Cameron Paterson is a history teacher and the Mentor of Learning & Teaching at Shore School in North Sydney, Australia.
In July I attended the Project Zero Classroom in Cambridge and I had the pleasure of participating in the ‘Slowing Learning Down’ workshop led by Liz and Carrie in which they shared the Out of Eden project. After being involved in the pilot project, it was fascinating for me to hear firsthand the views of the learning designers. In discussions with Liz and Carrie I become aware of several impacts that the project had on my Year 9 students that I had only peripherally been conscious of before our conversations pulled them to the surface.
Firstly, I noticed that at the end of the project the Project Zero researchers were especially interested in interviewing some of my students who, let’s say, need some pushing at times, and one student with quite significant learning disabilities. While the researchers had made it clear that they wanted to speak with a range of students, these students were literally the last students in my class who I would have nominated to speak to the researchers. This fascinated me, so I went back and re-read some of their online responses and I quickly came to see the originality and depth of their insights and why the researchers sought to speak to them. This was a good lesson for me as I had been judging some of them on their propensity to disturb others in class and what appeared to be their failure to put in the effort I was expecting. To those on the other end of the line, their responses were very different from the behaviour I was sometimes viewing in front of me. This has reminded me of the need to slow my own learning down and to be careful about making quick judgements of students.
Secondly, I noticed that my students’ maps of how their own lives relate to a bigger human story tended to centre on tame topics like family and sport. However, once they observed students’ identity maps from other countries, my students began to talk about concepts like nationalism, religion, and multiculturalism. Their thinking was pushed to a deeper level. The social learning aspects to this online community are significant and I think the communication with other students might have pushed my students’ conceptual thinking well beyond what we would have achieved just in our own classroom.
Lastly, I have begun to wonder about the impact of the project on 14 and 15 year old students from a developmental angle. My students are at an age where they are constantly questioning who they are and who they would like to become. In an age of ‘selfies’ it is often all about them. However, is it possible that their participation in this project has influenced their identity in a highly positive manner? Could the open communication with young people in other parts of the world present an insight into cultural assumptions and a mirror to their own identity just at the right time during their teenage years to accelerate a view of ‘us’ rather than ‘them’?
I wonder, has participating in this project made them better people? I suspect so.