Permaculture Introductory weekend Course design - Final Design

The overall structure of the course was to be one day of inside learning at Ashburton, followed by a day of outside learning at Steward Wood and Proper Job. This provides a diversity of learning experiences, and reinforces the practical nature of permaculture, whilst exploring its theoretical underpinnings. It also stacks in some benefits for Steward Wood and Proper Job (personal connections and sales). I find doing tours and discussions much easier than inside sessions too, and they require less preparation. I arranged a course assistant to help me with both the day's teaching - to register people and collect their money while i set up, to help with set up and pack down, to support me emotionally, to help with materials prepping and do any odd jobs that came up while i was busy.

The Timetable for Saturday

I reused the mind maps that i had used to plan the sessions with as the session guides for me to consult when teaching (multiple function). I advertised the start as 10am, but planned to start at 10.20 in case of latecomers, feeling it was important not to start until everyone was there. The Saturday was laid out following the Tuckman flow:


In the forming stage of Tuckman's group process flow, participants look to the facilitator for guidance and information; the facilitator directs. Forming includes room setup, people arriving early and milling around, a personal introductions game, domestic and safety anouncements, a brief timetable overview, a section on the course culture and me reading out the course learning objectives. I made a separate mindmap for the detailed information session of this part. Then i scheduled the web of life game, which reminds people how interconnected everything really is,and what happens if we damage parts of the web... Its also an active process, involving standing up, talking to other participants and being creative in coming up with connections. I then run through definitions of permaculture and its history, and introduced the design hierarchy circular logo, which reminds us that Pemaculture has ethics at its core, and that the principles inform all the techniques and designs. I used this little graphic quite a few times, on the handout, on my computer and on this write up page too, getting a good return for this multi-functioning piece of digital craftwork. It did take a surprisingly long amount of time to create it though, as is often the case with computers...



In the storming phase participants may vie for group position and discussions/arguments are to be expected; the facilitator coaches. In this stage i introduce the ethics and principles, interspersed with lunch, a video about permaculture in practice and an exercise examining systems by looking at a mainstream cup of tea's inputs and outputs, and a permaculture cup of tea's inputs and outputs - with thanks to Graham Burnett and Aranya for their inspiration. I have taught the ethics session several times before, so i adapted an old session plan for that one.

For the principles i planned 2 sessions - one on the principles derived from natural systems, and one on the principles of attitude. I prepared a lot of examples for these sessions, so that i could demonstrate how the principles can apply to all sorts of systems, not just gardening situations. I also made up icons for each principle, as a visual aid to help participants remember and understand the principles. The video demonstrates Permaculture in practice around the UK, reinforcing the principles already taught, and hinting at some of the design tools like zoning, which come later in the afternoon. I ask them to guess what each principle is from just the icon, and what the ethics might be etc, as ways of keeping them engaged and on their toes, and making it more participatory, not just an information download... Diversity of teaching method and engagement....

Directly after lunch, to counteract the infamous graveyard shift of sleepy people with blank faces and closing eyes, i scheduled in a game called handchain, which is bonding and energetic and requires collective problem solving skills. Everyone stands in a circle, puts their hands into the centre and grabs two other hands. Then the group has to work out how to unentangle themselves without letting go of the hands they are holding. Lots of stepping through and over arms ensues, until there is once more a circle of people holding hands, or several circles.



In norming, participants find more consensus, there is fun and leadership is more shared; the facilitator enables. After the last principles session i show the music video to Eric Prydz's song 'Proper Education', which features school children free running and breaking into an apartment block. They then change light bulbs for energy efficient ones, put bricks in toilet cisterns, turn down thermostats and turn off devices left on standby. It is an amusing and thought provoking video, which is also a remake of a song from an album that has very special childhood resonances for me (Pink Floyd's The Wall). Watch the video yourself on youtube.

After this short,differently informative break, i introduce a few design tools - exploring inputs and outputs, the SADIM design process (Survey-Assess-Design-Implementation-Monitoring) and designing using zones and sectors. This is followed by a floormap design game called Planning for Real, where participants place design icons (greenhouse, orchard, wind turbine etc) onto a fictional farmstead i have created on the floor, with all the zones marked out with string. This game allows people to practice all the techniques they have learnt about zoning, placement, relative location etc, using the principles to design their farm collectively. This is followed by a session describing a few ways people can make changes in their own lives fairly simply to become more personally sustainable. This fulfills my objective of getting across easy ways participants can change their lives immediately, and is another form of reinforcing the principles and ethics, relating them to our lifestyle choices. Then there is a tea break, a quick overview of the UK Permaculture community, some practical preparations for the sunday visits and a closing feedback round.

The Timetable for Sunday

The sessions for the Sunday are longer, and the timetable is more flexible, apart from at the very end where the sessions need to start and end on time. I decided not to use the house as an tour venue in the end, as i was not so confident about doing a tour there, and was running out of time to prepare things. Proper Job was a much easier venue to show, if less useful to people redesigning their own living spaces. I planned a practical session that would see us mulching and preparing ground for planting squashes, which used quite a lot of permaculture priniciples and gardening techniques.

The timetable ran as follows -

10.00 Prepare kitchen for tea breaks and lunch (light burner, put on kettle, clear table).

11.00 Meet participants at the car park at Steward Wood, lead tour of growing area.

12.00 Tea break and background story of Steward Community Woodland in kitchen.

12.20 Tour of dwellings and communal spaces.

13.00 Lunch in kitchen or firepit.

14.00 Practical session in the growing area (squash planting area preparation) or travel to Proper Job for video session/Satuday review.

14.30 Go to Proper Job if not already gone.

15.00 Introduction to Proper Job (assistant prepares room for later session).

16.00 Shopping/look round Proper Job.

16.30 Where now session, feedback and closing event.

17.00 Close.

The Handout

I decided to give out a simple sheet of paper with the bare bones of the ethics, principles and design tools on it, along with some useful contacts and a list of things participants can do in their own lives immediately. These seemed to be the most important features to get across to people and to reinforce in a multi-supply kind of way. I was running out of time and energy when it came to designing this, so simple and elegant fitted my needs perfectly. I reused that logo again.

But how did the course actually go? ...