Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Playful Learning

Today in class I twice heard myself using the word "play". The first time was with a group of second graders who were on the National Gallery of Art website looking at interactive art students can make online. This was supporting their How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry which focuses on abstract art. We had already done several activities from this excellent website before the Christmas holidays: PhotoOp and Brushster. Today we were looking at Flow and I wanted the students to look at the pre-set images first and have a go at seeing them move around the screen before they designed their own. I told the students to go and play with it. Later I had a group of 5th graders and I was introducing them to XtraNormal as part of their Who We Are unit of inquiry which focuses on how rights and responsibilities change depending on which stage you are in your life. Again, after giving the students a quick demo, I told them to go back to their computers and play.

Several times today, our admissions officers have come round the school and into the IT lab with groups of what I assume are prospective parents. Often when they come into the lab I take the time to show the parents what the students are working on. Sometimes they stop and ask the students what they are doing. I wondered what the reaction would be if parents asked these grade 2 or grade 5 students and were told "Ms Maggie told us to go and play on the computer". I mentioned this on a Twitter post and got a great reply from Adrienne Michetti (@amicetti) who said:
there is nothing wrong w/that word. The problem is that we've stigmatized it, made it sound opposite to learning, when it's not
Earlier this month at the BETT Show, I met up again with Professor Stephen Heppell and attended his Playful Learning presentation. He was also talking about play and said "play and technology have always been seductive". He went on to say that as a result of play, children observe, question, hypothesise and test - they are learning through playing. Another thing he said was "When you see engagement, you see performance too". So tonight I'm going to have a little think about play and entertainment, about engagement and empowerment, so that the next time a parent or an administrator comes into the room and asks what we are doing I am going to tell them that the students are playing - and I am then going to tell them how educational this in. I will be blogging about this again later this week once my thoughts are a little straighter. Watch this space.

Have just returned to this blog post one week later as I have just seen this slideshow on the Langwitches blog and wanted to post it - there are some great quotations about play here.

Photo Credit: Lost in Thought by Sven Kellenberger


  1. Thank you Maggie for an insightful post. I was glad to read the quote that engagement is linked to performance. I have seen this in my own classroom. I agree that "play" and "fun" have become stigmatized, but they are important parts of the learning process. Sometimes the techniques we choose to use in our classrooms have no benefits other than making learning more enjoyable for students so they are engaged--and that reason should be good enough!

  2. I have been thinking along these same lines lately. Play is essential to learning. When we kill play, learning seems to follow. Students enter school so eager and excited to learn. As the "play" becomes less and less, the love of learning dies. It is sad that when students enter school we ask them to stop playing. I am happy that this isn't epidemically true, we need to spread this play message!

  3. I also at times tell my students to go & play with a new tool or program. I remember using that term to a principal when we were planning some professional development for teachers who had just had an IWB installed, and I said that they needed some time to just play with the software & the board. It was very much frowned upon then. However, I feel much more confident about justifying the idea of play now. In fact, I just about insist on it :-0
    Thanks for sharing your thought on the issue.