A student’s ‘Story of Learning’ through Out of Eden Learn

Annie Sheridan is a 6th grade student at the Village school in Marblehead, Massachusetts. She had the chance to participate in Out of Eden Learn last year in Natalie Belli’s class.

In her “Setting Off” post, Annie writes, “I picked the picture of the puzzle pieces as my avatar because the puzzle pieces represent all the different pieces or sides of me.”

I remember the day when I was first introduced to Out of Eden Learn. It was the first week of school and the year long project had already started. Back then I thought it was just extra work and I could just skim over it. My first post, finding an avatar, took me a long time and I was frustrated at first, but after I was so proud of it. Taking the avatar picture made me find an artistic side of myself. I even started to pay attention to things that I used to take for granted. I practiced looking at everyday things with new eyes and snapping pictures from different angles and at different times of day. All I wanted to do was dig deeper into Out of Eden Learn.

Out of Eden Learn was more than an out of school project. We read all of Paul’s dispatches and talked about them during class. Our world seemed bigger and more meaningful. After we read the Sole Brothers article, we talked about transportation, different kinds of footwear, and what Paul chooses to wears. We tried to empathize with Paul when he was stopped near Nizip, Turkey in a forest of pistachio trees in the Pistachio Mafia, and wondered if others saw him as a trespasser and threat. We did see-think-wonders on some of Paul’s pictures to observe the landscape but also to practice looking closely. Kids who still wanted more Out of Eden Learn did an after school club called Vagabonding club. It was for anyone in the school who wanted to start learning about Out of Eden while combining books, and international films.

Out of Eden Learn helped our class with a lot of different learning, specifically my attention for detail and reflective writing. I learned a lot about how to revise and edit my work. There were so many writing opportunities, and I wanted my pieces to be great each time. That slowly translated into my school work and translated into a passion for expressing my thinking in writing. In fifth grade we read a lot of survival adventure books which often connected to Paul. It wasn’t the kind of connections to main characters walking across the planet, but more about the character traits of the protagonists working toward a hard-to-reach goal—like Paul. Last year we dug deeper into our books and jotted connections, challenges, changes, and main concepts (the 4C Thinking Routine) about them. This is like Paul, as he practices pausing to look closely at life and the ordinary people that are right in front of him. We were slowing down to see how characters change and how conflicts resolved.

“I interviewed my Grandmother about a rocking chair that was made in 1962 that is now in my house. My great grandfather’s family owned a furniture making company in New York City called the Bielecky Brothers … In the early 1960’s the company was asked to make a replica of the Kennedy rocker for when he stayed in the presidential suite in New York.” – An excerpt from Annie’s submission for the footstep “Learning From Other Generations”

The dialogue toolkit was vital when I was writing my comments. All of the tools got my mind thinking deeply about each and every post. We began by using a routine that we practiced during discussions and writing critiques called the Ladder Protocol, but I used the “Snip” part of the toolkit the most because when I focused on one part of a post at a time it was easier to comprehend and to write about. Although, the dialogue toolkit was not the only important part of writing comments, we also had to be kind and respectful. Rude comments rarely appeared, but it was disappointing when I noticed the possibility of someone getting hurt. If someone saw a rude comment from or to a student in my class we took it as a learning experience and discussed how we should respond or edit our response. These discussions brought us closer to each other and we felt safe sharing concerns and giving suggestions.

Many posts impacted me. Footstep 3 of Journey 2 (“Learning From Other Generations”) was a reflective post for me. This is because I didn’t really like my work, I didn’t want to share it during class, and I thought it just wasn’t my best reflection. However, other teachers and contributors to Out of Eden Learn had many connections to my post. It made me think about all the different perspectives people can have on pieces of writing or art.

Out of Eden Learn impacted our class so much when it came to projects. I incorporated it into a letter for a national writing competition, but more importantly I used Out of Eden Learn in my class end of the year project, which we call our “Stories of Learning.” I used Out of Eden Learn to write a persuasive essay to the school, trying to convince administration that the whole school should use Out of Eden Learn. Also, two of my classmates used Out of Eden Learn to make videos as their Story of Learning about what they learned and were inspired to pass on to others.

Everything I learned from Out of Eden Learn was put into reality at the 2015 Project Zero Classroom Summer Institute. Accompanied by three other students, I presented our classroom learning with my teacher, Mrs. Belli and Liz Dawes Duraisingh. We shared our personal experiences and encouraged educators from around the world to introduce their students to OOEL. We were treated like professionals and the other educators took what we said seriously and valued our contributions. I was honored that they chose me to help and ecstatic that I was able to go to Harvard!

Out of Eden Learn was one of the best learning experiences in my life. I hope more students will join in to explore, learn and grow.

*Note from the Out of Eden Learn team: Annie was a student in Natalie Belli’s 5th grade class last year. We recently produced a “Portrait of Practice” video profiling that class’s experience with Out of Eden Learn, which you can watch below.


  1. Annie,

    What a great blog posts, sharing your perspective as a student. You have given me some good ideas (4C’s) for things to do in my classroom this year. I have made Visible Thinking routines a priority and an area to develop. It’s great to hear how OOEL had an impact on you. Continue to follow Paul’s journey through other forms of social media now that you have left 5th grade. You will be graduating from high school around the time he finishes his journey. Finally, what an opportunity to go to Harvard University and Project Zero’s Summer Institute. Kudos to you, your teacher, and your classmates for their hard work.

  2. Annie,

    I am a grade 5 teacher in Chicago and I am so inspired by your words, thoughts and ideas. Thank you for your post and thank you to OOEL for showing us the value of including lots of different voices in these blog posts. Hearing the honest voice of a young person is such a powerful thing!

    My 5th graders will soon be stepping off on their own journey with Out of Eden Learn, and I can only hope that they get a tiny fraction of what you’ve gotten from walking with Paul. Keep looking closely, thinking, reflecting and sharing your perspectives with the world as you continue to grow up.

  3. Annie,
    My students (from Danville, California) were in your walking party in Journey 2 of last year, and I had the privilege of meeting you and some of your classmates at the Project Zero Classroom Summer Institute. It was exciting for me to see the faces of the many students whose posts I had read so carefully.

    This is a magnificent blog that I hope all students participating in Out of Eden Learn will get to read. I will certainly share it with my fifth grade students next week. I think hearing what you found important and meaningful will resonate with them since they are close to the same age as you. To hear a student like yourself, not a teacher, describe what you learned along this journey, as well as how your learning has mattered will certainly inspire my students.

    You show great thoughtfulness when you say,
    “Our world seemed bigger and more meaningful.”
    “We tried to empathize.”
    “OOEL helped with a lot of different learning, specifically my attention for detail and reflective writing.”
    “We were slowing down to see how characters change and how conflicts resolve.”

    In your reflections, you show you understand the valuable learning that comes from slowing down and looking closely. In this fast paced world we live in, it is very important that we teach children to see that deeper learning comes from doing this. Making your thinking so clearly visible to other students might help them see more purpose in their work. They will also be thrilled to see that students three thousand miles away are doing similar work to what they are doing in their own classroom.

    On a personal note, your post about the Kennedy Rocker flooded me with memories of my grandfather who had one of the replicas in his cabin in Pennsylvania. He too, like Kennedy, suffered from chronic back pain. Did you know that Kennedy had over fourteen of these chairs in his lifetime? Two of the original chairs were sold at an auction for more than $440,000 each.

    Thank you for putting such time and care into this piece.

  4. Christopher MacNeil · · Reply

    Dear Annie,
    I can make a connection to your post.
    I also was very excited when Mrs. Belli introduced Out Of Eden Learn.
    I’ll be honest, most of my classes over the last couple of years haven’t been the best.
    This the the one year I actually enjoy school!
    I love technology! I’ve always been into tech since I was 6!
    Although I love Out Of Eden, It was very hard trying to find the expect words use in my post.
    I always read my post over 2 times before pressing “post”. Its a very good strategy, you should try it! Anyways, I do this so if there is any missing words, mis-spelled words, grammar, or any more words I want to add into my post. Actuality, I’m doing it right now writing this post!
    That is my connection I just wanted to share with you, hope you enjoyed!

  5. lkvillage · · Reply

    Dear Annie,
    I noticed that you said “I started to look at everything closer.” Will you clarify what things you looked at closer and saw in different ways? I can connect to when you said, “on my first post I got really frustrated.” I can connect to that because it took me awhile and I was frustrated choosing my avatar and writing about it. I now know after reading your blog, I want to explore more on Out Of Eden Learn, and what other activities there are. What I learned from your post is that OOEL is even more exiting than I thought it was. I was suprised to see that you are very much like Paul, looking closely and slowing down to look/ notice the small things.


  6. scvillage · · Reply

    Dear Annie,

    You made me want to explore the outside world when you said, “I even started to pay
    attention to things that I used to take for granted.” Even though it has only been a week
    or two I have started to look at the world more closely. I have written some poems, done
    sketches, and I traced leaves and other parts of nature. Is writing your favorite? I valued
    how much thought you put into this blog. After the avatar writing did you have any other
    problems on out of eden? I think that you should journal or write a book. I found this blog
    very interesting and you should write more! Thank you for reading.

  7. gtvillage · · Reply


    When I first read your post I connected to the fact that you “Thought that it was just extra work and I could just skim over it.” Our first post was for us to change our avatar and write about why you chose it. I didn’t do so well on it. After it was due, I added more and thought about every little detail. I think that the end result was much better than my first try. I really value your word choice. For example, when you wrote “our world seemed bigger and more meaningful.” My class is only on footstep two so I have only had two writing pieces. So far, I have learned so much about the world and other cultures. Also I learned that I need to revise my work many times for as close to perfection I can get it. I think that it took you many revisions and digging deeper into your post to make the end result incredible. OOEL has changed my thinking.


  8. casvillage · · Reply


    I value how you used so much detail to explain your thinking, and I appreciate what you said about reading the different dispatches, and all of the interesting stories and updates that Paul has wrote for us. It was amazing to see all the individual cultures and people that Paul was learning about. Also, I can make a connection with you when you said that Out of Eden Learn was hard and you were frustrated with it because that was exactly how I felt at first. But now, I am used to doing so many online things, and I feel comfortable with talking to people in my walking party. I also had difficulties with posting my avatar, and sometimes it got to the point where I wanted to just erase what I wrote. But then I realized that writing is something that I love to do, and if people don’t like it, well, that is their opinion. Your blog makes me want to learn more about the world and people. For instance, how you interviewed your grandmother. That makes me want to take action and do something like that! Will you be doing more blogs? I have Miss Belli this year!


  9. Frankie Kennedy · · Reply

    Dear Annie,
    I appreciate your blog very much. The biggest thing I connected to your letter is how you felt about Out of Eden Learn in the beginning. I also thought that it was xtra work that we have to do. Now that I am a couple of weeks into school I realized that this xtra curriculum but I like it a lot. I also enjoyed reading Paul’s dispatches because I like to see all the amazing views of where he goes. Also why do you like the dialogue toolkit. Why did it help you with your comments? Lastly what did you like most about Out of Eden Learn

    -Frankie Kennedy

  10. Ailish Moran · · Reply

    Dear Annie,
    In class we read your blog and it was so amazing to read and it helped me start to be more confident in my work on OOEL. At first, like you I thought we (my class) wouldn’t do OOEL very much and it wouldn’t be very deep work. I soon found out that it mas very deep and it has become very important to me. While reading your blog post I noticed that you were very interested in OOEL and you were very, very devoted and spent time to make your blog meaningful, and it helped me be more confident to know that everyone starts with an expectation for OOEL and posts and comments get easier to write and they become more meaningful. I really appreciate that you wrote a blog because I could see in another OOEL student prospective. Thank you so much.

  11. ebvillage · · Reply

    Dear Annie,
    I can totally relate to not wanting to share my work. I also always think that usually my work is terrible. You made me realize that even if you think your work is bad, others might just love it. You also made me think that your work wasn’t just regular, it was detailed. Your work was thought through and you can tell you took your time into looking everything over. When you said “our world seemed bigger and more meaningful” it made think about how this place we live in more than just Earth. This place we live on is a new hope, it’s a learning experience, this earth we live on is a place where we can share things we could never share. This Earth is our home and a place to be discovered. I loved your story about the rocking chair. It’s so cool how when you really look into things you can find some of the coolest little hidden things. Your work has definitely influenced me, and I will remember it.

  12. Annie, I am not in the same grade as you but I can relate to some of the work you are doing because of the Out Of Eden Journey online. My class and I are doing an assignment on the Journey with Paul and it’s just very interesting to learn about all these different sites that there are to see out in the world. Thank you for the wonderful blog that you posted.

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