Passion and Play in the Classroom

The idea of “play” as an educational structure in the classroom is a not new concept, but historically there has been significant international interest in research related to the benefits of student learning through play. Mitchel Resnick, a founder of the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group, has just published a new book based around the idea of student passion and play called, “Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Pasion, Peers, and Play.” The four Ps described in the title of his book comes from Resnick’s thirty-year collaboration with Seymour Papert developing “hands-on, minds-on” experiences within the elementary classroom.

Resnick’s new book was just released this fall and a few of us in the AIMS Center have been reading and discussing its content. Building on the active learning ideas of Piaget, Montessori, Freire, and Froebel, Resnick argues that school at every level should look a lot more like kindergarten, not less. The world that we live in is changing at an ever-increasing rate, all of us must learn to adapt and learn to think creatively both in and out of the classroom if we are to succeed. It has been suggested that 60% of the careers that kindergarteners will be applying for once they graduate from college do not even exist yet. How do we as teachers go about training students for jobs that we have yet to imagine?

Lately, the trend in kindergarten has been to increase the amount of time children spend spelling, completing math worksheets, and writing their letters so that each student is “prepared” for first grade. In other words, kindergarten has increasingly become more like the rest of school. In his book, Resnick argues that for the future of education it is imperative to promote creativity in the classroom and the best way to do that is to focus on creative thinking, reflecting, imagination, and play much as we use to do in a traditional kindergarten classroom.

Resnick’s forward-looking focus has been the application of Scratch programing both inside and outside of schools where students can engage in creative learning experiences involving group collaboration. Yes, even beginning in kindergarten. His work is based around the idea that it is time for our children’s “sandbox” to be a programing environment like Scratch, which is easy to start and has an unlimited ceiling in what it can do. In many ways, Papert and Resnick’s evolving ideas about technology in the classroom from Logo, to Lego Mindstorm, and now Scratch, have always been ahead of their time. We have struggled over the last 30 years with public access to technology, implementation, and connectivity. Moving forward we are beginning to solve a lot of these issues. As a result, we are beginning to see the development of numerous toys and programing curriculum targeting low elementary grades.

Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media lab is planning a free online 6-week course based on this new book starting in mid-October. I recommend that if you have time, you should sign up, and learn about the four Ps of education.

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