What is the story behind the Philosopher's Backpack?
I don't know for sure, but I imagine that Socrates, the Ancient Greek philosopher, never carried a backpack. After all, he never wrote anything down. I like to think of the probing questions that he posed, as the tools that he carried to help his students
examine their thinking.
My Philosopher's Backpack is an innovative visual prompt for critical and creative questioning. It is a metaphor for the notion that practical philosophy can be facilitated anywhere in the world, inside or outside
the classroom, with no limitation on social or academic background. Just like Socrates, a teacher can use thoughtful questions to help students explore their philosophical thinking, learning about each other and the world around them. They can use questions
to challenge complacency and model integrity. Over time, the students begin to use these questions independently, hopefully becoming more questioning of what they see and hear, both in philosophical inquiries and their life inside and outside school.
The backpack is a popular metaphor in global learning, arguably due to its conceptual capacity to unpack and repack ideas. In particular, I've been drawn to the work of women like Dr Vanessa Andreotti about 'shouldering our colonial backpack' and
I reference her work in my research below. To see a You Tube link about her ideas please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ie2A5hxr6XE I have also been drawn to the work of Peggy Mcintosh
on unpacking the invisible knapsack of white privilege. You can see a You Tube link here about this https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=343&v=DRnoddGTMTY&feature=emb_logo
You may find these films helpful for exploring what you carry in your own privilege or colonial backpack, especially if you are white.
Inside my Philosopher's Backpack, are six pieces of kit that each serve as metaphors for different questions. My action research project showed how the questions were more easily remembered when linked to metaphors. This was particularly
helpful for practitioners who were new to Philosophy for Children.
Torch: Which concepts are illuminated by the stimulus? (Illuminate - shine a light)
Magnifying glass: Can we think in more detail about the concept? (Looking closer)
What are the alternative ideas and opinions? (perspectives and opnions)
Rope: Do you agree or disagree? (connections, drawing distinctions)
Global ball: Would everyone think this? (universality)
Compass: Is the
direction of our question moving us forward in our thinking? (navigating nad directionality)
Once students and teachers are familiar with these six starting metaphors, the idea is they use their creative and critical thinking to come up with their
own kit that could go in the backpack and serve as metaphors for questions. Using their own imagination should help them to better internalise a greater array of probing questions, developing their questioning naturally without having to recall certain questions
Examples of other objects I've since added to my Philosopher's Backpack (sometimes suggested by participants or students)
Mirror - What do I think about my own thinking? (self-reflection, metacognition)
Mobile phone - Can
someone build on my idea? (collaboration)
Whistle - Do we need to stop/move on with the discussion? (moving on)
Packed lunch - What are the nourishing ideas? (nourishment)
My action research also found the metaphors were useful as
a tool for reflection and review of philosophical inquiry, fostering metacognition. It also found that increased use of metaphors resulted in children more frequently using metaphors to help them creatively explain complex ideas. Most importantly to
me, my research showed me the power of introducing the Philosopher's Backpack as a story.
Thank you for taking the to read the story here. Who knows? Maybe you might start thinking about your own thoughtful questions when you are next in
You can read my full action research below.
An ethical backpack for ethical thinking
I'm delighted to collaborate with Dirtbags Climbing: a small local enterprise in Cumbria that creatively uses recycled and repurposed fabrics and equipment from climbers and outdoor
You can read all about Jen's inspirational work in an interview here by Wonderful Wild Women - I'd certainly agree she
fits into this category!
If you are interested to find out about buying a Philosopher's Backpack, please contact me at email@example.com The Philosopher's Backpack can be purchased on my P4C
training courses. Price £30 (trade price I do not make financial gains from this). Or you can buy direct from Dirtbags Climbing
Promoting the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal 12
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The United Nations has set these as a target for 2030. You can read more about them here.
This collaboration with Dirtbag Climbers is important to me. When I received my award for Global Educator of the Year 2017, it was for going above and beyond in promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in schools.
This collaboration attempts to continue with this. Last year, I was working in many different schools introducing the Sustainable Development Goals. However, I was struck that some students and teachers had never heard of them before. Maybe those
of you reading this now, haven't either. My most memorable encounter last year was when a 10 year old said: "So the world has a plan. I didn't know that." I could see by the look in their eyes there was a glimmer of something. Maybe it was surprise,
maybe it was hope, or maybe something else. What do you think? I have seen teaching and learning in some wonderful schools where the SDGs provide a framework for their curriculum. But more than a framework, the SDGs can provide a common purpose for students
to create their own social action projects working towards the goal of making a more sustainable future for all.
It took me a long time to make a judgement on the right backpack. At first, I used a recycled one from my children then
I found a cute backpack with a world map on it. Everyone loved it, it was distinctive, but obviously it was mass produced and didn't strike me as the most ethical choice. I'm delighted that Dirtbags Climbers agreed to collaborate with my
somewhat strange request... and am looking forward to seeing where the journey takes us...
National Association for Environmental Education (NAEE) article
My article in the NAEE journal about the Philosopher's Backpack with Gina Parker (Mullarkey) article on P4C and the outdoors