Monday, January 20, 2014

Room to Play

I wanted to write about so many things this week. It was so hard to decide that it stopped me from actually sitting down and committing to a topic. As I reflected on everything it became clear that the theme linking everything is finding room to play.

If we want to try new practices in education, be it mobile technology, problem-based learning, or a focus on nature, we must above all provide room to play. I know play is a word that many do not want to associate with schools but yes play. The school, teachers, and students all need an environment where it is OK to take the time, take a few wrong turns and wonder.

Here is an example: We are currently working with an elementary school in Chengdu in Sichuan Province China. We are working with teachers, parents and administration to individualize instruction through mobile devices (Tablets- mostly iPads). This group of first graders have created their first ever videos explaining their understanding of math problems. How did we create this room to play? We brought together parents, teachers and administration to commit to this vision. So much so that in a country as obsessed with national tests as China we got a waiver on student assessments to give teachers and students time to develop and answer the challenge. Here in the US it seems at times that we want to have our cake and eat it too. Everybody is fine with 21st century skills as long as everything else will happen as well. Imagine a teacher's desk with unit, district, semester and state assessment and hundreds of standards per year. Now imagine trying to make room for something as fluid and time consuming as technology integration (real, deep, instruction altering) or problem based learning. If you put that on the desk something is bound to fall...

The same thing is happening in my class as I try to implement democratic practices. The order and pacing have to shift to make room for new ways of teaching and learning as I create new lessons and rethink the way I deliver instruction so the practices become more than just a facade. Luckily in higher education we do have some room to maneuver, although, that may be changing as well.

The same holds for arts integration or more to the point learning in and through the arts. For such learning to be successful we must make room to be creative, to try, to fail, to try again. If we want our students to learn persistence we must give them room to fall, dust themselves off and get up again in authentic ways.

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