Embarking on Imaginative Education

I picked up a great project on getting back from my trip. Working with Kieren Egan’s Imaginative Education (Learning In Depth). This was handy, but more importantly really exciting. I’ve been banging on about imagination for ages it seems, not least because Kieren has written some amazing things – as you do to get to the be Research Chair of Canada I guess.

So what’s new about Imaginative Education?

I think (and so do others) Imaginative Education offers a new understanding of how knowledge grows in the mind, and how our imaginations work and change during our lives. It uses different teaching methods based on these insights that offer new ways of planning and teaching. In short, I reject the bolting a clock onto a toaster mantra that is going on, and think for the most part – the vast majority of students and teachers are somewhat weary of the relentless drumming. Hey, I was totally into it once (guilt), but of late the commercial agenda has become problem, as the rhetoric fails (once again) to result in new practices – and nine times out of ten – completely excludes kids directly – as they focus on the wallet’s of high officials, rather than the needs of classroom teachers and kids. (rant ends).

Let me give an example of Imaginative Education at work to mull over.

Lets take a typical ‘outcome’ from the NSW syllabus for History – “4.1 describes and explains the nature of history, the main features of past societies and periods and their legacy”, specifically they are supposed to

    • sequence events within the specific period of time
    • use historical terms and concepts in appropriate contexts
    • identify primary and secondary sources
    • distinguish between fact and opinion
    • examine the actions, motives, values and attitudes of people from the past
    • draw conclusions about the usefulness of sources for an historian
    • identify perspectives of different individuals and groups.

So lets work this into ONE Imaginative Education frame we’re using in the project as an illustration – and I’ll just talk about importance and wonderment – which if you think of a triangle are the first two layers. It’s a taxonomy, but one in which you might employ Blooms throughout the strata if you wish – or another one if you prefer. I’d make the whole thing as a playable game – but then I’m clearly irrational about the benefits of gaming (:))

Let’s say we are looking at Australia’s war 1939-45 (which is recommended).

Find the importance of the topic

What is emotionally engaging about this topic? How can it evoke wonder? Why should it matter to us? The first step is to show the teacher’s personal emotional engagement with the topic. What is the sense of wonder does this will create for the students? The skill is to re-see the topic through the eyes of the child, to catch at what can stimulate the sense of wonder about even the most routine topics. The key is to find as aspect that creates a sense of wonderment. So what are the sources of this? Do you as a teacher wonder what it would have been like for your family during those times? Do you wonder how they lived? What they did each day? How they  got their news?

What are the sources of wonderment? Perhaps a family photo, a letter from one relative to another?
What is emotionally engaging about it? Do you want to know more about who they were, what it might have felt like for them?

Apply Wonderment

The job of the teacher in this frame is to be present the topic as a reporter rather than a teacher/facilitator. This is important, as reporters have particular characteristics whether traditional or online. Someone who is investigating and reporting a good story to the audience. In order to get a story read, a  writer knows how important it is to present some degree of wonderment in the mind of the reader. Let’s throw this out there. The PLN is a myth. Re-badge it PRN (presonal reporting network) – a good one has wonderment as well as facts? No? We learn from good reporting.
This allows them to tap into the students’ emotional and imaginative lives, and can be used to shape your lesson or unit. Good reporters also know how to important just to hang out and build trust, know how to get access to people and documents. They’ve got to love what they’re doing; they’ve got to be serious about turning over rocks, opening doors (which is also a ideal depiction of a teacher isn’t it?). Most of all reporters are committed to telling the story, undeterred by dead ends and false leads – they keep going. Ever noticed those commenting on EdTech in social media are highly likely to have a journo history, more than a classroom one …? Now you know why you know who they are.
Finding the story

Remember, everything is potentially wonderful in the Imaginative Education frame. In order to be a good reporter, one needs to think what a reporter might write about or talks about,  in a way that is interesting, or that somehow engages the reader’s/listener’s imagination and emotions. What the “story” is on your topic; identify what is wonderful or interesting or engaging about it and how you can discuss it in a way that reflects this. Of course this is much deeper than pointing students at facts about Australia’s War. Example: The Lost Diggers of Fromelles was a great school project – because the teacher tapped into wonderment and imagination in just this way.

Finding the opposites. Good reporting is balanced. The idea is not to head to one answer, but to present a well rounded report taking in multiple possibilities. In Imaginative Education, head straight for the opposites, find the most extremes of what kids could possibly imagine on which we can construct the “story” we are going to tell. It should be possible to select the one that seems best, though you might want to note some alternatives, in case you find the first set chosen doesn’t quite carry you through the lesson or unit as well as you might have expected. The binary opposites provide the cognitive and emotional framework of your story. Remember, all good fictional stories are built on a conflict or puzzle; the only difference here is that the “story” content is the curriculum content.

For example:


During the war two of my relatives were separated. The man stayed behind in Europe, while my woman was sent to stay with a distant aunt in Melbourne until the trouble “blew over” as the he put it.


She didn’t want to leave, but she had to. After the war, he took a ship to Australia, but had to wait months and months  before he could see her, hold her or communicate at all. Eventually he was allowed to join her in Melbourne. I saw a photo of them once, they looked so happy despite all this.

Emotional Engagement

Why am I telling you this? Well because I read this story about a soldier in Iraq, and I wondered how different it was to my relatives back in late 1930s Europe. I thought perhaps with today’s modern wars, politics and communication it might have been different, but then I wonder how much has really changed?

Opps I’ve written too much – this is 1/3rd of the story. I still have to sketch out stories, significance, opposites, alternative, images and solutions – which is the imaginative enquirer … but for now, I’ll leave it – the idea of a teacher being a reporter, and from there leading students using their imagination as well as their more often used ways of knowing. Comments welcomed.


One thought on “Embarking on Imaginative Education

  1. Reblogged this on Class(ic) Stories and commented:
    Summary: 1) teacher as a reporter 2) reporters also make their stories engaging, and not just focus on facts 3) so how can teachers do that? by redesigning content around questions important for the learners, enhancing aspects which facilitate engagement, create a sense of wonder among students, and introduce puzzles/conflict (the binary aspects of good narratives). This is absolutely fantastic! Of course it is easy and intuitive so fathom but VERY HARD to implement given our lack of skills in storytelling and tight timelines. I am sure for those who do try, it holds great rewards! for more, including an example from high school history read the blog (I wish I could find an example from higher ed).

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