Slow Looking = Deep Learning

Slow eating, slow reading, slow looking, slow learning. Children do this naturally.

Paul Salopek, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, started a seven year around the world walk in 2013. Slow journalism was introduced.

Harvard’s Project Zero created an online learning community to accompany Paul Solopek’s walk around the world. It is called Out of Eden.  (Youtube channel: Out of Eden Learn Project Zero). Check it out.

Their goals:

  • To connect young people with other young people from around the globe.
  • To expose young people to new cultures and perspective.
  • To encourage young people to slow down to observe the world around them.

Children have it figured out. Slow looking = Deep learning.

What if…?

“Can we do more research and work on our boards now?” asks any student in the class at 8:01 each morning. The enthusiasm to jump into their independent learning projects is unmistakeable.

The central idea of our new unit is:

Life on Earth is dependent on how the Solar System works.


Step One: Immersion…We assume…

We decided to begin the unit with an immersion. Immerse the students with information about the Solar System so they could quickly reach a point of being able to ask relevant questions. Instead of the teachers leading the immersion, we wanted the students to lead it. Thanks to Ewan McIntosh for the inspiration.

We started with a 4 minute Brainpop movie about the Solar System and then we told the students: 

  1. We assume you know a lot already about the Solar System.
  2. We assume you can learn quickly.
  3. We assume you can share your knowledge. 
  4. Choose a planet/sun/moon to research and share your knowledge on a board (called the ‘Project Nest’).


The teacher-led introduction took less than 10 minutes. The students were pumped! We acknowledged their ability to be self-motivated, interested and independent learners and they took up the challenge.

We guided their research by supplying books, pre-viewed videos and Internet sites (the teachers created folders full of appropriate resources on the class laptops).

The Project Nests (class pin boards and white boards) started filling up quickly, knowledge and questions were being passed around from group to group. The class begin a true ‘nest’ of shared learning.

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Step Two: What If…? Provocations

Our plan was to introduce some provocations as the unit progressed. We planned to ask some “What if…?” questions. The students preempted us and inherently started asking these questions to each other. We should have known!


“What if the sun exploded?”

“What if there was water on Mars?”

“What if didn’t have a moon?”

“What if we could walk on Saturn?”

“What if our day was 243 Earth days long, like it is on Venus?”

They had begun their own significant inquiries. The student experts (those that researched particular aspects of the Solar System) supply the facts and drive the discussions forward. Concepts and misconceptions are being challenged. Informed questions are being asked. The students are collaborating and connecting with each other to extend their learning.

My job? Listen to the discussions, ask different provocative questions, and point students in the direction of resources that will help answer their questions. 

“…inquiry is a collaborative process of connecting to and reaching beyond current understanding to explore tensions significant to learners.” – Kathy Short, in Taking the PYP Forward

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Agile Learning

I just finished a fabulous PYP Coordinators’ workshop at the IB Asia-Pacific Annual Conference in Singapore. As usual, one of the great bonuses of taking a course like is meeting interesting and incredible educators from around the world and sharing their favourite resources. I was inspired by a workshop colleague’s blog entry entitled Who Owns Your Classroom? This is my response…

This year I have worked hard at creating an agile learning environment where the students come, ready to take on the responsibility of learning. They own their learning therefore they own their learning space (classroom).

Not only do the students choose where they will sit throughout the day but they also choose how to rearrange the furniture for each learning engagement. So, after the instructions are given, I always end with:

“Think about what space you will need and where you will work. Move the tables and chairs to create the best learning space for yourselves. Also, decide if you want to work alone or with someone – who might you work and learn best with for this activity?”

The challenges have been:

1. Getting kids out of the habit of always returning to the same spot to work (“Hey! You’re in my spot!” was heard a lot at the beginning of the year. I never hear that anymore. Success!)

2. Getting kids to think about the space they might need and to move furniture around (“What?! We can move the furniture? Really? How many times a day? Really?”). I would sometimes find the students squishing themselves between and into tables that had previously been pushed together. The thought of moving the tables hadn’t occurred to them!

3. Choosing effective learning partners. Everyone caught on to this idea quite quickly. It was easy! They all regularly choose someone with whom they will learn except for one set of three boys. They know they usually don’t get a lot accomplished when sitting together but they are not courageous enough to chose other classmates to work with (essentially, they have to not choose each other, and that is hard). They really need me, each time, to say, “I know you are great friends and will have fun together but are you sure you are each other’s best choice for deep thinking right now?” That’s all it takes, they switch places. (We have had private talks together about this, so my input is just the trigger, or the excuse, to make different choices). There are, of course, times when they do work best together (e.g. drama activities, writing a combined comic strip).

The rewards have been:

1. The students are becoming agile learners – taking responsibility for their own learning, making decisions and creating their own space, and making decisions about collaborative learning.

2. The students ‘hack’ the classroom – this an agile learning space which needs to be created  for each unique learning engagement (even I don’t have a desk – my space is as agile as their space is).

3. There seems to be so many possibilities in the room now. Sometimes we move all the tables to the edges and we have a whole room for drama or dancing or building! Often colleagues walk in and say, “There is so much space in here! How did you do it?”

Display Boards →Agile Project Boards
In the past I found that the only person who looked at and admired the beautiful display boards that I put up was me! This year I have changed the pin boards from ‘display boards’ to ‘project boards’ (or ‘project nests’) where the students hang their work in progress. It may not be pretty, it may not be finished, but it visual evidence of the students’ thinking. This work can be looked at by others, questioned and given feedback on. It becomes a place to store, share, learn from and ruminate. Another agile learning space.

artworkmoving around the roomdrama

art on carpet

Learn From Every Mistake

If you follow The Growth Mindset blog (and I recommend you do), you would have seen in their August issue a link to Oprah Winfrey’s 2013 Harvard Commencement Speech: “Learn from Every Mistake.” She explains what it is like to fail, mourn your failure and then move on. She says, “If you are constantly pushing yourself higher and higher, you will at some point fail.” It doesn’t necessarily mean give up, we may just need to reframe the process and/or the goal.

Isn’t that what  we want our students to learn?

Watch the video here: