Last week, Out of Eden Learn team member Shari Tishman facilitated a thought-provoking Google+ Hangout focused on “slow looking”. Shari talked about her own interest in careful observation and Project Zero’s longstanding belief that “one of the best ways to understand the complexity of the world is to take the time to look slowly and to delve deeply”. She invited us to explore an Out of Eden Walk photo together before asking participants to share insights from their own classroom experiences. Shari will write in due course about some of the substantive themes that were discussed. For now, I would like to pick up on ways in which this event exemplified some of the kinds of learning taking place within the Out of Eden Learn community.
Learning with each other
Take a minute to look carefully at the photo we examined. I noticed among other things – as you might – the interesting shadows cast by the tree, the textured pattern of the sand, the livestock in the far right of the photo, the blueness of the sky. Unlike some of the other Hangout participants, I did not notice the shade over one of the mountains, the artificial-looking structure in the far middle of the photo, or the orange pompoms around the neck of one of the camels. I was intrigued by questions that my fellow Hangout participants generated:
- If we were to take an aerial perspective, how far does this swathe of sand extend beyond what we can see in the photo?
- Who are the travelers and their families? What gender are they? Where are they traveling?
- The landscape in the photo looks very arid. How does Paul deal with water on his journey? How do local people live their lives with very little water?
I learned so much more by engaging in this activity in the company of other people than I would have by myself: I saw details I would have otherwise overlooked and I considered new questions and perspectives. My curiosity about Paul’s journey and the world increased.
We hope that educators will be inspired to try out similar close observations of photos in their classrooms or homes with their students. However, in some ways Shari’s activity reflects the kind of learning that is already happening on our website: in Footstep 5 in particular, learners are invited to look closely at a photo and then to build on one another’s observations. More broadly, a basic premise of our design is to allow students to engage in slow looking and reflection in the company of one another.
Learning from each other
As I noted in an earlier blog post, we are keen to establish more educator dialogue within Out of Eden Learn. Hangouts enable educators to learn from one another – either by participating in the actual event or by watching the video later on. Chris Sloan shared, for example, that he projects a single student’s Out of Eden Learn contribution at the beginning of class and asks that student to read out his or her work; other students then pose questions. Chris finds that looking at all the student posts can be overwhelming but that listening to one student’s story has a “calming” influence. Brenda Ball described that she and her international students noticed for the first time that artists had created birdhouses up in the trees around their school. Natural extension questions came up: would this kind of project happen in your country – why or why not? Meanwhile, Tracy Crowley’s students transferred details they noticed on their neighborhood walks to their writing in other classes. She and her colleague Heather Popilek have helped teachers to tie teaching standards – such as visual literacy and learning about political and economic systems – to Out of Eden Learn in order to “buy” more curriculum time for teachers. Kim Zimmer, a technology teacher, talked about carving out more time for Out of Eden Learn by collaborating with an interested English teacher.
Learning from you
These glimpses of how Out of Eden Learn is being enacted “on the ground” are incredibly valuable to those of us at Project Zero. We send our curriculum – or “footsteps” – out into the world but the ways in which educators interpret and adapt these materials to suit their own learning contexts fundamentally shape the learning experiences of our participants. Educators are opening our eyes to new learning possibilities and opportunities for Out of Eden Learn.
They are also prompting us to revise our curriculum design. One very specific example came up during the Hangout conversation. Brenda commented that she appreciated the new World Cup photo we included as an option for close looking in Footstep 5. The inclusion of that photo was a direct response to educator Chris Swinko’s observation in our Educators Forum that our “globalization photos” were perhaps overly negative as a collection; we also removed a rather sensationalist photo of a polluted river that we felt was leading to rather sweeping statements from students about pollution issues in China.
Moving ahead, we look forward to learning both with and from one another. Please visit our Educator Forum. If you are a registered educator, consider sharing a learning experience or resource that you have developed. Just as my viewing of the photo was enhanced by hearing others’ perspectives, so our collective experience of Out of Eden Learn will be all the more richer if we have access to the insights and experiences of other community members.