Making tweaks and changes: Tailoring the Out of Eden Learn experience for educators of younger students

In the last post I outlined some of the ways in which we hope to build teacher community around the walk. That post did not exactly generate a flood of debate and discussion – however, it is fair to say that there is a palpable excitement amongst our latest cohort of educators. We are particularly excited to welcome our very first Out of Eden Learn classes from Armenia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Our long-term aim is for there to be more educator-to-educator communication within the Out of Eden Learn community rather than for Project Zero to serve as the hub for everything – which is in any case an unsustainable model.

With this idea of building teacher community still in mind, I’d like to share some tweaks and changes we’re making to meet the needs of younger learners and their educators. By younger learners I mean students aged 10 years or below, although we let 4th grade educators decide if they would like their students to post for themselves like older students.

You may recall from earlier posts that while our materials and platform were initially designed for middle and high school students, the enthusiasm we encountered among preschool and elementary school teachers meant that we have been experimenting with ways to welcome younger learners into the Out of Eden Learn experience. Here are the links to previous blogs by two of these educators: PAUL’S YOUNGEST TRAVEL COMPANIONS: OUT OF EDEN IN THE PRESCHOOL CLASSROOM and LOOKING DIFFERENTLY AT THE WORLD: ENGAGING YOUNGER LEARNERS IN THE OUT OF EDEN WALK. There is also a recently posted feature of Tabbatha O’Donnell’s students’ work on the Out of Eden Walk website. After consulting with participating teachers, we are making the following adjustments moving forward:

Designing “footsteps” for educators

We are tweaking the footsteps or weekly prompts that early years educators receive so that they’re written for them as educators rather than for individual students – which is the default format on our platform.

Here’s what the first footstep looks like for our newly launched walking parties involving younger learners. Note that all footsteps on our platform have three components: “Interact”, “Get Inspired”, and the main activity.

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In these footsteps for educators we will offer suggested activities – usually modeled on what older students are doing – as well as solicit ideas and feedback from teachers so that they can take ownership of the space and help steer the direction in which it goes.

Promoting connections among young learners

We are going to preserve small walking parties of younger years’ educators so that students can hopefully feel a special connection to other students within the Out of Eden Learn community.  That is, we’re encouraging educators to use the walking parties as a means to continue to develop relationships between their classes and other classes. For example, educators will upload their students’ work for other classes to view and respond to, as indicated in the footstep shown above. In return they will share other students’ work with their students and collect responses and questions to send back to these classes. We’re also encouraging teachers (across the age range) to organize class-to-class Skype conversations that are structured around a common activity or theme related to Paul’s walk. We will also be promoting collaborative projects that involve younger students creating products such as books or pieces of art.

Sharing the wealth

We believe that the forthcoming Educator Resources and Discussion tabs on our homepage will be particularly valuable to educators of younger students because there is a lot of creativity going on among these grade levels – in no small part because these teachers tend to have greater flexibility with their curriculum and typically spend more time with their classes during the week. We will curate ideas that emerge from these walking parties – as well as among educators of older students – to share the wealth among our community. We also intend to create a special gallery space for work emerging from classrooms of younger students.

Overall, we are hoping that these alterations will allow for some balance between providing structure and support for educators of younger students whilst allowing them the space to innovate and adapt to their students’ emerging interests and needs. Again, please do not hesitate to share feedback and ideas.

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