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Matthew McFall: Boxes of Learning Delight and Cabinets of Curiosity: Working with Wonder for Wonderful Learning

Matthew Mc Fall, ALT-C 2009 Invited Speaker

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Rebecca Galley
14 September 2009

Matthew McFall's ALT-C presentation introduced a learning event which was designed to stimulate creativity, wonder, collaboration, excitement and thinking.

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Matthew McFall began by pondering on the meanings of 'Wonder'

  • Affective state of wonder
  • Active state of wondering

He asked the question "What role does wonder play in learning?" and suggested that "Where wonder is fear cannot be" (not sure about this one - see my comment below)

Dr Mc Fall listed words he associated with wonder and explained how he used these on 'seed cards' to promote discussion and awareness; for example by asking participants to catagorise the cards into the catagories - choice, evidence and change.

Metis, encouragement, play, surprise, collecting, emergence, non-trivial, machines, clews, transformation, mindfulness, challenge, arrays, eggs, charts, anascopy, taxonomy, plot, novelty, cabinets, mercury, puzzels, magic, ridddles, boxes, design, instruction, heritage, conceptions, wow, focus, mystery, labyrinths, mirrors, games, method, yuk, shows, mirth.

He then described a teaching design called the 'Wonder Box System'. He described this as an emergent system where a series of boxes are opened up over time to reveal their instructions, and in doing so take learners through a learning journey. The boxes, their sequence and contents are detailed below:

1. Black box - sequence of games which learners play on their own and which are designed to generate individual (as opposed to collective) thinking about wonder.

2. Red box - learners go out and collect things that relate to wonder and this activity ends in a show and tell.

3. Orange box - treasure hunt

4. Yellow box - instructions on creating a small simple display with the artifacts gathered so far (ie Nature/ wonder table)

5. Green box - learners create a 'happening' and show what they have done to two other classes.

6. Blue box - wonder quest. Whole year group is part of the system and  go out on a field trip.

7. Indigo box - construction. Learners create a wall of wonder where they share ideas and comments on a wall using post-its and construct artifacts relating to their journey so far.

8. White box - The year group creates a gallery show in each classroom and invites the whole school to visit.


Rebecca Galley
16:45 on 14 September 2009 (Edited 10:05 on 18 May 2010)

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Rebecca Galley
4:47pm 14 September 2009

This is a great learning design model which builds independent thinking to collaborative thinking and action. Anyone like to have a go at visualising it?!

Rebecca Galley
5:14pm 14 September 2009 (Edited 5:16pm 14 September 2009)

Just a thought about the suggestion that  

"where wonder is fear cannot be"

in relation to learning. I guess I partially agree, certainly in that it is more helpful if we as teachers focus on maximising opportunities for wonder (within our control) rather than on reducing fear (outside of our control). However my experience is that learners will often seem to flick rapidly from one to the other, and that for some fear and learning are intrinsically linked. I also think that for some the affective state of wonder can be high risk as it might be thought to leave us (and especially adults??) vulnerable.

The active state of wondering links strongly to theories of Transformational Learning (Mezirow) and Friere, which argue that 'wondering' about  personal assumptions and perspectives, and critical reflection and debate can lead to profound personal change (although rather pessimistically  Mezirow suggests that some learners do not have, and can not learn, the emotional intelligence to do this).


Gráinne Conole
7:17pm 14 September 2009

What a great metaphor and approach! Wonder and curiosity as so crucial in learning - we forget the way toddlers have these naturally and hence act as sponges soaking up ideas and concepts.

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