Tag Archives: Play

The Future of Education

Will education as we know it change because of technology?

I certainly hope so!  

Where and how will you be teaching in 5, 10, 15 years time?

I know my teaching practice has changed in the last few years.  3 years ago I might not have seen the value in bringing in noisy, blinking, programmable  and modular robots* (*a month ago I didn’t really know what that meant, either)  into an already chaotic classroom, but now I do!

2 years ago, would I have considered maintaining a class blog or joining, let alone joining and extending a High School blogging challenge (An Open Invitation to Collaborate)  or co-creating a global collaboration with my young students and several others groups on the other side of the world? (Little Ideas Swap)? Probably not.  (Thank you Coetail for the kick in the pants). The article A Communiqué from the Horizon Project Retreat  describes the top ten trends from around the world, with the number one trend:

“ The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.”

Even 1 year ago–would I have been seen as “The IT expert,”–where people come to me with their tech problems and questions.  All of these changes in my teaching and my career have evolved because of new technologies. And as we are beginning to grasp that  technology advancement is exponential, I can only wonder at what is around the corner.  

One thing that is incredibly slow to change (at least in all school’s I’ve worked in), and a thought I’ve had over and over is how we are still teaching in (mostly) isolated, individual classrooms and almost exclusively  by age cohorts. Prakash Nair, in The Classroom is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New, addresses these issues:

Almost without exception, the reform efforts under way will preserve the classroom as our children’s primary place of learning deep into the 21st century. This is profoundly disturbing because staying with classroom-based schools could permanently sink our chances of rebuilding our economy and restoring our shrinking middle class to its glory days….

“As the primary place for student learning, the classroom does not withstand the scrutiny of scientific research. Each student “constructs” knowledge based on his or her own past experiences. Because of this, the research demands a personalised education model to maximise individual student achievement. Classrooms, on the other hand, are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning.”

The article mentions that Environmental scientists have published dozens of studies that show a close correlation between human productivity and space design.  Classroom design is something I have always found to be both intriguing and challenging (in another life I would love to be an interior designer.)  

I know how a space looks and feels goes a long way to making me feel a certain way (my crowded, cluttered office doesn’t make me feel particularly creative) but if it is indeed so closely linked to productivity, shouldn’t there be a lot more care and effort ($) put into our Learning/Working/Living Spaces?

What could these revamped learning spaces look like??  The answers to this depends on your answer to these questions:

How should students learn?

Where should students should learn?

With whom should students learn?

Nair says, “We may conclude that it makes no sense to break down the school day into fixed “periods,” and that state standards can be better met via interdisciplinary and real-world projects….

How often have we as teachers, pulled children away from work that they are completely absorbed in, have found their flow,”simply because it is time to go to music class?

It’s Time to get rid of schedules: Photo: Unsplash

Nair says “we may not necessarily get rid of classrooms, but instead redesign them to operate as “learning studios” alongside common areas reclaimed from hallways that vastly expand available space and allow better teaching and learning. In many parts of the country, limited classroom space can be significantly expanded by utilising adjacent open areas while simultaneously improving daylight, access to fresh air, and connections to nature.”

Authentic Music integration while breaking down classroom walls: All of Kindergarten joining in song at the end of Outdoor Learning.  Photo credit: an unknown sneaky monkey who borrowed my iPad.

When discussing forward thinking considerations towards space, the Reggio Emilia approach cannot be omitted.  Google “Environment as the Third Teacher” and you will find dozens of blogs and pictures showing beautiful arrangements of materials and gorgeous, light filled spaces.

Beyond the Four Walls: The Piazza Common Space, in a Reggio Emilia PreSchool. Photo by Vincenzo Mainardi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17908980
The Future:  Open, flexible Spaces with access to Outdoors.  Photo By Caterooni – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49340739

ISZL’s Early Years approach is certainly Reggio inspired, in terms of our consideration of materials, time and space. Our Swiss environment and the local culture place a huge importance on playing outdoors, so the children have upwards of 2 hours a day outside in fresh, mountain air, with regular visits to a nearby forest.

Future of Learning: Early Years students in the forest. Photo source: Shared EY1 Google Drive. Collaborative teaching and photo sharing!
More authentic learning spaces in ISZL’s Early Years Playground.  Photo: Holly Fraser

Our youngest students’ walls have expanded as their teachers have carefully considered and chosen to allow all of their students to mix and mingle and choose freely to visit the different classrooms, each set up with a different focus: The Role Play Room, Art Studio or Construction Room (typically with a STEM focussed provocation).

I see this model spreading to other  parts of the school (kindergarten has reclaimed a boot room and transformed it into a shared Art Studio) and can only hope the trend continues.

Another hope for future change is a move away from a focus on grades and other external rewards.  Our current practice, according to Dan Pink’s research, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has serious implications. His research finds that rewards can improve performance when it is a mechanical skills, but when a task requires “Rudimentary cognitive skill,” performance is impeded when reward is introduced. “When a task is simple, algorithmic, if you do this then you get this…yes works, but when task is more creative…rewards do not work.”

If future success requires our students to be creative and use more than “rudimentary cognitive skills” then we need to seriously reconsider our reporting and grading systems.

There are numerous obstacles, but I see the future of school as bright, but change is necessary and incredibly slow.  

Young Students Making Meaning with Makey Makeys

Young students Making Meaning using Makey Makeys

Playing the “playdough piano”    

Good speakers are key for using makey makeys in a loud class!

Rocking out to Billie Jean:  Getting the beat just right is highly entertaining and motivating.

Students figure out how things work by playing with them & developing theories.    

“It doesn’t work…”

 “Because we don’t have the bracelet!” (the ‘grounding’ wire)

Students jump on an aluminum foil ‘Dance Floor’ and Makey Makey to play Super Mario Bros and build perseverance and confidence.

“I did it without falling!”

Students then play with their older buddies and learn more about electricity and conductivity: by holding the alligator clips, we are conductive and can become the piano, too!

A HUMAN PIANO?!

Exploring and learning about electricity, energy, sound, conductivity and circuits is fun with Makey Makeys! Learning from older buddies is helpful and motivating, and older buddies have the opportunity to explain their thinking.  Both groups are co-constructing their understanding.

Developing an understanding about how things work and how energy travels is accessible for ALL ages. They may not understand exactly how electricity works…but then again, do you?
 
 
 
 

 

My 3 year old twins exploring, testing theories and making sounds
 
 
Does a pencil work as well as my finger?
 
 
Let’s try it out and see.

“Just” Playing?


“They’re
just playing,” is a sentence I hear again and again.  I’ve uttered it myself, despite my own beliefs in its importance.

MindShift’s The Power of Play in Learning,  an article where everything is quotable and tweetable, describes play this way:

“Play is about exploring the possible. In times of rapid change, exploring the possible becomes an essential skill…To be comfortable with uncertainty, one must remain fluid, receptive and creative — in a word: playful.”

Aran Levasseur

Play and games help us prepare for the unexpected. Photo: Pixabay, no attribution required.

I have written much about my school’s approach and philosophy with regards to how young children best learn: through play.

Children in Early Years (3 years old) through Kindergarten (5 years old) and even into first grade are provided with ample opportunity for free play, both inside and outside in well thought out, rich and inviting environments.  (The following images were taken from the EY rooms in my school.  All credits, Holly Fraser)

Materials are selected based not only on their aesthetic appeal, but also their flexibility or open-endedness.  What possibilities do they present?  Teachers refrain from direct instruction/direction as much as possible and instead present “learning proposals,” or open invitations to investigate, explore, and play.

Levasseur says in his article,

One doesn’t read “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to develop strategy before playing the game. One starts by playing. This is true for all video games. You start by exploring the world with curiosity and begin to develop a hypothesis of what you’re supposed to do. Through trial, error, pattern recognition, logic and chance you continually reformulate your trajectory.

Just like this view of learning to play video games, children at my school and in my class are encouraged to construct their own meaning, in groups or individually, and their working theories are honoured, questioned and documented.

Levasseur continues:

“This model of learning is not only effective for video games but for all digital tools, and I would argue that play — especially in the digital sense — is emerging as a pedagogical keystone for education in the 21st century.”

Students need ample time to play with new technology.  Photo credit: Holly Fraser

I know myself, with any new tool, app, robot, device, etc.that I’m shown/hear about I immediately want/need to go and play with it.  Just like the young children we work with, we need ample time and freedom to explore and play around with a new ‘material’ before we are expected to produce “results” or come to any new conclusions.  

We also need to ensure our students feel welcome and comfortable in their play environment in order to learn optimally. In Play is Hard Work, by Bud Hunt, play is described as finding freedom in the face of constraint.” Students don’t tend to learn in any environment where they feel uncomfortable, unsafe or or unwelcome.  I’ve had similar thoughts myself as a Specialist teacher going into classrooms–some where I am expected and welcome, others were I feel like an afterthought, ignored or met with resistance.  In which rooms do I feel free to try new things, be creative and take risks?  (All necessary for learning.)

Hunt cautions that play isn’t always “fun,” however…. “I think you can play with really serious ideas and concepts.”


I’ve often divided the kinds of play I see in my own classroom from previous years into several categories:  

“Flitting butterfly” playing: aimless, jumping from thing to thing, not settling or focusing on anything, moving on once something is deemed too challenging…(although this “flitting” about is often required before finding something to settle on.)

“Role play/Imaginative” play: (relationship building, problem solving, story telling, negotiating)

Role Play/Small World Imaginative Play. Photo Credit: Holly Fraser

“Object” play (manipulating, creating, building, trouble shooting)

Object Play: Blocks. Photo credit: Holly Fraser

“Physical” play  (gross motor skills; risk taking; balance; endurance)  

Physical Play: Boy enjoying nature. Photo credit: Pixabay, no attribution required

All but the first kind of play (which some kids can unfortunately get stuck on) can and should eventually lead to a deep play, a higher quality of play where they enter into the “zone” or “flow.” This kind of play really does become serious and absorbing-and challenging –but not too challenging–and where real learning takes place.

Getting into the zen like zone of deep learning. Photo, Pixabay, no attribution required.

Nathan Maton’s article,  How Games can Influence Learning describes how “the best games challenge the player at exactly the right level and in the right way to keep the player playing….A well-designed game offers an intricate balance of challenges and rewards that continually pushes players to, and then beyond, the limits of their knowledge and skill.”

New York Times Magazine: Taking Play Seriously looks at play from a scientific point of view, from its evolutionary roots and to the discovery of its role in brain growth and development.

It was fascinating looking at how most mammals engage in play–despite risks (animals–and people– risk injury and even death, the need for play is so strong.)

Research shows play is essential for brain development and growth. Photo Credit: Pixabay, no attribution required

The very extensive research suggests that, “that play contributes to the growth of more supple, more flexible brains.”

‘‘I think of play as training for the unexpected…Behavioural flexibility and variability is adaptive… it’s really important to be able to change your behaviour in a changing environment.’’

-Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado

This constant reiteration of play as training our brains to prepare for the unexpected in an ever changing world makes we wonder why it isn’t given more value, more time, more importance in school and at home–in all our lives.  The time to do so is now.