Lessons from the Project Zero Classroom

Last week was the Project Zero Classroom, our biggest annual institute that brings together educators of all stripes from around the world here to Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was our first major opportunity to share our Out of Eden work in person with practitioners: Carrie James and I ran a mini course and gave an evening talk to interested participants.

In our course we attempted to give course participants an experiential ‘feel’ for our learning materials. For example, we asked participants to take a walk in the Harvard Square area and look carefully at their surroundings.  Participants returned with wonderful photos that captured, for example, the intersection of nature with the built-up environment and small architectural details that had caught their notice. Two participants pieced together the story of a mother bird catching a worm and flying off with it to her nest of chicks – an occurrence they would not normally have noticed in such a busy setting. Another participant was delayed because she got caught up in a conversation with an elderly lady who was intrigued to know why she was walking so observantly. As Paul has said: people open up when we slow down.

The photos below show course participants having a ‘silent conversation’ around pieces of student work taken from our online learning community. They are looking at the responses of three students to activities inviting them to make connections between their own lives and a larger human story (as described in previous blog posts). We discussed what the diagrams might reveal about individual students’ values or understandings and what insights the students seemed to gain from viewing the diagrams and perspectives of other young people. We wondered what our next steps might be as educators.


For me there have been two major takeaways from this week. First, our project resonates deeply with educators. They ‘get’ the vast potential of this walk to engage young people in meaning and relevant dialogue with one another and to offer them new ways of looking at the world and others. ‘Slowing learning down’, which was a broader theme of this week’s institute, speaks to educators – both in terms of their own harried, information-saturated lives and in terms of what they think their students need as learners. This general response has been incredibly encouraging.

The second takeaway was a surprise. To date, we have been working with middle and high school teachers. However, we received a particularly enthusiastic response from pre-K to 5th grade teachers who excitedly told us that this was just the kind of learning opportunity they would love to have their students be involved in. Key to galvanizing this interest was a 4th grade teacher from Florida who unbeknownst to us had been adapting our materials, as shared on this blog, for her students. She came with samples of her students’ portfolios including neighborhood maps and photos they had produced. Tabbatha O’Donnell has agreed to write a blog post sharing her experiences in a few weeks time. Moving forward, we hope to work with elementary school teachers to think through what meaningful ‘learning journeys’ for younger children might look like. Please feel free to share your ideas.


  1. Jane Nordli Jessep · · Reply

    Thank you for sharing this work at PZC. It was inspiring to meet you and I am inviting my online learners from WIDE (you know about WIDE?) to visit Paul’s site and your blog. Looking forward to following Paul as he moves ahead. Slowly.
    Jane (study group leader at PZC)

    1. Deb McLean · · Reply

      Liz, thank you for sharing Paul’s journey last week at the PZ institute. I could hardly contain my excitement until the end of your presentation about the possibility of creating a platform for early childhood & elementary age children to connect with Paul’s journey! I look forward to collaborating with you and the wonderful PZ folks to create this “voice” for children, educators, families and
      communities to explore the endless possibilities for deep and meaningful learning.

      1. Thanks for your words of encouragement Deb – and we look forward to working with you!

    2. We love WIDE! Thanks very much for helping us to reach educators.

  2. Paul Salopek · · Reply

    Sounds like the conference was a wonderful success, Liz. Congratulations. Paul.

  3. Liz, thank you for sharing this and recognizing Tabbatha’s work. I always invite Tabbatha and her students to skype with my college students. Her children’s natural way of taling about this is impressive. Kudos for your initiative and glad to see Tabbatha on board. She is an excellent picture of practice.

    1. Thanks Angela. Yes we are very lucky to have Tabbatha on board. For readers who are interested, Tabbatha works at the Palm Beach Day Academy in Florida. She will be collaborating with a small group of interested elementary school teachers in the fall to help us work out how to engage younger learners in our project.

  4. I very much enjoyed being a part of this course. I was amazed how much I noticed when I took my slow walk outside (and how difficult I found it to slow down!). It was great to get the behind the scenes insights to the project and meet others involved.

    I noticed lots of links between the concept of slow learning and the slow education movement coming out of the UK: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6298869 I’m also increasingly interested in mindfulness as a way of getting learners to slow down and look more deeply.

    And I also was inspired by Tabbatha’s energy and initiative with her Elementary students. What a find!

  5. Thank You Tabbatha, How very exciting it will be to share the perspectives of your elementary students as an entry point to this amazing journey. Thank you for inspiring us all and for leading the way.

  6. BEATUS DENNIS · · Reply

    Liz- i passed through your comment it is very insghifull, and very interesting i am looking forward to be among of the participant.

  7. […] After having a go at creating their own diagrams, teachers then engaged in a “silent conversation” around three student diagrams that we posted up on the classroom walls: one was by a student from India, another from Canada, and another from he United States. All were aged 16-17. We also displayed reflections the students wrote after viewing other students’ diagrams. (We had conducted this activity during last summer’s Project Zero Classroom, photos of which are included in the blog post LESSONS FROM THE PROJECT ZERO CLASSROOM.) […]

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