Ben Dobbin, in a recent AP article, profiles The Museum of Play, located in Rochester, NY. It is impossible to read this story about children learning while having fun without wondering how to inject the same feeling of joyful discovery into a classroom environment.
Dobbin quotes museum director G. Rollie Adams, who declares that "Education should be engaging and challenging and exciting. That's when people learn deeply, learn things they're going to remember for a long time."
A recent survey conducted by MTV and The Associated Press, found that young people (13-24) "are generally very happy, optimistic about the future and have goals in place to achieve a happier tomorrow". However, of those attending school, 37% responded that school contributed "a lot" to the stress experienced in daily life; 25% listed school as the top stress factor (as compared to "family" at 11%).
Konrad Glogowski reminds us that "Building an environment for the students is likely to result in failure: environments and communities need to be build with the students, with their full participation, through their work and their interactions with and about texts." He goes on to state, "as a teacher in the 21st century, I am taking a stand: I want to have a classroom where my students can enjoy learning experiences.”
Glogowski's perspective is not a new one: the Greek philosopher Plato advised “Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” Psychologist Erik H. Erikson said that "the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” Beloved childhood icon, Fred Rogers, felt that "One way to think about play, is as the process of finding new combinations for known things—combinations that may yield new forms of expression, new inventions, new discoveries, and new solutions....It’s exactly what children’s play seems to be about and explains why so many people have come to think that children’s play is so important a part of childhood—and beyond."
Since students tend to regard computer time as "play" many educators are turning to wikis and blogs to inject a sense of fun into the learning environment. Inspired by colleague Jo Mcleahy, English teacher Bernie Peeler set up a class blog and, despite the inevitable technical glitches, was able to report "a lot of happy and excited faces in mastering, at least in a limited way, the art of blogging." Jennifer Dorman's wiki includes a Voki and numerous links to tech tools that will enhance and extend the classroom experience while making it an appealing site for student interaction.
A more "radical" method of pairing fun with learning is through gaming. Educational guru Marc Prensky makes a compelling argument for the instructional use of games: “Ours is now a world that demands that people know how to learn new things–especially technical things–quickly and well; that they know how to collaborate, especially with people not just like themselves; and that they know how to think strategically and laterally as well as linearly and logically. These are all skills that good video games demand and teach.” Doug Johnson
listed reasons why games should be allowed in the school library; John Rice publishes a blog devoted exclusively to educational games research.
After looking at the tools students already use in their daily lives, Sue Waters wonders "Will Mobiles [PDA, ipod, mobile phone] be THE Tool of the Future?" Megan, of the Generation YES blog mentions a Schools Fantasy League that engages kids by tapping into their interest in sports.
Chris Lehmann, Principal of the innovative Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA, insists that all children can learn. "We're trying to build a school for a diverse group of learners. We're trying to prove that there are multiple ways for students to succeed and learn."
Perhaps one of those "ways" is through play. Learning while having fun.
“[Students] approach learning as a ‘plug-and-play’ experience; they are unaccustomed and unwilling to learn sequentially–to read the manual–and, instead, are inclined to plunge in and learn through participation and experimentation. Although this type of learning is quite different, it may be more effective for this generation, particularly when provided through a media-rich environment.” — James J. Duderstadt and Farris W. Womack, The Future of the Public University in America: Beyond the Crossroads
This post was inspired by Carolyn Foote's "For our sons and daughters".
Photo: "The Sandbox" by Ricardo Carreon