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.