The true object of all human life is play. ~G.K. Chesterton
Early childhood and elementary educators know significance of the roll of play in learning. When we provide time for children to engage in play, especially and most importantly purposeful play, engagement skyrockets and amazing learning occurs! Educators of young children understand the value of this, and they make time for purposeful play in their classrooms.
As children grow older, this is something that fades out of their daily learning experiences. A culture of accountability has created a movement away from playful, inquiry-based learning experiences in favor of content coverage and answer recall.
Yet, our need for play never really leaves us. Even adult learners gain so much by having the opportunity to engage in purposeful play.
My colleagues Greg Lawrence (@greglawrence) and Samantha Knoll (@samanthaknoll) and I tested this theory out with cabinet level and building administrators in our district. I’m not sure we could have predicted the outcome!
During a one-hour PD session within their monthly administrator meeting, we brought a Digital Playground to the administrators! Our learning outcomes for this PD were for administrators to understand that:
- Playing/experimenting/exploring (with technology) are collaboration.
- When planning, teachers identify the tools that best accelerate the learning -sometimes those are “tech” tools and other times they are not
We set up stations with eight different tech tools (or toys!) for them to play with and learn about – we had Sphero, Osmo, Do-Ink, Code.org, WeVideo, Google Cardboard, Makey-Makey, and Augmented Reality (Anatomy 4D and Elements 4D). In small groups, administrators made their way around the Digital Playground, trying out these tech tools (some tools they had seen or heard of – many they had not). They had 5 minutes at each station – just enough time to figure out and engage in some play with the tech tools.
We made this play very purposeful by asking the administrators to do this:
Think back to when you were in the classroom. Remember that lesson or unit that you just loved to teach? Recall that lesson or unit now, and keep it in mind as you make your way through the Digital Playground. Before you leave each station, consider how the technology at that station could be used to accelerate or amplify the learning in that lesson or unit that you used to love.
We wanted them to keep this idea from Michael Fullan in mind as they moved from station to station:
As administrators, including the superintendent, made their way from station to station, they had five minutes to investigate, get to know, and think about how to use each technology tool. But so very much more happened than that!
Administrators were using team-work to figure out the tools, they were problem-solving to make get the tools to work (to move, to play music), and they were engaging in collaborative conversations about the former as well as about how the tools could be used to accelerate learning in their buildings.
And just as important – they had fun! As they played with the technology toys at each station, they laughed and had fun together. You can take a glimpse into our Digital Playground and the fun we had here: Digital Playground
As we debriefed about our learning experiences, the administrators identified several benefits of the inquiry-based and playful learning in which they engaged. In addition to those already mentioned in this post, many noted the high level of engagement in the room. No one checked email, pulled out their phones, or felt the need to step out of the room. For that approximately 45 minutes of inquiry learning, the adults in the room were 100% engaged.
Our intent with this playground was to help administrators learn about new technology tools and to understand that when teachers are learning together about or experimenting together with technology they are engaging in quality collaboration. To do this we could have simply presented each technology tool to the administrators, informing them of how each words and the instructional benefits of each. But there is no way that a presentation would have provided the same high quality learning experiences or the engagement that the Digital Playground provided. Through play, every adult in the room had the opportunity to get his or her hands on the tool and to consider how he or she could (have) use it with students.
As someone responsible for both student and adult learning in my district, it is important for me to keep the outcomes of this Digital Playground learning experience in mind. I need to provide more opportunities for the adult learners in my world to engage in purposeful play!