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The future of play in education

Hi everyone,

I have been looking at the future of play for about 5 years and have spoken about the topic at MIT and written about it in Fast Co. Design, Parents Magazine and The Atlantic. Recently, I summed up the research into a poster for parents and teachers to help them frame the value of play in education (see below attachment).

I think this excerpt from my Atlantic article said it best, "Someday, rather than measuring memorization as an indicator of progress, we will measure our children's ability to manipulate (deconstruct and hack), morph (think flexibly and be tolerant of change), and move (think "with their hands" and play productively). Standardized aptitude tests will be replaced by our abilities to see (observe and imagine), sense (have empathy and intrinsic motivation), and stretch (think abstractly and systemically). We will advance our abilities to collaborate and create."

The future favors the flexible. And that's another reason this poster has + signs at the top of each category - because the superpowers of play we will need for a constantly evolving world is always changing and it encourages everyone to add their own powers of play.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Laura
http://www.lauraseargeantrichardson.com
LinkedIn: laurasgt

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  • Laura, This is brilliant. You wrote, "Someday, rather than measuring memorization as an indicator of progress, we will measure our children's ability to manipulate (deconstruct and hack), morph (think flexibly and be tolerant of change), and move (think "with their hands" and play productively). Standardized aptitude tests will be replaced by our abilities to see (observe and imagine), sense (have empathy and intrinsic motivation), and stretch (think abstractly and systemically). We will advance our abilities to collaborate and create."

    YES!

    The brain is an active and natural pattern decoder. We need to let little brains do what they are designed to do, solve! (Watch for David Kwong's TED Talk.)

    I love this Periodic Table of 21st Century Play you've started. There is an abundance of wisdom here and I suspect it is the beginning of something very special. You are breaking down how play translates into learning in great detail. I often get the impression play is at odds with what we traditionally view as academic. Your visual displays a foundation for some quality early education and approaches like the Montessori Method reveal how play enables learning. I think your work also has implications for this question about Grit so I'm linking it here. https://community.ed.ted.com/teded/to...

    I have a few elements I'll throw out to mull.

    Sense: External, +Listen? +Communicate?

    Sense: Internal +Concentrate?
    • Della,

      My thoughts about "Sense: External, +Listen? +Communicate? " and "Sense: Internal +Concentrate?" To goes to Laura's insight in "our abilities to see (observe and imagine), sense (have empathy and intrinsic motivation), and stretch (think abstractly and systemically)." It helps to follow your question about communicate. The whole process is energized by the need to communicate.

      One way it works is for deadlines for adults. An upcoming presentation, a book, a blog post focuses the thoughts. That where see,sense and stretch realize their value in every day life. When a presentation, book or blog post, it's fills one with satisfaction. The good feeling of satisfaction is something we want to repeat. If learning and critical thinking give us authentic good feelings we, and our children, will naturally want to do it again and again.

      Re gaming, making a decision that works gives the child a good feeling - in their hands, head and heart. It's no wonder that fun and games is serious business in the world of education.
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  • I’m excited for positive changes in education.
    3
    That periodic table is the best graphic display I have seen in years!

    The importance of play in a child's education and overall development is something we have known about for a while, but often takes a backseat to standards and assessments. I pray that you are right and that a lot of this standardized testing goes away soon. (It's been said that things often need to get worse before they can improve. With the overabundance of testing these days, how much worse does it need to be?)

    I look forward to reading your original article. Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas with us.
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  • I would like to extend the insights about education to the world of educators - teachers and parents. My take is that teachers and parents will naturally model the world of play, as everyone loves to play. My thought is we spend lots of time inspiring with communications in the form of "You should do this..." My approach would be different. Let's take a look at the organization of schooling from  the teacher's point of view. In another post Laura points to "open enviro, w/ flexible tools & modifiable rules" as the conditions necessary for play to emerge.

    Consider: How much of most professional development takes place in an open environment, with flexible tools and modifiable rules?  Not many in a many factory model schools. The counter trend is peer to peer learning on twitter. Many hash tags from all over the world. Another dynamic is a fast growing edcamp movement. Only a couple of years old and has spread quickly in the States. ( I haven't seen it quite the same in the rest of world. But I'm limited in what I see )

    For parents a positive trend is the growing dynamic of telecommunication and freelancers. ( I've read that in the States, 30% of the work force is freelance.)  Freelancers, small business entreprenuers naturally move in a world of ""open enviro, w/ flexible tools & modifiable rules". Now that software capabilities are virtually free ( Google Aps and TedEd are just two of many examples) the constraints have been modified, without convincing anyone of anything.

    It suggests to me that we should not be surprised by the increasing frequency of inflection points. The soil has been prepared. The seeds have been planted. Now it's time for the flowers to bloom.
    • Michael, I love this. "The soil has been prepared. The seeds have been planted. Now it's time for the flowers to bloom."

      I also really love what you wrote on Twitter. "Open enviros, flexible tools, modifiable rules = Sustainable Democracy" This is so important for our youth to practice.
    • Della, I'm glad I struck a chord. After tweeting and then thinking about what I tweeted ( for me the fingers tend to lead ) it occurred that "Citizenship" has been a goal of education since Thomas Jefferson through to John Dewey.

      What I hadn't thought of is how leading edge education practice is preparing our next generations for the environment in which our democracy can flourish.

      Open Environments ( characterized by rich diversity ) and Modifiable rules. Return to our children their Agency , let them practice and develop over their school years. And they will probably grow into adults that assume agency in all parts of their lives. Including, perhaps most important, the agency that should come to every citizen in a democracy.
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  • 1
    Helping kids realize that play can be a constructive force in the universe is critical. The slanted foundations of what Michael calls the "groaned up" world won't be easy to de-construct, but well worth the effort. Kids want a future they can believe, with a conception of reality that welcomes superpowers, rather than one that stifles the imagination and its achievements.

    The focus on flexibility seems wise, but the fruits of fixed mindsets are easier to standardize and monitor. Once kids start unleashing their superpowers, I wonder how the heck measuring their play will be done in an objective, quantifiable way.

    I'm liking what I see of your work, Laura. Cool stuff! Just so you know, I'm interested in the risks/benefits of educational technologies that gather data on how/what kids are learning. I'm a believer in the right of the child to have access and even ownership of their own data, as part of their lifelong learning identities, so that they can leverage their childhood data onward into adulthood with some sense of autonomy, which goes along with the non-invasion of privacy by authoritative and prescriptive authorities.

    Also, a few years back, me, M.J, Della, and some others were collaboratively brainstorming Open Badges. Have you looked into their potential in playful approaches to education?

    Dan/CAUSEANALYiCS
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    • After reading Maurice Holt's article, I think this article is appropriate: 
      http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/stem-is-the-new-math-here-again.html

      "Fifty years ago Ralph Raimi suggested that the first purpose of educational reform was to change the climate in the hierarchy of education so that our descendents would be able to advance the “true cause.” Each generation will have its own true cause, of course, to be heavily debated. However, I’m hoping we can all agree on one thing – that the future is unknown, the rate of change is increasing and we need to train our brains for a flexibility that can only be achieved by playing with our potential. The right way is never one way and our challenges are not one-dimensional. So why are we approaching the future that way?"
    • Della, thanks for the link to Holt's article. It's a good read and I agree completely. We need to help kids delve deeper into understanding, rather than just scraping the surface of "right answers".

      Laura, Your daughter deserves a badge, no doubt. I can only imagine the number of reviews she will write in our lifetime if she keeps it up with such discipline. Badges are a clever way to "play with our potential" as Raimi would put it, as well as a chance to contribute to the "true cause" of one's generation, and potentially create a future worth playing toward.
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  • I see a great complement between Laura's Periodic Table of Play and the Montessori method. When I look at what is done in a Montessori classroom, kids learn basic skills needed for literacy and numeracy. However, the students do not learn them with only textbooks, pencil and paper. The environment is carefully prepared for discovery. The major planning on the part of the teacher is in preparing the environment, not writing out lesson plans with page numbers as reference. Baskets are prepared for discovery of mathematical concepts with beads and rods. A movable alphabet is used by young hands to solve literacy.

    How could the idea for a carefully prepared environment be expanded or evolved with Laura's Periodic Table? For playing/making/tinkering to enable learning, we need to make space for __________? What is the role of technology in the prepared environment?

    I'm going to link the conversation about designing a school/classroom space here, too, since I'm now dreaming these two strands together. https://community.ed.ted.com/teded/to...
    • I'm familiar with the Montessori method (and know others who have their children in those schools), but I must confess I have never personally gone to a Montessori school. I did spend K-3 in a private school that was particularly open (based on fond memories), but public the rest of the time.

      The similarity in Montessori and design thinking is one of discovery. At frog design (and any design consultancy), the general approach is Discover, Design, Deliver. Or Learn, Ideate, Make. I've been communicating with Bryan P. directly and we are talking about the idea of Quest (which is a category on the table). Discovery is a huge component of this category. Like Montessori, I almost think future teachers will not only prepare the physical environment for discovery, but will create the frameworks (theoretical, digital, etc.) that support the 3 play pillars: open environments, flexible tools and modifiable rules. There are already frameworks for learning, of course, but in the future they may be designed to evoke play powers. The Periodic Table of Play is one such framework. Math is a subject and we "play" with math through lens of learning. We already build, deconstruct and remix math, but it gets more interesting when we pair math with sense-thinking (we might get scent arithmetic or numbers as colors) or transforming math to sound or using "dimension" to learn math in another way (try crayola's 3D glasses to see prime number float on a unique plane).
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  • 1
    The idea behind this article is applicable in real life situations. If we consider Grade Point Average of a student, I don't think GPA is the ultimate measure of student's potential to bring positive change in work environment. A student who scores less GPA but under substantially hard conditions for example economical, social and physical hardships is likely to perform better because he or she has already exhibited potential for morphing the conditions in his or her favor and perform best as possible.
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    • My point is it is not helpful to throw the baby out with the bath water! I.e. moving from one narrow definition of success to another
    • Helen, I understand what you are saying. It is my great hope that we learn from this era of standards-based reform that learning is not standard. One outcome does not fit all, and success in education is a very elusive term. The process needs to return to the forefront along with honoring individual identities. Montessori said, “Free the child’s potential and you will transform him into the world.”
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  • I’m so thankful no one stopped me from playing in my life!
    I just saw this and here's my spontaneous reply!

    Adults! Never deprive your kids from free play!
    Adults! Never think you are never too old to play!

    "Play is the highest form of research." Einstein

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  • When is memorization work appropriate? I'm pondering this right now.

    There seems to be an assumption that literacy and numeracy must be gained through rote seat work. Literacy and numeracy basics are solvable in the beginning through the hand! (I am not Montessori certified, but I am on a learning spree about the method. I see so much worth and am imagineering some pedagogical bridges.) I am highly critical of our current practice of applying standards to a learning mind. However, this does not mean I do not value literacy and numeracy. On the contrary! We are limiting our students so much with our abstract standard staircase to success twelve years off.

    "The hands are the instruments of the man's intelligence," Maria Montessori

    I relearned what I thought I knew about literacy from the Montessori method. Children develop literacy and numeracy through solving in Montessori classrooms. In the mainstream, manipulatives are used to supplement and intervene in math (and sometimes literacy.) However, they are rarely the primary path to developing literacy and numeracy in public schools. In Montessori schools, the prepared environment is what I understand as the major preparation on the part of the teacher. In the mainstream, lesson planning involves many more page numbers to cover. Mainstream begins in the abstract often through memorization and intervenes with concrete resources. Montessori method moves students from concrete experience to abstract understanding.

    Check out David Kwong's TED Talk. "From birth, we are wired to solve." http://www.ted.com/talks/david_kwong_...

    Developing the Alphabetic Principle the Montessori Way
    In literacy, a movable alphabet is on hand to learn letter sounds and begin building words. This work establishes the alphabetic principle before reading is practice and before the letter name is brought into the mix.

    Developing Number Sense the Montessori Way
    In math, students practice gathering and sorting, bringing together and pulling apart to build number sense. This happens before equations are brought into the picture.

    While our written language does not play as nicely as math with answers, but there is a definite code and patterns aplenty! I apply what I have learned from Brenda Erickson (my mentor, a Montessorian) and use it when I work with struggling readers. I have found two things over and over again. Almost every struggling reader I work with is missing a significant number of basic letter sounds. It is well hidden because he/she has memorized a remarkable amount of words. (I wish I could go back to my days teaching intermediate grades with what I know now.)

    Memorizing sight words out of context of reading on flash cards may be backfiring. The brain is a powerful decoder. I suspect the brain may have picked up the code of the flipping of the card over the reading of the word as I regularly have students intermix sight words like the/is, him/ that, etc.

    Too much memorization-based instruction undermines the problem-solving nature of the mind. If there is a problem to be solved or a pattern to be found, enable the discovery through the hand.
    • Della, With our new internet environment memorization is no longer appropriate. I have an 11 year old granddaughter who assumes she find that answer on the web to any question she might have. With wikipedia, details of dates,people , summaries of the main points of books are all there in a second.

      I read a while ago that in Denmark they allow full internet access during high stakes exams.

      Rather than memorization our children have to learn to search and evaluate.Searching requires knowing just the right words. I am fortunate in having a strong liberal arts education. We had a course called Contemporary Civilization which was a run through of original documents of history,art, philosophy. At the time we joked that the course should be called Cocktail Conversation. Today that course allows me to find and learn more about virtually any topic because I know the words to use. Even better when I do go to a wikipedia article I click the links to learn new words.

      Evaluation is a different thing. Although I am so skeptical of words not a serious problem. In the context of democracy, it means our children must learn to identify credible sources, not follow the buzz on cable tv.
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    As a pediatric occupational therapist, we have always used play as the occupation of children and a platform to develop or improve skills in all aspects of their lives.
    Now that I am in the university setting, the question is how to bring that type of multisensory instructing techniques to the classroom and change the way an instructor provides adult learning.

    Diane Habegger, MS, OTR/L
    Keiser University, Tallahassee
    dhabegger@keiseruniversity.edu
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  • I’m thankful! Love this subject!
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    Della, for you specially, I have just posted the pdf book by Dr Jeff Goldstein in my tweet @ruthnglg a few moments ago:

    #PLAY in Children's Development, Health,Well Being @doctorjeff http://www.ornes.nl/wp-content/upload... ... @TED_ED...

    The child's learning process (adults call it Research!) started wonderfully the moment they begin to exercise their 5 senses which God already gifted in them, eg: crying out for their life with all their might the minute they were born into this earth! Have joy & play for your child and have faith!!

    Ruth :) me - art teacher & God's child. Play is a gift! Protect it and be generous with it! You know enough now - Enjoy it! Blessings!
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  • I hope everyone in this strand will check out next week's #TEDEdChat on Twitter. It is on Tuesday, October 7, 2014, at 6ET. We will be chatting about the importance of play while learning.

    Join us!
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  • Thanks for a wonderful #TEDEdChat on Twitter yesterday! We host a #TEDEdChat every Tuesday from 6-7pm ET. Check below for a recap of this chat and this TED-Ed Blog post for recaps on all #TEDEdChats.

    This week, we asked four questions centered around the future of play inspired by this post. Our co-moderator was TED-Ed Community Champion, Della Pelacios. You can find her on Twitter, @SensAbleLrning



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