Play Can Be Hard Fun

In a previous blog post, I asked several questions related to the work of our early childhood mathematics team: What teacher knowledge is needed in order to enhance adult-child interactions and help children learn the most in play contexts? What experiences can support preschool teachers in deepening their knowledge of children’s mathematical thinking and the ways they can support children in play contexts? In this post, I’ll discuss a bit more about the potential for children to learn in these play contexts and share some recent thoughts in this direction.

In a recent conversation with Dr. Thiessen, our Director of Research here at the AIMS center, I discussed the ways in which we might begin to think about young children experiencing the necessary “puzzlement” that would lead to learning. Piaget describes this as the “disequilibrium” that one encounters when a particular action does not produce an expected outcome or result. In his book Radical Constructivism, Von Glasersfeld asked a similar question (paraphrased): “What are the situations in which the child’s schemes produce the perturbing outcomes that may impel it to learn?” This is an important consideration as we work with preschool children and explore what might be possible in the context of number development and play.

Recently, I read a fantastic article by Mitchel Resnik of the MIT Media Lab in which he discussed the work and ideas of Seymour Papert. Papert worked with Piaget at the University of Geneva from 1958 to 1963 and sought to change the way educators approached children’s thinking and problem solving. He had a keen interest in play situations that allowed children to press up against the boundaries of their own thinking. Resnik explains: “But for Seymour, play involved experimenting, taking risks, testing the boundaries, and iteratively adapting when things go wrong. He sometimes referred to this process as ‘hard fun.’” What might this “hard fun” look like in early learning?

Much of young children’s early development occurs through play, and this play often centers around physical materials that children can count. Opportunities present themselves for children to count blocks as they build, engage in imaginative play with toy animals, do puzzles, or play games with other children. In our work with children, we are currently exploring ways that children can use their existing number word sequences and counting schemes in play. But we’re also interested in ways these play activities can produce an appropriate level of “puzzlement” when a child’s actions don’t produce the outcome the child expected. We’ve got a few ideas in the works here and will be excited to share our progress.

Science Education in the AIMS Center

Children arrive in the classroom not as empty vessels waiting to be filled but they come as “software” installed” individuals with their own ideas about how the world works, this is especially true in science education.  Children, from the youngest of ages, are “little scientists” playing, testing, and exploring the world around them hundreds of… Continue Reading

Episode 24 | Robots, Legos, & Learning: Oh Yes!

Joining me in the studio is AIMS Center Research Associate, Aileen Rizo. she is a mentor/coach to student teams in both robotics, and Lego engineering competitions. She describes the learning, and persistence that are embedded in these activities. These are profound and powerful events, that feel like play to the children who take part in them. However there are deep concepts in mathematics, and science that are made real for these students.

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An Update

Things are really hopping around the AIMS Center. Everyday becomes better than the last. I wake up and I’m challenged and excited by what I get to do during the day. As most people know, we really want to find a way to share what research tells us about children’s construction of number with classroom… Continue Reading

Composite Units

Counting-on is one of the things I have come across in Les Steffe’s research that is crucial, but not necessarily an obvious goal to have for students. It would seem that if a student could count-on (ex: given the problem 6+5, would start at six and count-on five more rather than starting from 1 and… Continue Reading

Meet the Children Where They Are: Episode 3

Narrator: “Last time on Meet the Children Where They Are: Has Mr. Unnamed nerdy-looking stereotypical math Research Associate (RA) found 5-year-old Bob’s zone of potential construction (ZPC)? Bob has counted 12 rocks and he came up with three different solutions.” (from title screen — video of construction site with concrete truck backing up) (fade to… Continue Reading

Deliberate Practice

Along with a passion for mathematics education, I am also a pretty big sports geek.  Some of it is the numbers that go along with every sport.  For me, it started as a kid growing up in Oakland with easy access to both the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giant’s baseball teams, and trying… Continue Reading

Episode 23 | Professional Noticing Part 2 Interpretation: Darrell Blanks & Elin VanVleet

Two of the AIMS Center’s Research Associates, both with years of teaching and professional development experience, come into the studio to talk about the import phase of Professional Noticing: Interpretation. We discuss some practices and implications for teachers to employ and be aware of. The role of Noticing in Formative Assessment, its use in Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s), and some challenges to accuracy are examined.

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Science Happens

Contrary to what most teachers might say, I think it is easy to teach science every day in the classroom. Yes, it may be a subject that gets loud and sometimes messy in your classroom, but just the same as needing to learn to be a lifelong reader or mathematician, the same goes for science.… Continue Reading