Thursday, December 3, 2009

Play Based Learning

Last night I had the opportunity to sit on a panel presentation hosted by Zotarah Shepherd in Second Life. (Visit Zotarah's Island!) The talk was on play based learning and other panelists included Haley Swansong, Maggie Marat Knowclue Kidd and Norma Underwood. The idea for this session came from Zotarah's masters class "The Role of Play in Development and Learning" at Sonoma State University. Her plan is to share the talk with her class.

The session started with a brief description of what Zotarah is doing to learn more about play in education, then each panelist had an opportunity to speak about how they are using play in their schools. We heard from Knowclue who is teaching her kids machinima and allowing them to create videos in virtual worlds. She showed us this really great project that a student made on her own time. I think this shows how students will really embrace an activity and take it to the next level, especially when they're having fun. Play creates a new view on learning that encourages students to continue with it long after the school bell rings.

Norma then took the stage and talked about her use of virtual worlds with students in her school where many of them live in poverty. She said that using virtual worlds with her kids allowed them to explore things they may not normally get to see in their real lives. She also mentioned they had a lot of fun with the clothing and found it interesting that the male students liked to wear tuxedos while the girls wore mostly jeans. This was an opposite reaction than what Haley shared next where the girls liked to wear ball gowns and the boys didn't care so much about their attire.

Haley gave some examples of how she is using Reaction Grid. Her students are working in there building a colonial town. I've recently had the opportunity to visit Haley's island and see her students in action. It is really neat to see them all working and feeling great about their creations. They do a lot of work which is centered around fun and play and they are all quiet excited about what they are doing.

A quick discussion of World of Warcraft was led by Maggie. She began by explaining how it is a great tool for play and problem solving. Players have tasks to complete and must solve problems and work together along the way to achieve their goals. She also commented that working together in a group is a great skill learned in this game.

Everyone who talked about using virtual worlds with kids had positive experiences. Each of them used the space a little different, but overall, it is a great form of play for learning. Students entering the virtual space enjoy trying new things and expanding their creativity.

I decided to branch out from the virtual world discussion and talk a little about geocaching which can be a fun way to get some energy and movement into the classroom. All too often we forget how long we ask kids to sit. Sometimes they just need movement to get their brains working again. I shared examples of how geocaching can be used for teaching math (solving problems to find caches), horticulture (using gps to locate plants and soil samples in the outdoors) and literature (finding caches depicting characters from Romeo and Juliet).

I continued my discussion by sharing how play is a part of learning in the iLab we recently opened in my school. With my teachers, I emphasize the fact that the process of learning how to use the macs, the iLife suite, the ipods, etc involves play. I tell the them to let their students "play" for a few minutes the first time or two they come into the lab. This has proven to be an effective way for both the students and teachers to learn and teach each other.

This was a great discussion and had a good audience. I encourage everyone to consider how play based learning can be used in your classroom and to remember that we are never too old to play. Although we typically think of kids playing to learn, it is a well known fact that adults learn this way as well and it is evident in the excitement I see every time I do a workshop on Second Life. The adults in the room turn into kids for a few minutes as they play with the new tool.

Finally, Norma recommended all teachers take an improv class which can help you learn to add that extra element of fun to your lessons. She said from her experience it helps to remind us that we can continue to have fun......even as adults.

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