Examining Everyday Objects

As Shari Tishman writes in SLOW LOOKING, “sometimes learning involves slowing down. Sometimes all we need is to be given time, along with the simplest set of instructions, in order to look closely at the world around us and see new things.” Our “Examining Everyday Objects” activity or what we call “footstep” tries to give young people exactly that opportunity. We have students choose an object in their neighborhood or home that they think reveals something about global connections. We invite them to observe it closely for at least five minutes. We then ask them to generate a list of questions using an adapted version of a Project Zero “thinking routine” we call “See/Think/Wonder”: What do you see? What do you think about that? What does it make you wonder?*

Below is a post uploaded by soccer0918 – a high school student from Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States – followed by students’ responses to it:

soccer0918 Crystal Lake, IL, US

I chose to look at this light bulb because I think it has many different qualities that can be related to the world globally.

1. How much power does it take to keep the light bulb on?
2. Why do light bulbs eventually burn out?
3. Do energy saving light bulbs really help the planet by conserving energy?
4. Do places around the world have this luxury of having constant light?
5. What different sources of light have been used instead of the light bulb?

jc1208 from Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States: I wonder if other countries’ idea of “Energy saving” is the same as ours? Do they have products centered around the earth like the US does?

KingCharlesX from Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States: Thomas Edison’s revolutionary invention is still making dividends today, not in just the physical act of illuminating a room, but illuminating the connections we have globally.

Mrs. Fuerholzer (teacher) from Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States: Love the picture…really shows the simplicity of a complex object. Number 4 really intrigues me, especially as we follow Paul’s footsteps. The adaptation must be difficult, but at the same time humanizing. Mankind can be quite ingenious (the handmade refrigerator, for example).

cornyboy from Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States: I do know that a lot of energy saving lights contain dangerous gasses that illuminate when electricity is run through them but if they break or are incorrectly disposed of then the gasses inside are potentially toxic and are damaging to the environment.

A couple of questions shared by soccer0918 and a few of the student’s classmates appear to be touching on issues related to the environment. We noticed that there were other students who also wondered about similar kinds of questions.

From the same walking party, Raven – a secondary school student from Surrey, British Columbia, Canada – observed an iPod and wondered about the questions listed below. The following also includes comments that emerged from Raven’s post:

1) Where did all the parts for it come from?
2) If it broke could I recycle the parts?
3) Do workers make them or is it all done by machines?
4) If it is done by workers, how well are they paid?
5) Where are all the Ipods made?

meepers109 from Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States: I use my iPod mostly everyday because I love music and by reading your questions, I also wonder the same things! I think it would be interesting to know where IPods are made because it could be made from a different country and distributed to many other countries, which shows it connects us globally.

x-wing@aliciousness from Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States: I also use my Ipod every day, but I’ve never really bothered to wonder how it got into my hands. Your questions make me wonder who physically puts together this device that brings joy to so many people.

Benedict_Cumberbatch from Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States: I am also one who uses my ipod frequently. It makes me wonder how someone came up with the idea for a device that stores music and allows us to listen to it at our convenience.

As Professor Jennifer L. Roberts from Harvard University explains in The Power of Patience: Teaching Students the Value of Deceleration and Immersive Attention, “…just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it. Just because something is available instantly to vision does not mean that it is available instantly to consciousness.” Although many of the objects chosen by students are ones that they come across or use in their everyday lives, it is interesting to see what kinds of questions can be unlocked when, as Professor Roberts says, you “engineer, in a conscientious and explicit way, the pace and tempo of the learning experiences.” As more students engage in this activity, we look forward to seeing what ideas emerge.

To get a glimpse of some of the objects students (from our pilot in the Spring 2013 and the walking parties launched in the Fall 2013) chose, please visit the gallery below. We also invite you to explore this activity and share your experiences with us. What object did you choose? What did you notice as you observed the object? What questions arose for you?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*Please visit http://www.pzartfulthinking.org/see_think_wonder.php and http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/03_ThinkingRoutines/03c_Core_routines/SeeThinkWonder/SeeThinkWonder_Routine.html for more information about “See/Think/Wonder.”


    Band-Aids were invented by Earle Dickinson in 1921 because his wife kept cutting herself so he taped two bits of gauze together and put on a cover for when his wife needed it. We are going travelling soon and just got some vaccinations. The doctor put bandaids on after the needle and it made me think about bandaids and the differences in healthcare and diseases in different countries.
    • What do people use for Band-Aids in developing countries?
    • Can you make homemade band aids?
    • Do they have alternative uses?
    • How do they stop infection?

    Max (10yrs) Home school student, NSW Australia

  2. Jack here (8yrs) I chose the frying pan as we are going overseas soon and I was wondering if they cook differently in Vietnam than we do in our kitchen at home.
    1. How and when was the frying pan invented?
    2. I wonder how other countries use cooking utensils and are kitchens different in developing countries than they are in Australia.
    3. Can you make a homemade frying pan?
    4. Does it have an alternative use?

  3. Interesting to see the different kinds of questions that people come up with and how these questions link back to it’s purpose in society, and what value people find in that object (it’s very telling of what ideas are important to us).

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