the Disney Kids' Trail.

But come 2021, it was time for ACMI to re-open and our very first student visitors were – of course! – from SAHPS. Students from Years 3 to 6 had exclusive access to our brand-new centrepiece exhibition The Story of the Moving Image. And they loved it. This was their first excursion for a very long time and they were dazzled by a museum that connected with their love of screen culture, but did this in new and unexpected ways.

At ACMI, we told the students their visit was super-important, as we wanted to know what learners of their age thought about the new ACMI, and what stood out for them. Their lively responses confirmed they considered this a worthwhile task. We were impressed that, as well as liking the "old school collections", Andrew thought about the visitor experience and suggested we provide a floor plan of the exhibition. Jenny reflected further on her visit by using the Lens to re-visit the objects she collected: "One thing I really liked was the lens, I couldn’t believe that you could scan the object you wanted to collect and just type in a code to look at it." It was also great to learn that Ridhima was so impressed with The Story of the Moving Image, she visited a second time with her family: "It never gets boring or lame, no matter when you go it's always fun, never boring ! Some advice is to go there on the weekends when you don't know where to go!"

The day after the Year 3–6 students' exhibition visit, it was the Years 1 and 2 students' turn to come to ACMI and, in their case, become the first students to enter our Gandel Digital Future Labs. One group helped us test our Light and Shadow creative workshop, while the other joined us for a Me and My World talk and literacy activity.

A student cuts out coloured shapes to create a light and shadow artwork inside a cardboard box.

Creating a moving light and shadow artwork.

A whole-school excursion

I have to say that this visit was truly amazing, getting to see how art progressed by using light.

Soren Year 5/6 St Albans Heights Primary School

SAHPS students experience James Turrell's shallow space construction Raemar, Blue

St Albans Heights Primary School students experience James Turrell's shallow space construction Raemar, Blue during the Light: Works from Tate's Collection exhibition at ACMI.

After the success of the SAHPS visits when the renewed ACMI reopened in 2021, we looked forward to a WHOLE SCHOOL VISIT later the same year to Disney: The Magic of Animation – all 290 students visiting together. After all, they did help us create the Kids' Trail, and their words and comments were featured on the walls of the exhibition.

Sadly, though, after a number of efforts, COVID once again got in the way. We had to wait until 2022 for the whole school to 'take over' ACMI in an exclusive visit that included Light: Works from Tate's Collection, The Story of the Moving Image and a film screening complete with popcorn. It was a big day – especially for the teachers, who are all such good sports and threw heaps of energy into ensuring their students got the most out of this unique excursion.

For us educators, it was rewarding to witness the enthusiasm of the students for each new experience – the resounding applause at the end of The Lion King was particularly satisfying. Indeed, according to Soren, his "favourite experience in all of the museum was the part where all of us got to watch the magnum opus of Disney Animations, The Lion King".

The student's reflections on their experiences while at ACMI revealed how whole-heartedly they had engaged with what was on offer. Even though the Light exhibition was a much more traditional gallery experience than we usually present at ACMI, the students engaged thoughtfully with works that captured their interest, revealing a beautiful openness to the experiential and abstract artworks in the gallery. Along with James Turrell's Raemar, Blue (see above), students singled out Tacita Dean's Disappearance at Sea and Olafur Eliasson's Stardust Particle.

Our favourite student reflection focused on John Brett's 1871 painting The British Channel Seen from the Dorsetshire Cliffs. Karen wrote that "The way the light shone onto the surface of the ocean and the small boats on the water seemed so magical. The painting just had some kind of majestic feel to it. It was so elegant I even spent a few minutes admiring it before going back to my class."

Next Steps

It has been a privilege for ACMI Education to connect with SAHPS teachers and students, and we are looking forward to the partnership continuing into the future. We have learned so much more about the experience and challenges of planning, designing and teaching a quality, curriculum-based learning program that is inclusive and differentiated. We have also learned more about how we can build teacher confidence around teaching screen, media and digital literacy and effectively incorporating moving image texts and new technologies into their teaching.

In turn, while only a few years ago SAHPS staff and students barely knew ACMI existed, they are now very much aware of the impact of creative learning and of the productive connection between traditional and screen, media and digital literacies.

The ACMI and SAHPS teams have now spent time brainstorming ideas for how we can keep building on this productive experience and we have many plans for the future. These include a range of school-based creative projects (movie expo, animating the school mascot, recording family stories) and special programs at ACMI (extended filmmaking, family showcase).

Family and community emerge often in our conversations, and the SAHPS leadership team believe these connections are at the heart of the most meaningful and impactful learning. We've already heard that individual students have made a return visit to ACMI with their families, many of whom rarely visit the CBD. We're hoping that, as we continue collaborating with SAHPS, we'll get to connect with family and community so that ACMI becomes a place they know well and enjoy visiting.

– Susan Bye; Senior Producer, Education, ACMI

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