At this morning's NECC keynote discussion Elizabeth Streb noted that students who come to her workshops have time to play before the lessons start but that the line between when play ends and learning begins is very often blurred. Mitchell Resnick at the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten talks about the same thing - for example what kindergarten children learn playing with blocks.
And yet it seems as though all too often we try to suck all the fun and play out of education. We act as if learning only happens when we are serious and that it is almost better if "learning" is painful and boring. And then we wonder why kids just can't wait to get out of school. Am I one of the few who sees a problem here?
I watched a demo of the various FIRST Robotics competitions yesterday here at NECC. The joy of learning that students of all ages shown there was electric. Kids will learn what they need in order to play in games, in sports or to do entertaining things. We see them going through hoops to learn how to create videos and podcasts, web pages and blogs, and toys and video games of enormous complexity. Why aren't we taking more advantage of the motivations that drive students.
At this morning's keynote Mary Cullinane in her final remarks highlighted the need, the necessity, for teachers to understand the motivations of students in order to teach them best. Fun is a huge motivator. It's not the only one of course but it is an important one.
I see huge potential in educational games. TO some extent teachers are and have been using games for years of course. But I think that computers and the simulation technologies that are being developed for business and for commercial games have an as yet under accepted potential for helping to teach students. Rather than "commercial games" I started to write "non-educational games" but I wonder if perhaps all games are educational in some way. But are they all teaching lessons we want taught? How do we best harness this technology for good?
Learning is fun when the students are told to meet an objective that is (a) attainable, and (b) unpredictable, and not told to "sit down, shut up, and learn."
I think we deliver SO MUCH CONTENT that we don't give the students time to really deeply learn the material they have been given. Honestly, if we took more time with each topic, and found creative ways to demonstrate how useful (and unpredictable) those topics are in life, our students wouldn't hate their subjects so much.