At the same time, I was intrigued as to how long we could spend discussing such an ordinary looking everyday object using the thinking routine See-Think-Wonder.
We started by looking at it from all angles. From above, from below, from the front and from the back. After looking at it for a while, participants could then handle the object and examine its moveable parts. I invited members of the group to start describing the object. They noticed it was brown, made of a cast metal, with a handle that turned, and sharp blades on the other side.
What might it be?
After we had finished describing it, we started talking about what we thought it could be. Due to the handle and the sharp cutting blades, the first thoughts were to do with cutting and sharpening implements, possibly pencils, and grating or cutting vegetables.
The group worked collaboratively building on each other’s ideas until they had almost unilaterally agreed that it was a device for cutting some kind of fruit and vegetable.
When would you use it?
We then moved on to think about why anyone might need such a device and when they would use it. One of the group members suggested that it could be from the mid-twentieth century and therefore it might have been a labour saving device. Someone else (who was Dutch-born) said it reminded her of something her grandma had in her kitchen to chop green beans (‘snijbonen’ in Dutch).
‘But why would anyone want all their vegetables the same size and shape?’ someone else asked. ‘What exactly is wrong with irregularly chopped vegetables?’
From time to time, I added small amounts of contextual information to pursue different lines of inquiry and to keep the discussion fluid. I frequently asked the group to provide evidence for their interpretations (‘What do you see that makes you say that?‘) and pushed the group to explore all possibilities and look for any connections they could find.
In the end I had to wrap up the conversation, although most of the group still had more to say. I reflected with the group about the different levels of meaning that we had uncovered about the object – functional, symbolic, personal and historical – through the simple thinking routine See-Think-Wonder.
We had easily talked for 25 minutes about a Dutch bean slicer (a ‘snijbonenmolen’). Some members of the group had been sceptical at the beginning about the ability of such an object to hold our attention for more than 5 minutes, but all participants were enthusiastic and keen to contribute throughout. Their curiosity to find out more drove the discussion.
But here’s what was fantastic: the group wanted to carry on discussing this object, they didn’t want the discussion to end. They wanted to return and learn more with other objects. They left the workshop still curious and uplifted.