Sara Corbett has an excellently written article “Learning by Playing” in the NY Times Magazine.
Doyle smiled. “All the time in the world,” he said, before taking his sprite on a deliberate detour to get even more reward points. The move, like a premature touchdown dance, put his students in agony.
“To the goal! To the goal! Al, run to the goal!”
And as the clock wound down and the students hollered and the steam radiator in the corner let out another long hiss, Doyle’s little blue self rounded a final corner, waited out a passing robot and charged into the goal at the end of the maze with less than two seconds to spare. This caused a microriot in the classroom. Cheers erupted. Fists pumped. A few kids lay back on the floor as if knocked out by the drama. Several made notes on their graph paper. Doyle leaned back in his chair. Had he taught anything? Had they learned anything? It depended, really, on how you wanted to think about teaching and learning.
The article doesn’t really mention that although video games are an excellent way for some kids to learn, other playful ways to learn are better for other kids with different interests and strengths. For example, some kids are better matched with music, others with sewing, or theater, or writing, or dance, or science.
Diversity isn’t a new idea… Sir Ken Robinson in his TED Talk is one of many who advocates for it:
Even more than schools that specialize in various disciplines, democratic schools bring students with different interests together, where they learn from each other, and decide their own education.
The Summerhill model of democratic schools exist because “the school should be made to fit the child, rather than the other way around”. Other kinds of schools: Sudbury schools, and various democratic or “free” schools around the world. If you live in New York City, attend a Wednesday morning meeting at the Brooklyn Free School, where students resolve conflicts and decide rules.
Not as democratic, but a step in this direction of teachers as facilitators, are Montessori and Waldorf schools. An interesting approach is described from the teacher’s perspective in parts of Keith Johnstone’s amazing book Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. The Summerhill model is described in specifics (with the second half of the book focusing on his personal life) by A.S. Summerhill in this book.
As Sara Corbett writes in “Learning by Playing,”
Being a sixth grader is a timeless art. Kids chew gum when they’re not supposed to. They ask for hugs from teachers when they need them. They get rowdy in gym class, dip Oreos in their chocolate-milk cartons at lunch, pick bits of food out of their braces and shout things like, “Hey, your epidermis is showing!” There is little they like to do quietly.
And sure, some kids do like to be quiet, but I’ve found that many adults, even .ASP programmers :) when excited, or fascinated, or amazed, will get a bit rowdy sometimes, working in self-led, self-organized teams. Because it’s fun, and exciting, and sometimes the entire range of emotions, to be leading something that you care about, to be developing a challenge, your own skills, and having a group of people whom we call a “company” and a bigger group we call their “customers” and an often-removed group we call their “stakeholders” benefit from what you’re doing.
To be continued.