Real-World Learning in Size 5 Sneakers: Learning in the Field with Elementary Students

Details and description.


I wonder why there is so much trash along the river. I wonder what happens to the milk at the grocery store that goes bad. I wonder why the sign at the library reads, “No bathing, No washing, No loitering.” There are a lot of things in our world that elementary students are curious about. How might we, as teachers, guide the explorations of students’ own curiosities even when those ideas might be thought of as out-of-reach for our learners? In this expedition, we’ll go out into the Boulder community to explore part of the city from the perspective of an elementary student. We’ll generate questions from our observations, then refine and define them as solvable problems through an elementary lens. We’ll reflect on ways to connect traditional classroom content areas to an authentic, transdisciplinary, real-world experience for our students, and share practices for managing that experience. Grab a Go-Go Squeeze and juice box, and come rediscover the learnable world through the eyes of an eight year old.


Elementary educators and administrators, but really any education level

Slide Deck and Videos

Introductory materials used during the presentation, if any.

NOTE: The deck may not appear as it did during the presentation; SlideShare alters the fonts shown online.

Presenter Resources

Items used as examples during the presentation.

1) Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners

“A proven program for enhancing students’ thinking and comprehension abilities Visible Thinking is a research-based approach to teaching thinking, begun at Harvard’s Project Zero, that develops students’ thinking dispositions, while at the same time deepening their understanding of the topics they study. Rather than a set of fixed lessons, Visible Thinking is a varied collection of practices, including thinking routines, small sets of questions or a short sequence of steps as well as the documentation of student thinking. Using this process thinking becomes visible as the students’ different viewpoints are expressed, documented, discussed and reflected upon.”

2) Project Zero Visible Thinking Routines

“Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based conceptual framework, which aims to integrate the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters.”

3) Visible Thinking Routines Website

4) Design Thinking and MVIFI’s DEEPdt Playbook

“Design thinking is a people-centered problem solving method that promotes ethnography, empathy and iterative prototyping influenced by user testing. Collaborators are challenged to suspend judgment and leverage insights from a user group or individual to meet the needs derived from discovery and empathetic experiences. Design thinking is not a new way of generating solutions to the problems communities, organizations and people face; however, it has been seen as a very powerful and effective tool for teams to uncover hidden, ambiguous, and unknown truths about the experiences of those they are trying to solve for.”

5) Journey Mapping

“In gaining empathy for a person or understanding of one’s process through an experience, considering the details of that process can illuminate areas for potential insights. Creating a journey map is an excellent way to systematically think about the steps or milestones of a process. A journey map can be used for your own empathy work, or to communicate your findings to others.”

Participant Resources

Items those attending the session used.

1) The Size 5 Field Guide Prototype

Created to help facilitate students’ discovery work, and synthesize their findings for further exploration and sharing. NOTE: It’s still a prototype and is likely to go through many more iteration and customizations :-)


Images and artifacts from the session and session attendees.

Watershed School’s Traverse conference turns Boulder into a classroom for teachers – article in the Daily Camera, Boulder’s local paper, highlighting the Size 5 expedition. We were “Boulder-famous”! :-)

Workshop - Real-World Learning in Size 5 Sneakers at Traverse - June 2017


Ideas to wrestle with.

  • What are the learning benefits, to students and teachers, when incorporating expeditions into your teaching practices?
  • What are the learning experiences that you’ve already designed that can be enhanced via expeditions?
  • What are the new learning experiences that you could design? (“Don’t just do things better… do better things! HT @smartinez)
  • What are your obstacles for bringing more expeditions into your classroom?
  • What is the support you will need in order to overcome those obstacles?

Links to More Resources

Additional content found on the web.

Association for Experiential Education – a global community of experiential educators and practitioners with the shared goal of enriching lives through Experiential Education.

National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) – NOLS is a nonprofit school, for students and educators, with a mission is to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serves people and the environment.

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) – A leading resource for project based learning (PBL) – particularly around the practices and pedagogies for #goldstandardpbl design.

MVPS Project Based Learning board – A curated Pinterest board of web-based resources associated with PBL; constantly being added to by Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (MVPS) educators new resources and stories are discovered.

Project Approach – The Project Approach refers to a set of teaching strategies that enable teachers to guide students through in-depth studies of real-world topics. While often associated with early and elementary education, there are rich takeaways for middle and high school education as well.

Project Approach Resources from Judy Harris Helm – Listing of books and links from Judy Harris Helm pertaining to the Project Approach

Let Them Be Eaten by Bears (a book by Peter Hoffmeister) – Based on the author’s acclaimed Integrated Outdoor Program, this book is an “inspiring guide to helping kids enjoy nature and appreciate the great outdoors. Whether you’re a veteran outdoorsperson, a first-time hiker, or anything in between, get ready to put on your sneakers, turn off your video games, and rediscover the simple, powerful joy of going out to play.”

#FSBL – An example of curiosity-based learning and observational journaling from Bo Adams.

Three Roadblocks to Innovation – Forbes article outlining the importance of “walkabouts” as a part of an innovative culture.

5 Ways We Can Learn About Note-Taking from da Vinci – Evernote blog post with ideas that are useful in observational journaling.

Contacts for your PLN

People to add to your personal learning network.

Meghan Cureton – Head of Learning and Innovation at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Upper School. Former Director of Innovation Diploma, where the practice of observation journaling was an integral part of the class… actually, Innovation Diploma isn’t a class; it’s a startup!

Tagline: “What if schools operated around what’s best for the learners rather than for the ease of the educational designers?”


April Lewandowski – Experience Designer for English Composition students at Front Range Community College. Active observational journalist and sketchnoter, that believes in the importance of authentic learning experiences for students.

Tagline: “We learn to write when we write real things for real people.”


Sometimes discussions and questions take us on a brief tangent to other cool things…

Brainstorming Practices – an article in Forbes talks about how we’ve been brainstorming all wrong… as a matter of fact, that’s the name of the article!

Marco Polo – What happens when the world traveler actually shows up when you hear his name :-)


Dates of presentations, and items specific to those sessions.

June 6, 2017 – Traverse Conference at the Watershed School (Boulder, CO)

June 7, 2017 – Traverse Conference at the Watershed School (Boulder, CO)

(Traverse Recap via Storify – Day 1; Day 2; Day 3)

Your turn. Any thoughts to share?