Three Steps for Learning Outside the Box

objects outside the box

Many years ago, I taught a class on charity at a Jewish summer camp. The kids who came to this camp were typical American preadolescents and teenagers. They came to camp for their friends not for the classes. According to the preeminent Spanish Jewish philosopher Rabbi Moses Maimonides, there is a hierarchy of the best ways to give charity. The lowest is to give grudgingly. The highest is to give somebody a job so that he can take care of himself. I decided that the best way to teach Maimonides’ ladder of Tzedakah (charity) was to have the students create games. One group created a game using principles from Dungeons & Dragons. I will never forget walking into their cabin one afternoon and seeing them playing the game. These were kids who often wanted to ditch class and play cards. Now, they were playing a game that they had created on a very important topic. I’m still proud of this lesson, more than twenty years later. I created a lesson that was outside the box and my camper/students ran with it. Their game was also outside the box. Who would’ve thought that different levels of charity could be expressed through different levels of dungeons?

Today, as an educational content developer, I wonder: How can you teach people to develop “outside-the-box” lessons?

Three fundamental steps must be completed in order to develop an outside-the-box lesson:

learning outside the box

  • Understand the learning objective.

Of course, an educator must understand the learning objective before developing any kind of lesson. The learning objective provides an end goal for the learning.

Outside-the-box lessons must also have end goals; otherwise, there is no reason to ask students to engage in them. My students likely thought that the point of the lesson was to create and play their own version of Dungeons & Dragons. Yet, in reality, they learned the different steps of Maimonides’ ladder and thought about charity in a different way.

  • Seriously consider what students need to know or be able to do to fulfill the objective.

To develop the most creative outside-the-box lesson, it is not enough to simply recognize the objective that students must fulfill. The content developer must also seriously grapple with it. Contemplate it as deeply as possible. The content developer should ask: What does it really mean for the student to do this and what are some creative ways for students to develop these skills?

Students, like all people, are deeply creative beings. What needs to happen for them to truly demonstrate mastery of this objective? How can a lesson empower students to demonstrate mastery of the objective in the most powerful way possible, for them?


thinking outside the box

  • Plan an activity that will creatively enable students to develop the necessary knowledge or skill.

When the highest-quality learning takes place, students no longer learn about something; instead, they become intimately involved in the process and engage with the content as if there is a deep relationship. Students become so engaged in thinking about the task at hand that everything else seems unimportant; an existential relationship develops between student and content. To create these types of lessons, content developers need to reflectively consider the ways to prompt this type of engagement.

To promote this kind of engagement, a lesson must empower students to think creatively and challenge them to think deeply about important ideas in critical ways.

Content developers could ask themselves these two questions to promote the development of this kind of lesson:

    • Does this lesson require students to try on different perspectives and ways of thinking?
    • Does this lesson challenge students to take risks?

Twenty years later, I remember walking into the cabin and seeing my campers play their game. Creative, highly engaging lessons impact both students and teachers in memorable ways that last a lifetime.

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2018-06-28T21:05:05-05:00 December 6th, 2016|Creative, Curriculum Planning, Learning, Outside the Box|0 Comments

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