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Unleashing Your Inner Child: Why Play and Exploration is the Best PD

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Hi friends, and welcome back to the EdTech Classroom Podcast. Let’s learn and grow together as 21st century educators. 

Now, it’s summer time, and I’m sitting here on the floor in my very, very warm house with no AC, and for those of you who are relatively new to this community, I actually just moved to this new neighborhood. 

I live in LA, and I just moved a few miles away to this new house that we’re renting.

It’s the cutest little house on the cutest little street and it feels so nice to have some more space – don’t get me wrong, my place is so small – it’s basically a shoe box – but it’s a shoe box with a yard, so that’s pretty cool.

And, I don’t have kids of my own yet, but this block has tons and tons of families with young children. There are toys everywhere, and I mean literally everywhere. 

And, over the weekend I was headed to the grocery store, and in my driveway, I found some toys – a few Nerf gun darts, a toy car, the works. 

And in that moment, I kind of had this realization, and I asked myself… when was the last time I played? 

And, I couldn’t remember. I truly couldn’t remember the last time I played. 

So I’ll ask you guys the same questions: 

When was the last time you played?

When was the last time you explored?

Now, I’m not asking about the last time you played with your children or with your students. When was the last time that you played?

When I think about my childhood and growing up, one day, I stopped playing. One day, I stopped going outside and playing with the kids on my block. One day, I stopped playing on the playground at school during recess. 

But I don’t remember that day. I don’t remember the very last time I played with my favorite dollhouse or my favorite Hot Wheels cars. One day, I cleaned up, and that was the last time I played with toys. I don’t remember that day. And at the time, I probably didn’t know that I’d never play with them again. 

In last week’s episode, we chatted about how teachers can take ownership over their own professional development in summer 2020. We went over some ideas on actionable, practical PD because let’s be honest… we’re all tired of the one-size-fits-all, “sit-and-get” model of PD.

Today, I’m going to be presenting an even wilder idea. The idea that teachers need play and exploration now more than ever. 

For those of you who have listened to my previous episodes, you’ve probably figured out that I am a big fan of Mitchel Resnick, the creator of Scratch programming language. 

Resnick inspires me for so many reasons, and I’ll never forget the first time I heard him speak, and he said that he believes that Kindergarten is the best invention of the past 1,000 years. 

At first thought, if you were to ask me, what’s the greatest invention of all time? 

I’d probably say Google without hesitation. 

But the more I think about Resnick’s response, the more I start to realize how important Kindergarten really is. 

And then the more I realize that the rest of the world should be more like Kindergarten. 

When I think about the 14,000 hours that kids spend in the K-12 school system, I think about the lack of play. This idea that one day kids wake up, they go to school, and building blocks are replaced with worksheets. And pretend-play is replaced with lectures.

This needs to change. We’re 21st century educators. We advocate for play and creativity and exploration in the classroom…

But we don’t always practice what we preach. Maybe you’re an advocate for project-based learning. Maybe you’re a huge fan of Genius Hour or of incorporating play in your classroom.

So I’ll ask you again… when was the last time YOU played? When was the last time you did any of these things?

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I don’t always practice what I preach as a teacher. I teach my students how to learn through play – so that they in turn can love learning – but at what point did I stop learning through play? 

Of course, I say I’m a lifelong learner – so many of us do – but I wonder why I don’t learn through play anymore. At what point did I start learning in the very ways I claim to denounce as an educator?

This broadcast model of education – where a teacher teaches at students, or a computer teaches at students – is something I avoid in my classroom. I want my students to have a collaborative, playful learning experience that looks nothing like the old, industrial model of education.

But, when I seek out my own learning experiences, through the form of professional development or higher education, time and time again I turn to this broadcast model. This “sit-and-get” professional development where an expert talks at me. 

I don’t practice what I preach, which makes me wonder: am I a good learner? Or, am I just a good teacher? 

In a lot of ways, I do consider myself to be a good learner. I really do love to learn and am constantly exploring and seeking out new learning opportunities. That being said, I think I can do more. 

I want to start playing more. I want to make more things with my hands. I want to roll around in sand boxes and get messy and embrace my mistakes. And I’d encourage you to join me.

In Summer 2020, the best professional development you can do as a teacher is to explore what Mitchel Resnick calls the four P’s of creative learning…

Projects, passion, peers, and play.

1. Projects

I am a big fan of project-based learning. I love watching my students learn to love learning through projects. The excitement they get around designing prototypes, generating ideas, practicing the design thinking process… their excitement reminds me why I decided to be a teacher. Every single time.

So as a teacher, what kind of projects can you do? 

Maybe this summer, you’ll take a look at your curriculum and do a project that your students will do. 

Or, maybe you’ll do a series of maker challenges. 

Maybe you’ll redesign your workspace using the design thinking process.

Maybe you’ll explore your own passion project. 

This summer, I’m going to do my own self-guided project in conjunction with this podcast and with this community I’m trying to build with EdTech Classroom.

As I’ve been trying to build this community and this network of educators, a lot of my structure has been closely tied to the PBL Works model of project-based learning. 

My podcast and my website and my online community has stemmed from a combination of sustained inquiry and authenticity and reflection and all these different core pillars of project-based learning.  

But, maybe I’ll decide to expand beyond doing projects in this space. Maybe I’ll do a project around something that I’m really passionate about outside of education…

Which brings me to the 2nd P of creative learning…

2. Passion

The idea behind “passion” as one of the four P’s of learning comes from the notion that when students, or people in general for that matter, work on projects that they care about – that they are deeply passionate about – they’ll work harder.

They’ll work for longer. They’ll learn more. 

And I’ve seen this to be very true with my students. Going back to Genius Hour, my students shine like never before when they have the opportunity to pursue their own passion projects.

This summer, I’d encourage you to do something you are passionate about. Dive into your favorite hobby just a little bit more.

Maybe you love gardening and want to focus more time planting new flowers. 

Maybe you love to surf or you love paint or you love going on really long walks to clear your mind.

I personally love to read. I’m such a bookworm. This summer, I’m going to read tons of memoirs. I love reading stories written by women, for women. 

And, I’ve never had the guts to write a book, but maybe I’ll give it a try. 

I know that this season of life can feel lonely for many and it can be hard to find connection, but that’s why I’m here. You don’t have to explore your passions alone. 

And even with social distancing measures still in place in some areas, you can still make new meaningful connections while continuing to foster existing relationships…

Which brings me to number 3…

3. Peers

Learning, as an adult, tends to be a solitary activity. But in reality, learning, at its very core, is inherently social. Learning thrives as a social activity. 

Collaboration, as we get older, can become more difficult. Between closed-off colleagues or lack of free time or whatever might be in the way, collaboration becomes less frequent.

Teaching is an incredibly social profession, yet it can sometimes be difficult to find peers to collaborate with.

As you pursue a new project or your passion this summer, I’d urge you to find someone to collaborate with.

If you love baking, ask your long distance friend to try out a new recipe with you on FaceTime.

If you love to write, try writing or journaling everyday. 

If you play chess, you could join a Facebook Group for chess players to exchange strategies.

Or, you could join a mastermind as a form of professional development. 

If you’re a runner, you can join a running club. There are apps like Strava that help runners connect with other people to make new friends online.

4. Play

No matter what you do, who you do it with, or how you do it… remember to play.

Tinker with new materials. Take risks. Make mistakes. Iterate. Try something new. 

The process of learning is a series of playful experiments. 

So start playing! Start experimenting!

As a kid, I always loved marble runs, and I love watching my students build them in my classroom during free play. This summer, I’m going to try building my own, using recycled materials.

I also love making smores in the summertime. I don’t have a fire pit, so maybe I’ll try making my own, rather than buying one. I’ll see what I can make with tin foil and pots and things from my garage. 

Teachers need to play more. We all need to play more. 

Play stimulates the imagination. Play helps you be a creative thinker. Play helps you be a better problem-solver.

And as educators, one of the biggest goals of our jobs is to teach students how to be creative problem-solvers. 

We want to teach our students how to identify a need or a problem and develop a solution.

When students embrace challenges, and say “okay here is what I have at my disposal. Now let’s come up with a solution,” they’re becoming better learners. 

When you play, you become a better learner. You laugh. You experience joy. You develop empathy. You make connections.

And you become a better teacher. 

A teacher who values learning through play – not because of the idea of play, or the educational theory behind the value of play – but because you know first-hand what it’s like to truly play. To playfully experiment.

So I’ll ask you one last time… when was the last time you played? 

Thank you so much for listening to the EdTech Classroom Podcast. I am so happy you joined me here today. Let’s play together. Let’s learn and grow together as 21st century educators. 
Add me on Instagram @edtechclass so we can be online friends, and send me an email at myedtechclassroom@gmail.com to chat some more. I’ll see you back here next week on Tech Tuesday. Bye friends!

Ideas from this episode are inspired by Mitchel Resnick and his book Lifelong Kindergarten. You can learn more or purchase his book here.

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