Zooming Out
By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Sometimes when we’re bogged down in the challenges right in front of us, we have a hard time understanding their true size. Are they really as overwhelming as we imagine? What size are they in relation to the other facets of our lived experience?

Looking at something small and then zooming out to contextualize it can bring all sorts of interesting discoveries and help us see things from a broader perspective.

We recently created Zoom Out, a perspective-building activity that strengthens writing, data collection, and other academic skills while also supporting social-emotional learning – for students and teachers.

Here’s how it works:

Watch a video that looks at something familiar from vastly different perspectives. These two short videos are great examples:

Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot

Zoom, by Istvan Banyai

Then find an object in your own surroundings that holds some importance to you. It should be familiar, perhaps something you look at every day: a favorite mug, family photo, or your school bookbag, for example. That’s the object you’re going to write about. You’ll write down what the object is and where it’s usually found. Across from that, you’ll write down why that object matters to you.

Then you zoom out - just like in the video, and look at the larger object on which this item is found and where that’s situated. Write that down in the next set of boxes, then across from that write why it matters. Keep going and zoom out 2-3 more times on your own.

Invite your students to share their discoveries with you and with one another. And remember to share your discoveries with your students too.

As thoughtful teachers, we strive to teach our students about the big, shared events that shape our society – the Black Lives Matter movement, the impact of the ongoing pandemic, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and much more. And we want our students to know that the simple, everyday things they experience as part of their lives matter a lot too. In fact, deepening our students’ ability to engage with intention around the everyday parts of life can enable them to learn about, analyze, and understand historic events in our past and current day too.

My new friend, the brilliant astronomer Harriet Witt, recently shared with me this planetary explanation of an anniversary, honoring the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this past Saturday. Harriet’s explanation exemplifies the kind of understanding we can achieve when we zoom in (to an important event in our personal and shared lives) and zoom out (to the edge of our solar system) simultaneously.

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The Passenger Planet Society

This Hawaii-based organization focuses on "deepening our relationship with the third planet out from a star called the Sun." That planet is our own! And the website offers all sorts of ways to think about "zooming out" from our individual perspectives to the bigger context. The prompts on the site offer food for thought that would be wonderful to explore with your students. Questions like: "What does it mean that we’re passengers on the only planet in the known universe that supports our kind of life?"

Zoom Out

When things feel particularly daunting in your own life, in your school, in your family, in your community, in the world – it can be incredibly helpful to pause and situate the challenges within a larger perspective. This #Inspired2Learn activity is good practice for “zooming out” and can be accessed by students of many ages.

Join us for our September Inspired Teaching Institutes! 

PARENTS AND TEACHERS will learn about, practice with, and strengthen the skills of improvisation that can be tremendously helpful when navigating the unknown. Together we'll increase our "uncertainty tolerance" while maintaining a laser-like focus on centering children's joy and engagement.

This month we will explore:

  • The power of "Yes! And . . ."
  • Tools for navigating emotions
  • Active listening techniques
DC Public School teachers can get PLUs through the Washington Teachers' Union for participation. Thanks to the generosity of our donor community, Institutes are free for all participants. 
Register for September's IN-PERSON Institute 9/18 10 AM - 12 PM ET
Register for September's ONLINE Institute 9/22 7-9 PM ET
Download a Calendar of Our Monthly Institutes

Save the Date for Our Next Speak Truth Session 

Registration is now open for students to participate in our next Speak Truth session on September 23. The topic will be decided by the students. The conversation is always thought-provoking and DC students can get community service hours for participation. Learn more here

Courses for Teachers
#Inspired2Learn Resources
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