Being a proud “Papa” (as my grand children call me), I’ve of course had many opportunities to both observe them, and at time engage with them in their PLAY. It is a fascinating observation, one many if not all of you have experienced as well.
Probably my favorite recollection is the time everyone had gathered on our porch one warm summer day. As they typically did, the five grandchildren (probably about five to nine years old at the time) were off on their playing for that day. After a while, they came over to me and said: “Come with us, Papa. We need your help!” We went to the patio nearby (with an unpaved surface typically used for unpaved driveways). The following scenario was provided: There was an older man trapped below the surface – who the grandkids were working to rescue. Using Grandma’s gardening tools, they had dug a 3-inch diameter hole about six inches deep. [Aside: When our daughters were the same age, the patio surface was completely off limits for disturbances of any kind - as they both reminded us often!] There problem was that while they could hear the man calling out, they could dig no deeper!!! Perfect opportunity for some informal learning … We explored the new material and determined it was clay (as I had remembered was put there when the patio was constructed). We talked about the differences between the materials and other uses for clay. Ruling out their requested use of shovels and picks, they decided to tell the man he’d have to wait for help (?) to arrive – and went off to some other scenario; I went back to the porch and the adults …
In my university classes, I very frequently suggested to my students that they “PLAY” with the notion(s) we were exploring together. I’d briefly explain that this was an informal exploration of those notion(s) – “having some fun with the learning.” Unless questions / concerns were raised (rarely happened unfortunately …), I moved the classroom efforts on; sadly, my suggestion was certainly forgotten I’m sure. While I do believe in use of class time in any course to introduce, discuss, and even practice the habits important to deeper, effective learning in ALL courses, I did not do the same for this “playing.” That would change in any future opportunities I might get.
When I learned of the efforts of Aaron Maurer – including his “Play & Tinkering” Google+ Community, my considerations of the use of PLAY in learning ramped up quickly! So, thinking about the activity of play for youngsters briefly outlined above, what are (OR should be) the features that should be translated from the playground to the classroom? Let me suggest seven that come to mind:
The classroom efforts will or should be less prescriptive. Play is very loosely controlled; the learning is very much student-centered.
The level of minimally acceptable outcomes of play in the classroom will or should be lower. The expectations are much less threatening. Improvement is sought, not completed outcomes.
While real-world questions are indeed important to motivated engagement, reduced real-world insistence for play (following playground – “man trapped …”) can be good: the “model” developed need only enable some contribution to understanding.
More hands-on activity will or should be involved in the classroom. After all, the playground activity is not discussion dominated. This type of activity is very motivating with regard to student engagement in the entire deeper, effective learning effort.
The classroom play will or should be team oriented. Sure, there are times on the playground probably when one or more children on the swings are keeping to themselves. But it’s the interactions that enhance the innovation and excitement.
Because of the looser, more informal play in the classroom, it will or should include effective, deeper learning more naturally. This outcome, likely happening without consciously knowing it is, enables the teacher to mentor / facilitate with far better results. This is so much better than a teacher-presented overview followed by assignments to practice effective, deeper learning.
Because of the informal, laid-back, student-centered nature of classroom play, there will or should be varying paths or plans followed in these classroom activities. Through informal or formal sharing of efforts made by each team, there is an increased likelihood of more students being motivated and learning.
So there are the seven features that I believe translate from playground to classroom. I’m sure there are others I’ve missed. Let me know your thoughts if you would. These and any others will be featured in any explicit attention to habits for lifelong, effective, deeper learning I have the opportunity to facilitate.