What happened to play?

As the push for rigor in kindergarten continues, many of our pint-sized learners find themselves in a high-stakes learning environment.  They shuffle from lesson to lesson, standard to standard, but we only have so many hours in the school day.  Something has to give.  Unfortunately, the children’s most natural and productive learning activity gets squeezed to a minimum: play.

Free play is production-centered, interest-driven, and openly-networked. The link between home, school, and community is strong.  Playmates learn to contribute to a shared purpose, and they practice negotiating their roles in different peer cultures.  

Play is also academically-oriented.  It is a process and a product of learning.  It serves as both a sense-making activity and a medium to exhibit new knowledge.  It’s infinitely flexible; the teacher can carefully construct the environment and materials to spark play with specific content or ideas.  Free play is the young child’s connected learning.

Check out this infographic again, but read it through the lens of a kindergarten teacher.  It describes a kindergarten that values play, authentic learning and the individual child.

The captain of his ship

“We spend a lot of time talking with students about agency.  Connected learning is about activating their voice.” High school student Charles combined his passion and desire to help others to take up a cause that mattered to him.

When today’s youth are passionate about social justice issues, connected learning is an inherent part of the process.  They seek connections with others who share similar interests and purposes.  They use social media to mobilize, document, give and receive feedback.  As they learn more about their purposes, they continue to share and connect with peers, developing peer culture within their communities.  Charles’ story illustrates the effect of connected learning and peer support on an individual’s social identity.  His engagement in connected learning led to complex decision-making and resulted in a plan to affect real-world change.  For Charles, connected learning is social action.

Badge of (dis)honor?

Throughout the course of our connectedlearning class, I have enjoyed interacting with a variety of communities.  I’m filing away good ideas, testing new resources, and opening myself up to new perspectives in education.  However, I feel like a bit of a misfit.  I still haven’t found any early childhood models of connected learning.  For example, I am interested in gamification of the classroom. I’ve watched videos and read about numerous exemplars, ranging from higher education to about 2nd or 3rd grade.  It’s inspiring, and I’m pulling ideas I think would work in a kindergarten classroom. But kindergarten is a completely different ball game than even 2nd grade, and I wish I could see a snapshot of how gamification might look with the little ones.

To further complicate the matter, K teachers already make use of games as much as possible.  But frequently using games to support curriculum is different than making a game out of the curriculum.  How can I step it up a notch?  Obviously, my K students won’t be earning XP for completing quests.  We’re not quite there, yet.  But the concept of earning “achievements” is within reach, and I can guarantee that badges would be motivating.  When you get down to it, a badge is simply a permanent sticker that tells you exactly why you’re so awesome.  Talk about giving specific feedback!

I’m thinking about how I might design badges for K or even 1st grade.  It occurred to me that I could use images of characters that are popular to the children.  Before I explain, let me take a step back and tell a little more about me.  I’m the first person to think, “Oh no.  Again?” when the children break out into an impromptu rendition of Let It Go on the playground.  I may even walk to the opposite side of the playground to “see what’s going on.”  I’m also that teacher who sends home explicit directions for Show and Tell, detailing what children can bring (things found in nature, artwork, etc.) and why they may not bring “commercial toys.”  I cannot possibly tolerate hearing about 10 Skylanders, and more importantly, the children’s dialogue is not as rich when the focus is these commercial entities.  It becomes all about the Elsa doll and who has the same doll and who went to so-and-so’s Frozen birthday party and did you see, she got a giant Oalof?  Save that for recess, kindergartener; I’d rather hear your observations and encourage you to use descriptive words and develop your thoughts.  

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Well it bothered me.

So, why on Earth would I consider plastering Oalof on a badge?  Because it would tap into arguably the mother of all motivators for 6-year-old kids.  These badges would be the talk of Kindergarten Town.  This kind of motivation would be very helpful to encourage positive behavior as well as academic behaviors.  I even feel like I may be able to easily shift the conversation away from the character and get the children talking about how they earned the badge.  This can segue into a discussion on giving advice to help other people.  The little ones certainly love being the expert!

I’m not sure, though.  Should I cave and embrace the commercialism for the sake of motivation?  I’m sure badges without these characters would be motivating as well.  But I don’t think anything can compete with the stronghold these characters have on the children.  When it comes down to it, I probably won’t use commercial characters on badges, but I think there is value in considering it.  After all, we’re supposed to find what motivates the children, and there it is, right in front of us.  But, at what cost?

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A few thoughts on my journey

Things I value as I reflect on my connected learning process:

1. Discovering gamification and beginning to imagine how it might look in my classroom.  The kids love games; l love games.  Why not set up the classroom experience to feel like a game?  

2. Tinkering with new tools and expanding my network of technology-related resources.  So far, my favorite tools are My GoogleMaps and Mozilla Webmaker.  However, Webmaker has a pretty significant limitation, and it drove me nuts.  I wanted to sync a recording of my voice to my Cinderella book hack (and I spent many hours trying).  In the end, I couldn’t get the timing correct due to pauses and skips in the edit.  I wonder if there are similar tools that may work better for this kind of project.

3. Not reading the syllabus.  I love that each week follows the same schedule. I know what to expect, and I know what’s due.  The only variable is the topic.  It’s freeing to not worry about Project X that’s due in 2 weeks.  Rather, I focus on the here and now, the topic of the moment. I can be present in my learning, which is something that doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should.  

4. Listening to my classmates’ thoughts every Wednesday night and feeling free to share when I’m ready.  I have always been a quiet student, and my report cards always suggested that I didn’t participate enough.  Those report cards didn’t reflect my active listening or the fact that I needed time to quietly process and reflect in order to make meaning.  Discussions in school often move too quickly for me to interact on the spot.  In this class, I love that I can actively listen to our sessions without feeling pressured to force a comment.  I feel like I’m respected as a learner.  I may not have a whole lot to say when we meet, but I’m connecting with everybody’s ideas, and I’m happy to share those connections in my blog.

5. Choosing my path.  It’s been empowering to follow my interests to new discoveries.  I think back to the beginning of the semester, and I remember feeling overwhelmed and intimidated by the lack of parameters.  I didn’t know where to begin.  But once I got the ball rolling, it didn’t stop.  New ideas led to questions which led to new discoveries and offshoot ideas.  This feels satisfyingly authentic and meaningful.

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The first piece from my new jewelry line

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Bedazzle a duct tape bracelet?  I don’t like jewelry, so I set out to make a functional piece.  Behold the marker bracelet, a handy tool for any kindergarten teacher or student.  It transports and organizes markers (because you never know when you’ll need your “primrose” purple).  Plus, it functions as a cool art tool!

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The best ideas are poked, prodded, and molded by many hands

I came across this webinar on supporting openly networked learning, and @CLAlliance raised the question, “What’s the value of openly networked learning?”

The value of openly networked learning is its accessibility to all.  Information is shared and built upon rather than kept within the individual. Perhaps it’s cultural that many people tend to be protective and even secretive about thoughts and ideas.  Awhile back, my classmate brought up Teachers Pay Teachers in one of our discussions.  This is an example of a closed network; there is no dialogue among members, you have to pay to access others’ ideas, and those PDFs are not easy to edit and improve upon.  What a frustratingly inequitable and stagnant way to share information!  And the quality of content suffers due to the closed network.

DocsTeach.org is the anti-Teachers Pay Teachers.  It’s an open network for social studies teachers to access primary sources, create activities, and publicly post them.  Most importantly, DocsTeach allows users to build on others’ activities and add the edits to the database.  As a result, ideas are constantly evolving, and the quality of content is good, thanks to the open network and accessibility to all.  Check out a sample activity I created for primary students.  

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“Productively eavesdropping” on gamification practitioners

Social Studies - A thorough look into two teachers’ gamified classrooms.

Chemistry - I’m not one to throw around the word “epic,” but I can’t think of a more appropriate word to describe this storyline.  This guy means business.

This video (for all curricular areas) shares great tidbits for the gamified classroom.  My favorite suggestion is to promote class cooperation and camaraderie by awarding bonus XP to the entire class for the first person (or first 5 people) to reach a certain number of points.

Chemistry - A quality look at the nuts and bolts of gamification.

How to gamify using Moodle:

Disconnected learners?  Plug them in to connected learning!

Human behavior is driven by need and/or interest.  We engage in leisure activities (interest).  We get the car inspected so we don’t get pulled over (need…take it from me, also best-interest).  We eat (need and/or interest).  Interest-driven behavior is intrinsically motivated, but need-driven behavior is not necessarily.  As an undergraduate, I was highly motivated to “learn” and read about unappealing subjects. This was a need-driven, extrinsically motivated behavior because I wanted a high GPA and a degree with honors. Sure, it got me through Philosophy, but did I really learn anything?  Nope.        

Of course, there will always be topics that aren’t interesting to students. To further complicate the matter, student preferences are different; any given topic will intrinsically motivate some and completely bore others.  This is where connected learning comes into play.  It provides a model for all students to interact with content in a personally-meaningful way.  Moreover, it considers interest-driven learning dependent on social context. Learning becomes higher-order and active as students make decisions, produce, and collaborate in-person and via social media. Even if a topic completely bores a student, that student is likely to connect with and be drawn in by the use of social media or the prospect of taking on relevant, real-world problems, for example.  I wonder about my experience in Philosophy and how it would have been different if it had incorporated even just one component of connected learning.  Students genuinely want to be involved and to feel like their work is meaningful, but it’s hard when classrooms structured for disconnected learning.

Disconnected learners?  Plug them in to connected learning!

Human behavior is driven by need and/or interest.  We engage in leisure activities (interest).  We get the car inspected so we don’t get pulled over (need…take it from me, also best-interest).  We eat (need and/or interest).  Interest-driven behavior is intrinsically motivated, but need-driven behavior is not necessarily.  As an undergraduate, I was highly motivated to “learn” and read about unappealing subjects. This was a need-driven, extrinsically motivated behavior because I wanted a high GPA and a degree with honors. Sure, it got me through Philosophy, but did I really learn anything?  Nope.        

Of course, there will always be topics that aren’t interesting to students. To further complicate the matter, student preferences are different; any given topic will intrinsically motivate some and completely bore others.  This is where connected learning comes into play.  It provides a model for all students to interact with content in a personally-meaningful way.  Moreover, it considers interest-driven learning dependent on social context. Learning becomes higher-order and active as students make decisions, produce, and collaborate in-person and via social media. Even if a topic completely bores a student, that student is likely to connect with and be drawn in by the use of social media or the prospect of taking on relevant, real-world problems, for example.  I wonder about my experience in Philosophy and how it would have been different if it had incorporated even just one component of connected learning.  Students genuinely want to be involved and to feel like their work is meaningful, but it’s hard when classrooms structured for disconnected learning.

First attempt at badge-making

I decided create a few sample badges for my future gamified elementary classroom.  Initial thoughts: it’s going to be a very time-consuming process to set this up.  However, much of the work is up-front and hopefully will occur over the summer.  Once it’s set up, it should be easy to maintain and add to it over the years to meet students’ needs.  I used ClassBadges, which feels intuitive and looks attractive, but it doesn’t provide a lot of stock art.  It will get me started, but I’ll have to go searching for pictures, resize them to fit, etc.

Language Arts:

Science:

Social Studies:

Positive Behavior:

Positive Behavior: