How learners slow down with Out of Eden Learn: Research insights and updates (Part 1 of 2)

This post was co-authored by Shari Tishman and Susie Blair from Project Zero.

Why research “slow”?
As many readers of this blog may know, one of the core learning goals of the Out of Eden Learn curriculum is to slow down to observe the world carefully and to listen attentively to others. To support this goal, the curriculum includes many opportunities for students to look slowly and closely at their everyday surroundings. When we were designing the curriculum, we knew these slow looking opportunities were important, but we didn’t quite anticipate how eagerly students would take to them. Students are noticing the value in slowing down and it seems that young people across the globe are quite hungry to go “slow.” As one student put it, “When you slow down and pay more attention there is a whole new world around you.” This finding stands in stark contrast to a common narrative about the accelerated pace of contemporary life and young people’s woefully short attention spans. This intriguing contrast made us want to find out more: What are students finding compelling about these activities? What specifically do they see themselves doing—and what are they feeling—when they slow down to look closely?

To answer these questions, we went about collecting two forms of data—so-called “self-report” data, and a selection of student work from our platform. The former comes about when we directly ask students to report on their experience with Out of Eden Learn; the latter when we look at how “slow” manifests itself in the work that learners produce as part of curriculum.

To gather self-report data, we looked at the online surveys that all students are asked to take once they have completed an Out of Eden Learn learning journey. The questions on the survey were designed to uncover what students believe they have gained from the program, but they don’t mention “slow” explicitly. (For example: “What have you learned from doing the footstep activities?”) Students’ survey responses are crucial in helping us understand what students themselves think they are learning and what they find most meaningful.

Preliminary findings and impressions
Here’s a brief overview, by the numbers, of what we have gleaned from our survey responses. Out of 467 student survey responses analyzed, 139 made a positive mention of “slow” as part of an open-ended response–that’s just about 30%. It is important to note that these survey findings are not representative of the wider Out of Eden Learn community, as only a fraction of our participants complete this final survey.

For the Out of Eden Learn team, these numbers were promising enough to warrant a closer look. But words don’t always match deeds, and in order to get a fuller picture of how students actually experience slow looking, it’s important to augment these self-report data with an analysis of the work students actually produce and post to the platform. So we analyzed a selection of student work, including photographs, drawings and writing, to see if we could find evidence of the main themes related to “slow” that were mentioned in the student surveys. We also looked for any other prominent slow-related themes as well.

It turns out that there’s quite a good match between what students who took the survey say about slow and what the student work that we analyzed shows. In both areas—the student self-report surveys and our analysis of student work—the data examined thus far cluster into the same five broad themes, each of which identifies a specific quality of slow looking. The themes are: seeing with fresh eyes, exploring perspective, dwelling in detail, appreciating beauty, and attending to philosophical well-being. In what follows, we describe the first two of these themes. Part 2 of this series, which will be posted in the coming weeks, will describe the remaining three.

1. Seeing with fresh eyes
When Out of Eden Learn students practice slow looking, we most commonly see that they say they begin to see their familiar worlds with “fresh eyes.” This often manifests itself in students seeing what they describe as new things, though, presumably, these things aren’t new at all–they are simply being carefully noticed for the first time.

As part of their exit survey, one student puts it like this:

I have learned to take time to stop whatever I’m doing and look around. I have discovered many things in my neighborhood because of this. I have seen houses I have never seen before and people too. I am usually a very busy person so this helps me discover new things.”

Another Out of Eden Learn student, when sharing a photo from a neighborhood walk they took (Footstep 3 of Learning Journey 1), shares a similar insight:

lrb-west-hartford-ct-us-2“My neighborhood is very quiet and not really busy, there are no kids on my street. I thought my street was boring and I just pass it every day. But when I noticed all the cool things that my street contains I realize that I like my neighborhood more.” – Out of Eden Learn student LRB in West Hartford, Connecticut, United States

In another example from our “Taking Neighborhood Walks” footstep, one student took specific note of some parts of their neighborhood they hadn’t previously taken the time to notice:

“I have learned some things about my street that I didn’t know, for example there are a lot of details of  places where I always pass, that I didn’t know … existed. For example, I always have to watch so I don’t fall down when I cross the road, but I didn’t realize that that was because of the roots of one tree. Or I didn’t realize the name of  the street that crosses mine, because I never looked. Or I never realized that the trees were that tall, or that the lamppost was broken.” – Out of Eden Learn student RoPinera17 in Barcelona, Spain

As these remarks suggest, students’ experience of seeing their worlds with fresh eyes isn’t simply a technical exercise. So far as we know, students are not asking their teachers, “Why bother?” Instead, they seem to say that they find the experience worthwhile.

2. Exploring perspective
When students slow down to look closely, they often begin to explore new or unusual perspectives. Because the Out of Eden Learn curriculum offers many opportunities for students to take photographs, students often explore perspective by taking pictures from unusual or unexpected angles.

Photo by Out of Eden Learn student dawadawa in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Photo by Out of Eden Learn student dawadawa in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Interestingly, taking on different photographic perspectives often leads students to an attitudinal shift in perspective as well: by adopting an unusual angle when taking a photo, students begin to see the world in an often profoundly different way; either through the eyes of another person or from a perspective they hadn’t previously adopted.

thurnishaley-crystal-lake-il-us“I took this picture to show how from a different perspective things can look much different. Here I am looking out across my schools campus from a view I have not seen before. From my everyday point of view all I see is the dismal winding road leading towards a busy road, and the graying forest that seems to wrap around the campus. But from up here I can see everything better, I can see farther, I can think of these things from a different mind-set. It makes me kinda think that you need to take account [of] all the different perspectives in life to see how things really are.” – Out of Eden Learn student ThurnisHaley in Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States

This double mode of perspective taking –both visual and attitudinal–lends itself well to the aspirations of Out of Eden Learn: We hope that learners begin to see the world from a diverse range of perspectives through thoughtful dialogue with other students in the program, and through exposure to Paul Salopek’s journalism, which aims to amplify often unheard voices and points of view.

butterfly123-cairo-egypt“White, blue, yellow and grey collide together creating form, color and texture. Different forms appear beautifully as I take a walk on a sunny morning in my neighborhood. The question is, what really grabbed my attention about these stones? Well, I find them very similar to us, humans. We are all different in our own kind of special way. We have different interests, values, point of views, dreams and goals. Some of us appear more shining than others and that’s because of how we deal with our lives. Some choose to live their lives normally and not take the risk of exploring life. Here I am, walking in my neighborhood looking for extraordinary. We may walk through our neighborhood multiple times but we never take a close look of the little things that make a difference. However, it is time to change our perspective and look at things differently. Follow your instincts and discover the hidden.” – Out of Eden Learn student Butterfly123 in Cairo, Egypt

These two themes—seeing with fresh eyes and exploring perspective—are prominent in what students say and do related to slow looking. Three additional themes are prominent as well: dwelling in detail, appreciating beauty, and philosophical wellbeing. Part 2 of this series will explore these themes.


  1. […] instance, we have seen how slowing down sparks students’ curiosity and encourages them to see the world near and far with…. We have been impressed with the generosity with which young people listen to the stories of other […]

  2. […] platform, and we wrote up an overview of our findings in a two-part blog post in September of 2016 (Part 1 and Part 2). Broadly, we learned that students point to a variety of themes when they reflect on […]

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