User Generated Education

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Let Children’s Play (with Technology) Be Their Work in Education

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The importance of play as part of a child’s development has been the focus of educational specialists and research for decades.  Piaget and Montessori have emphasized that a child’s play is his or her work.

Play activities are essential to healthy development for children and adolescents. Research shows that 75% of brain development occurs after birth. The activities engaged in by children both stimulate and influence the pattern of the connections made between the nerve cells. This process influences the development of fine and gross motor skills, language, socialization, personal awareness, emotional well-being, creativity, problem solving and learning ability.  The most important role that play can have is to help children to be active, make choices and practice actions to mastery. They should have experience with a wide variety of content (art, music, language, science, math, social relations) because each is important for the development of a complex and integrated brain. Play that links sensori-motor, cognitive, and social-emotional experiences provides an ideal setting from brain development.

Children are still playing in this age of technology but the type of play and results are evolving.  Lego, with its introduction of the new Mindstorm, created an infographic that describes the changing pattern of kids and young peoples’ use of technology and how it is affecting their development.


Of special note to educators is the section on the changing world of children at play. To summarize, the key areas of the change nature of play as identified by Lego are:

  1. The future will see the creation of more diversified playful relationships due to the ease of creating an online persona and free networking sites like Tumblr and Youtube.
  2. Children will continue to demand more control over complex outputs. Children are creating computer games, movies, their own content.
  3. Visual instruction is the way of the future. Kids go to Youtube to learn.  They create videos and complex stories via gaming platforms (Mindcraft, Scratch).
  4. The boundaries between digital and physical interaction will continue to blur.  Kids are growing up with augmented reality toys and body-gesture systems.
  5. Customizing one’s toys and play will be an integral of child development.  Creative expression via the DIY movement is rapidly growing.
  6. Children with share an increasingly amount of humanity with their toys and play.  Technology enables children to create, navigate and perform their emotional lives.

The world is qualitatively different than when the educational system was conceptualized; than when educators were students in that system.  Kids are growing up and developing in a world that is highly technologically-driven, information-rich, and connected.  The Institute for the Future discuss this in their Magic of Kidstech report:

With touchscreens, simple programming languages, and other lowered barriers for human-computer interaction, kids are poised to gain a high level of technical proficiency. When you combine this access with the resources kids have—time, a highly plastic brain, and the freedom to experiment with new behaviors, interests, and ways of being—it is not hard to imagine a level of empowerment for kids never before seen in human history.

The Institute for the Future reinforces some of the ideas the Lego shared.

  1. Authorship, storytelling, fantasy, and role-playing will expand into new media.  Growing up immersed in virtual worlds, social networks, and YouTube videos, children will develop a different set of expectations for evaluating human proximity and presence, as well as a comfortable confidence expressing their views.
  2. Play will be a more fluid material experience, blending the virtual and the physical.  Kids will have many fun options to explore depth, sound, gesture, and images.  By 2021, kids will expect their digital and physical objects to share more characteristics, including tangibility and connectivity.
  3. Toys show kids how to get emotional with technology.  Smart toys are becoming, in essence, sociable robots, and children are expanding the kinds of relationships they have with them via touch, voice, and gesture.  Sociable robots are drawing our children into caring for them, nurturing them, and creating more powerful and affective human-machine partnerships.  (
  4. Kids are global children.  Reality for children today is not confined to their room, or house, or school—it is a global community of networked peers and endless virtual horizons. Creating and sharing videos with billions is a normal activity for many kids today, giving them a vastly different perspective on distances, times, and relationship with others than previous generations held.
  5. Kids are empowered and connected in ways not seen before. This “magic” that they wield with ease, and the expectations that are being inculcated now for technology, society, and even reality, will echo through time as these generations grow into key players in the economy and society. (

How many educators are teaching in their classrooms the way kids are learning during their own playtime using their own technologies? How many state educational standards address how children are playing and learning in this amazing age of technology?  Many teachers, schools, district are not giving kids a chance to play nor use technology in ways that come naturally to them.

What follows are some simple suggestions I have to facilitate play with technology in educational settings:

  • Let learners bring in their devices (all types – mobile, gaming, robotics) for use in the classroom, to reinforce learning, and for show and tell.
  • Use some educational monies to purchase “fun” technologies – gaming systems, Lego robotics, iPad apps.
  • Give kids unstructured free time play using their and their peer’s devices.  See Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology.
  • Ask learners to teach you and the class about a technology he or she is using at home.
  • Give learners a choice how they want to demonstrate their content area learning – a video? a online game?  a board game?
  • Explore and integrate Maker Education as part of the curriculum.
  • Encourage and provide the time and tools for students to share their learning with a global audience – e.g. Skyping with another classroom,  blogging, Tweeting, creating videos and newscast.

This pretty much sums it up . . .

New technologies are going to help many kids play the part of the magician. They will enchant us with their creations and sleight of hand. They will also amaze us with their ability to escape from the technological chains we’re tying them up with as well. We live in a world of fast and accelerating change. Kids are in some ways ideally prepared to deal with change, and may have more to say and more power to influence the world than at any other time in history. That new empowerment will be the real magic kids bring to the world. (

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 12, 2013 at 8:10 pm

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