Play is vital for normal cognitive, social and emotional development, as quoted in The Power of Play in Learning by Tina Barseghian. From when our children are young, all we as parents do is encourage our children, to be curious and to explore their environment and learn through play.
Yet somewhere along the way as our students move up through different education systems, play and in many ways, curiosity has been drummed out of them. I have been fortunate to work in schools across different continents and I realise that the mindset of students towards their learning differs depending on how their culture values education. As a result, the mindset of the students changes dramatically, from that of curiosity, wanting to explore and think for themselves, to one of, just spoon feed me, tell me what I have to do, and heaven forbid don’t make me think! Two sides to the learning spectrum, but they are definitely out there, and I have taught them both. Therefore as a teacher, however much I love the idea of having a game based classroom, I think my students would need a specific mindset for it to be successful and I would need a lot of time to learn and create one to make this a successful option. Before embarking on this, I would love an opportunity to actually see an educational game based classroom in practice.
A few years back I had looked at the flipped classroom and totally agree with the idea of school time spent talking and problem solving, however for me, I have a problem with the at home learning piece. I truly believe students work hard enough during the school day, they need to go home and give their brain a rest, therefore take their time to enjoy life, play, relax and interact with friends. Adding another ½ hour to an hour, or more of homework so they can learn a skill to be able to apply the next day at school wouldn’t work for my students. Saying that though, my students do have access to videos / songs etc that reinforce the concept we are learning, so it is a resource for them to go back to, but it is used during the school day, not out of it.
Therefore what can I do in my classroom? These readings just reinforced for me the need to continue to incorporate ‘play’ in the form of hands on games or digital ‘gamified’ skills. It can be as simple as using cards to make a game to recap place value – hands on, with high engagement. I used a couple of games from the NCTM Illuminations website with my class this week, where the students played in two teams to use decimals to reach a particular value. The engagement, competition, excitement, collaboration, reinforcement of a combination of math skills, was awesome. They all came in the next day asking to play again – now that is the type of learning I want to see continue in my classroom, and I do believe learning through play and games is one way to go and one that I can easily continue to implement.