Guest post: An introduction to ‘Out of Eden Learn’ (by Tima Nisbet)

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-7-55-06-pmTima Nisbet is a valued member of my PLN and an active member of our #pypbookstudy group. Originally from Canada, she is an experienced primary school teacher who currently teaches at an international school in Tanzania. With a background in humanities, a Masters in reading and literacy and a drama background, Tima brings enthusiasm and fun to her classroom. Follow her on Twitter @ebonwing.

Out of Eden Learn is a unique online learning community designed to accompany National Geographic journalist, Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk. An initiative of Project Zero, at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Out of Eden Learn brings students from around the world to engage in Paul’s journey and all that it represents. They are invited to slow down to observe the world closely and to listen carefully to others; to exchange stories related to people, place, and identity; and to reflect on how our individual lives relate to bigger human stories. Students are grouped into small learning communities or ‘walking parties’ comprised of approximately six different classes from around the world. They complete activities, share their work, and interact with one another on an exciting digital platform that uses social media as a springboard for deep, meaningful learning. The goal is to ignite students’ interest in the wider world and support them to become more informed, thoughtful and engaged global citizens.

I was introduced to Out of Eden Learn when I attended Project Zero’s Summer Institute in 2015, and knew I had to bring it back to my school and students in Tanzania. I loved how every 100 miles, Paul would share a Milestone. He would stop, take a picture of the sky, of his feet on the ground, of the first person he met (he would ask them 3 questions; Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?) and a short video of the surrounding area.  I was also taken back by the idea of slowing down. Too often we rush through our units and materials. This project forces both students and teachers to slow down, take notice and appreciate the everyday. I was also inspired by the work that was shared. I felt each activity allowed students to experience something new, and I couldn’t wait to see what they produced. And finally, I knew that many of the activities the students would be asked to do matched many of our units of inquiry. It provided natural, new connections.

Once you sign your class  up, you are put into ‘walking parties’ of up to six other classrooms around the world. My grade 4 class had 4 other classrooms from across America; we stretched across the country, from California to Missouri. My grade 5 class was a little more global. Our group consisted of a classroom in Accra (Ghana),  Hawaii, Chennai (India)  Anchorage (Alaska) and Boston. Each learning journey is broken down into six bi-weekly ‘footsteps’. Each footstep comprises of  three parts:

  1. Engage with Paul’s journey: This is done through reading one of his articles or looking at his Milestones).
  2. Do an activity: Students focus on observing and learning about their surroundings through drawing maps, taking neighbourhood walks, taking photographs, listening to the stories of others, or documenting the everyday.
  3. Interact with your walking partners: Students read what others have posted and comment on them. There’s even a guide to help students to compose well thought, interesting posts.


Out of Eden Learn asks students to slow down and appreciate the world and all of its beauty. Teaching at an international school in East Africa, most of my students have led a life of travel. They see wonderful sights and are exposed to new cultures, but we don’t often take notice of life outside our gate. We don’t always acknowledge the locals or their culture. Seeing how my students suddenly woke up and noticed things, was inspiring. OOEL also allows students to share their thinking in creative ways. They can decide how they want to present their work, utilising each student’s strengths.

Have you ever thought of drawing a map of your neighbourhood? Could you? Students in Footstep 2 are asked to create neighbourhood maps. Some students get the details, others use mapping skills, and others have fun with it.

Asking students to take a walk in their neighbourhood gives you a glimpse into their minds and what they observe. Beauty is all around us.

My personal favourite was Footstep 4; Listening to Neighbour’s Stories. Some of my students have lived in Dar es Salaam for many years, while some were new this year. But each found someone who has lived here for a long time, interviewed them, and wrote a personal narrative. This develops some important skills; generating questions, interviewing, collating information and narrative writing.

You can do as little, or as much with OOEL as you want. During the first footstep, my students read Paul’s article Sole Brothers. We explored the shoe monument he touches on, and looked at other shoe monuments. In his article, Paul states:

“Footwear is a hallmark of modern identity. How best to glimpse an individual’s core values at the start of the 21st century? Look down at their feet—not into their eyes.”

I asked the students what they thought Paul meant by this. Are shoes really that important? Can you tell a lot about a person by looking at their shoes? We pondered this question and began looking at the shoes that not just students wore, but teachers as well. Especially mine. I love shoes! My students began taking note of how many different pairs of shoes I own. Some even asked me why I have so many!

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 10.21.00 PM.pngOOEL also provides unexpected teaching moments. One of my students shared a picture from outside his house of a little duka (shop). It’s made from a container, and had little in it, but it serves the local community. One student from our walking party commented how it was sad to see how poor my student is. This student was from one of the US schools, and wasn’t used to seeing local shops made out of containers (something we have never given a second thought to). Of course, this did not sit well with my student. But after a chat about how others who may not understand the expat life may see things, my student was able to compose himself and write a thoughtful response back.

This year, our IT department has encouraged all grade 4 classrooms to join. Project Zero, and Out of Eden Learn, has a strict policy on privacy. Students are not allowed to use or share their real names (our students logged in with the first initial of their first and last name, followed by IST – the initials of our school) nor can they share pictures which contain their faces, their families or their friends. They also provide guidelines on how to interact with others in the party; they offer suggestions and will not accept negative comments. It’s a great way to teach students internet safety and responsibility. The social learning aspects are immense. The online community pushes students’ conceptual thinking beyond what we could have achieved through our units alone.

It’s not too late to start your own Out of Eden Journey.  If you would like your class to join this exciting and free project, visit them at You can register your class and start your own walk in January. You will be amazed at the development of your students’ thinking as they compare and contrast their thoughts and ideas with those of their peers from around the globe. How else can you travel the world in one afternoon?




    1. It was originally designed for students 10 years and up, but a lot of teachers in younger grades also do it. I think it would be amazing with secondary students. The photographs, and narratives you would get would be incredible. And if you’re a language and literature teacher, some of your formatives (and possible summative) could definitely be the work produced here.

  1. Hi Adam,

    So Journey 1 can be done as a stand alone. It starts at the beginning of the school year (September) and then another one start in October. You can also sign up to do Journey 1 in January. Since there are 6 Footsteps, one every 2 weeks, the journey takes 12 weeks to complete. So they can match a unit, foreshadow to an upcoming unit, or even revisit a unit.

    If you go onto their site ( you can sign up, and when the next Journey begins, they’ll get in touch and you then sign your students up.

    For those that do Journey 1 during the first semester, you can then continue with Journey 2.

    Hope that helps.

  2. Hi Tima,

    Thank you once again for the great guest post. I am certainly interested to find out more about this. I think it would be particularly good as part of our ‘Where We Are In Place And Time’ unit’. Is there a set time that the project has to start, or can it be done any time? This unit is not until much later in the year.



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