User Generated Education

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Posts Tagged ‘play

Games or Worksheets: Is there really a question about the choice?

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I work part time with gifted elementary students at two Title 1 schools where most of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches; and where they and/or their parents are learning English as a second language. What I quickly discovered about my students was that many were lacking in foundational skills in ELA and in math. Sadly, the instructional method used by way too many schools, especially those considered low performing like mine, is to give students lots of worksheets to teach such skills. I don’t like worksheets. I didn’t like them when I was an elementary student and don’t know too many elementary students who say, “I love doing worksheets.”

I have been using games in my classrooms (elementary and higher education) for decades. My use of games has included board games, team building and cooperative games, and more recently, video games. In order to help my gifted students learn some of the foundational skills, I integrate a variety of these games. This post is split into two parts:

  • Personal Observations About the Use of Games for Learning
  • Example Games Used to Teach and Reinforce

Personal Observations About the Use of Games for Learning

There has been a lot written about using games for learning. Research generally supports their use for learning:

Across 57 studies that compared teaching with a game to using other instructional tools, incorporating a game was more effective (SD .33). Using a game improved cognitive learning outcomes along with intrapersonal and interpersonal outcomes. Researchers looking at other collections of studies have found that games help students retain what they’ve learned.

I have written about the teacher as an ethnographer and the teacher as a reflective practitioner. In line with these beliefs, I have made my own personal observations about using games with gifted elementary students at low performing schools.

The Desire to Win is a Motivator

One of the biggest draw in the use of games is that students want to build their skills in order to win the game. Most, if not all, of my students embrace and engage in competitive games with the goal of winning. The need to win is a strong motivator; and to win they need to develop those skills. Even in group team building and cooperative learning, learning basic skills in order to be successful is a great motivator for learning basic skills. The same can’t be said of worksheets. The major reward for completing a worksheet is a grade from the teacher. For many students, this type of reward is not all that motivating.

A Sense of Fun and Play

When games are used for learning, excitement and joy become part of the learning process. My learners’ excitement is seen with their squeals of joy, big smiles on their faces, and jumping out of their seats when they succeed in the games.  Doing worksheets is not fun and they do not elicit playful responses. They is limited joy in learning through worksheets.

Learning Doesn’t Feel Contrived, Pushed, nor Painful

Most children play games and many adults do so, too. Games seem to be part of human existence.  Thus, when games are introduced into the learning environment, they feel natural to the learners. On the other hand, worksheets are not part of learners’ lives outside of the classroom. This translates into worksheets feeling contrived and pushed. Doing worksheets is often painful for the learners.

Noise is Expected

Games often include vocal elements. Learner voices and noise are expected and accepted when games are played. The opposite is true for doing worksheets. The expectation is that there is silence in the classroom while students work through their worksheets.

Increased and Engaging Repetition of Concepts

In general, repetition is needed to gain and remember basic skills. Usually this occurs through memorizing and repeating core skills. Games often offer the repetition of basic skills in a fun way as learners work towards completing the game challenges. Doing multiple worksheets can provide the repetition but not the engagement.

Learners Spontaneously Help One Another

Even in games that ask learners compete (see the second part of this post for examples), they often help one another out when one of their peers get stuck. This type of peer assistance is not promoted, may even be seen as cheating when students are completing worksheets.

Natural, Immediate, and Continual Formative Assessment

Most games offer continual feedback on learners’ performances. Games provide immediate feedback about the degree of success with a challenge as this function is built into the game mechanics. The same is not true for worksheets. The teacher is the one who often reviews and grades the worksheet. Feedback does not tend to be immediate nor continual with the use of worksheets.

Increased Engagement

The above characteristics equal increased engagement, and increased engagement often means increased learning. I have to wonder if one of the reasons my learners didn’t develop foundational skills is that they weren’t engaged in their learning processes; that they just went through the motions of doing the worksheets.

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Examples Games Used to Teach and Reinforce Basic Skills

Word Fluency

Scrabble Relay

In this game, students were separated into two groups. A pile of several sets of Alphabet bean bags were placed about 25 yards from the starting line. In a relay type game, group members ran one a time to pick up and bring back to the starting line one bean bag at a time. The relay continued until all of the bean bags were picked up.

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The groups were then asked to create as many words as they could using the letters they collected. Letters could be reused after a word was created. Point values were: one point for words of 2 to 4 letters; two points for words with 5 to 9 letters; and 3 points for words with 10 letters or more.

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Words with Friends

I created a class account with Words with Friends EDU:

The success of this game was better than I expected. The learners had never heard of nor played Scrabble so I was excited to see their level of engagement. They loved challenging one another; learning how the point values worked; and exploring the power words and their definitions.

Basic Number Sense

Similar to the word fluency games, I have been using a variety of both analog and digital games to increase my learners’ knowledge and skill with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and divisions.

Some of the analog math games I’ve used include”

Some of the digital games I’ve used include:


Parting Shot: One of my gifted students yelled out this week during class (I meet with one group for a half a day and the other for a full day): I love coming to my gifted class. It is so much more fun than learning. On one hand, I was happy to hear how much he enjoys the class. On the other hand, I was saddened that: (1) he didn’t see our fun activities as learning, and (2) his regular classroom lacked such fun.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 5, 2016 at 12:43 am

Making and Innovation: Balancing Skills-Development, Scaffolding, and Free Play

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This post discusses some of the challenges and proposed solutions for implementing maker education activities into a learning setting.  Several trends drive this post:

  • The Play Deficit – diminishing amount of free play in which kids engage
  • Lack of creativity and innovation in children’s lives and toys
  • The Maker Movement -Maker Education

The Play Deficit

I think many adults, me included, have fond memories of free play during our childhoods . . . playing kickball and tag at recess, flipping baseball cards, creating carnivals in the backyard . . . all done without any guidance or interference from adults.  These memories are more vivid for me than any time I spent in school.  Fast forward to today  . . . school recess is shortened or does not exist at all, kids come home from school and sit in front of TVs or computers playing structured games, teens lives are structured with school, sports, social events with no free time.

The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary.  Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning.  Yet, a current Play Deficit exists. It is the very real decline in child-driven, unstructured play in U.S. society, and it has critical implications for the physical and developmental health of children and adolescents as well as the health of communities. Signs of the Play Deficit can be found almost everywhere.  http://altarum.org/health-policy-blog

The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary. Children—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—should have ample and easy access to safe and stimulating outdoor play spaces: creeks, woods, adventure playgrounds, pocket parks. Caregivers and parents should feel comfortable allowing children the time, independence, and freedom to play in their neighborhoods. Kids should be safe playing outside. Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning – See more at: http://altarum.org/health-policy-blog/public-health%E2%80%99s-untold-crisis-the-play-deficit#sthash.8tFXNgnW.dpuf

The benefits of play, although hard to measure, cannot be overstated.

A playful society is filled with problem-solving, resiliency, communication, and exploration of acceptable boundaries and risk. Play promotes all these faculties, and more.  While hard at play, we unwittingly built the cognitive, social-emotional, and physical skills which continued to support us as we made the transition to adulthood. http://altarum.org/health-policy-blog

The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary. Children—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—should have ample and easy access to safe and stimulating outdoor play spaces: creeks, woods, adventure playgrounds, pocket parks. Caregivers and parents should feel comfortable allowing children the time, independence, and freedom to play in their neighborhoods. Kids should be safe playing outside. Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning – See more at: http://altarum.org/health-policy-blog/public-health%E2%80%99s-untold-crisis-the-play-deficit#sthash.8tFXNgnW.dpuf
The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary. Children—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—should have ample and easy access to safe and stimulating outdoor play spaces: creeks, woods, adventure playgrounds, pocket parks. Caregivers and parents should feel comfortable allowing children the time, independence, and freedom to play in their neighborhoods. Kids should be safe playing outside. Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning – See more at: http://altarum.org/health-policy-blog/public-health%E2%80%99s-untold-crisis-the-play-deficit#sthash.8tFXNgnW.dpuf

At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons. To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play — lots and lots of it, without interference from adults. what children in our culture want to learn when they are free turns out to be skills that are valued in our culture and that lead to good jobs and satisfying lives. When they play, these students learn to read, calculate, and use computers with the same playful passion with which hunter-gatherer kids learn to hunt and gather. They don’t necessarily think of themselves as learning. They think of themselves as just playing, or ‘doing things’, but in the process they are learning. http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play/

Lack of creativity and innovation in children’s toys.

The symptoms of the play deficit can be seen in the types of commercial toys being bought and sold.  Legos provide the perfect example of the changing nature of toys.

Lego, loosely translated, means “to put together” in Latin. But “to put together” doesn’t fully encompass the value – and purpose – of those buckets of colorful bricks. Legos are about putting together, then taking apart, then reassembling in new ways. Legos unleashed my creativity when I was growing up. They drew out the part of me that had to know what things looked like from the inside out, how they worked, how they might work better.  Since that time, Legos have changed. Instead of all-purpose boxes of bricks, with no rules or instruction manuals, the company now sells Star Wars Legos and Harry Potter Legos, complete with step-by-step instructions and stated objectives. Follow these steps to build a Jedi Starfighter or Hogwarts Castle; when you’re done, your creation should look just like the picture on the box.  These Legos require a level of precision, and a measure of patience. But no longer are they about imagination; instead, the point is replication. In an essay in his wonderful collection, Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon described the transformation like this:  “Where Lego-building had once been open-ended and exploratory, it now [has] far more in common with puzzle-solving, a process of moving incrementally toward an ideal, pre-established, and above all, a provided solution.” Still, we lose something when the nondescript buckets of freeform Lego bricks are moved to the back of the toy store, while the highly specialized Disney sets fly off the shelves. We lose that chance to inspire a future engineer, the one who will grow up to revolutionize solar power, or make the iPhone as obsolete as Steve Jobs made the Discman.  This isn’t just about Lego bricks and Star Wars kits; it isn’t just about playthings. It’s about the way we prioritize and encourage creativity in society. Which is to say that we don’t do it nearly enough. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2012/01/27/parents-buy-kids-legos-but-throw-away-the-instructions/

Many of kids’ toys are promoted and sold with directions, solutions to problems, and expectations for end products.  Creativity and innovation are enhanced when directions and expected end products are intentionally omitted from the toy packaging.

Unfortunately for kids today, the designed world doesn’t leave much room for them to explore. Most toys come with pre-defined identities and stories, which rob children of the joy of imagining these things. This leaves few opportunities to figure out how to use a toy, experiment, fail, and invent the story of where it came from, and why it does what it does. Imagining, understanding, and becoming who we are is a process informed by play, and both toy companies and designers are taking all the exploration out of it. http://www.fastcodesign.com/3048508/the-case-for-letting-kids-design-their-own-play

The Result: Uncreative Children

No free time play time to experience, interact with, and experiment with the real world; toys that lack room for divergent and creative play; and a school system that focuses more on results, accountability, and  standardized products has led to a society of less creative children and research provides some evidence of this.

In a 2010 study of about 300,000 creativity tests going back to the 1970s, Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, found creativity has decreased among American children in recent years. Since 1990, children have become less able to produce unique and unusual ideas. They are also less humorous, less imaginative and less able to elaborate on ideas, Kim said.   Experts say creativity is innate, so it can’t really be lost. But it needs to be nurtured. “It’s not that creativity can necessarily disappear,” said Ron Beghetto, an education psychologist at the University of Oregon. “But it can be suppressed in particular contexts. “The current focus on testing in schools, and the idea that there is only one right answer to a question, may be hampering development of creativity among kids, Beghetto said. “There’s not much room for unexpected, novel, divergent thought,” he said. http://www.livescience.com/15535-children-creative.html

At least two conclusions can be drawn from this literature:

  • Making, creating, innovating, experimenting are needed now more than ever in this rapidly evolving world and our children are severely lacking in these skills
  • If these skills are to be integrated into formal and informal learning settings, some direct instruction and scaffolding will need to occur.

The maker movement and education has the potential to do both.

The Maker Movement – Maker Education

Thanks to new rapid-prototyping technologies like computer numerical control milling and 3-D printing, we’ve seen a convergence between hacker and hipster, between high-tech coding and the low-tech artisanal craft behind everything from Etsy to Burning Man.   Maker culture, for all its love of stuff, is similarly a culture of resourcefulness in an era of economic scarcity: relentless in its iterative prototyping, its radically adaptive reuse of ready-made objects, its tendency to unmake one thing to make another — all in a new ecology of economy http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/learning-from-legos.html?_r=1

The Maker movement has sparked a Maker Education trend in some informal and formal education settings.  The intent and mission of the maker movement is:

Fortunately for educators, making overlaps with the natural inclination of children to learn by doing. The maker movement values human passion, capability, and the ability to make things happen and solve problems anywhere, anytime.  The maker movement treats children as if they were competent. Too many schools do not. Making builds on each child’s passion by connecting their whole being with constructive materials in a flow that results in fantastic artifacts that almost always exceed our expectations. We want our kids so engaged in projects that they lose track of time or wake up in the middle of the night counting the minutes until they get to return to school. Never before have there been more exciting materials and technology for children to use as intellectual laboratories or vehicles for self-expression. The learning-by-doing approach also has precedents in education: project-based learning, Jean Piaget’s constructivism, and Seymour Papert’s constructionism. These theories explain the remarkable accomplishments of young makers and remind educators that every classroom needs to be a place where, as Piaget taught, “knowledge is a consequence of experience.” http://www.iste.org/learn/publications/learning-leading/issues/l-l-may-2014/feature-the-maker-movement-a-learning-revolution

So, in essence, the maker movement-maker education can counteract the negative effects that school and our society have had on children’s and young people’s playfulness and creativity.  

Scaffolding and Building Skills as a Foundation to Making

Maybe in the past, educators could throw out a bunch of materials and tools; and ask the kids to create, but as discussed in the previous sections, many of today’s kids don’t know how to just make.  Also some of the more common technologies built into some of the new maker tools (i.e., Arduino, Makey-Makey, Little Bits, 3D printers) require some basic user skills.  The scaffolding of learning needs to occur. Learning and developing basic maker skills can occur through direct instruction by the educator, watching videos, using manuals, and learning from peers. It is important, though, that the learning experience doesn’t stop there.  Learners need the time, tools, encouragement, and support to go beyond the “what already is” to build and develop new and unique designs. In conclusion, for maker education and similar initiatives that drive and are driven by innovation and creativity to work, several things need to occur given today’s learning and teaching climate

  1. Educators and other involved in curriculum development would need to let go of the focus on deliverables, measurables, and expected products.  The process of doing and creating needs to be the focus.
  2. Creativity, innovation, experimentation, tolerance and acceptance of mistakes need to be viewed as being as or even more important as learning content area knowledge,
  3. The educator should take on the role of lead learner – demonstrating, modeling, and scaffolding the use of the maker education tools and techniques.
  4. Educators would need to let go of control and embrace the ambiguity that comes with the messy learning of maker education.
  5. A sense of play and fun should be expected as part of these learning activities.
  6. In essence, the educator’s role in this learning environment would be a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he would show learners the possibilities and then get out of the way.

makered teacher

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 21, 2014 at 12:24 am

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. http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children.shtml

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.

Mindstorms

http://legoexternal.23video.com/

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.  (http://www.iftf.org/future-now/article-detail/the-future-of-kids-play-cross-dimensional-playgrounds/)
  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. (http://www.iftf.org/our-work/people-technology/technology-horizons/the-magic-of-kidstech/)

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. (http://www.iftf.org/our-work/people-technology/technology-horizons/the-magic-of-kidstech/)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 12, 2013 at 8:10 pm

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