Outreach / Misc

Papert’s Idea of Play in the Classroom

The power of play is a foundational idea in education, especially in regards to young children. It is something I have been thinking about a lot lately within the context of spatial learning. Seymour Papert, who passed away in 2016, was a visionary in the field of education and was a huge proponent of the importance of play in the classroom. Papert was a mathematician, computer scientist, and educator who collaborated for a time with Jean Piaget at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.  For most of his career he worked closely with Mitch Resnick at the MIT Media Labs. He is considered one of the leaders of the constructionist movement in education and was a pioneer in artificial intelligence. A man truly ahead of his time, many of the popular ideas in education such as problem-based learning, the significance of student collaboration, and how technology is changing student learning environments were developed out of ideas from Seymour Papert and the MIT Media Labs.

Papert strongly believed in the transformative power of play both in and out of the classroom environment. Interestingly enough, the word “play” often has many different and varied meanings when described by people within the educational community. Play in the classroom is often described negatively as carefree, chaotic, and without structure or substance. But Papert, on the other hand, would go on to describe the more positive driven idea of “hard play”. He believed that children should be challenged through discovery and exploration of real world problems that have a personal significance to them. That the act of play through discovery and design is essential for developing a child’s passion for problem solving and love of learning.

This is an idea that resonates deeply within me. Educating kids shouldn’t be about rote learning or a teacher’s direct transfer of information.  It should be about getting kids to fall passionately in love with learning new ideas on a daily basis. We often, as teachers, are so caught up in the minutia of state standards, content coverage, and classroom management that we sometimes forget that so many of these things we consider important become much easier if a child has developed a passion for learning. This sounds easy, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning the idea of a “magic wand” that will suddenly transform education. There are too many variables involved in children’s learning to be able to find a simple solution to such a complex problem. But I believe that Papert’s vision of connecting play and passion in the classroom is timeless and is an idea worthy of pursuit within education.       



I have facilitated many demonstration “number talks” this year throughout Fresno County.  I even blogged about it earlier this school year.  Talking mathematically in our classrooms is so important that I can’t stop sharing the idea of number talks, even if it is being repeated for some of the teachers that I work alongside.  … Continue Reading


In a prior post, I talked about our theme for the year here at the AIMS Center – BELIEVE.  Since that time, I have been given a book published by Compendium Incorporated simply entitled, Believe. Each week we post a new belief statement on our website, I write it on the window in my office,… Continue Reading

Traveling Practices

Our work as learners, educators, and researchers takes us into spaces where we encounter new ideas, people, and experiences. We may enter schools, classrooms, faculty lounges, community centers, or other places of learning where we hope to better understand the patterns of interaction among individuals we meet. While our attention may be on what we… Continue Reading

What is Mathematics?

That doggoned Cathy Carroll…I have still not stopped thinking about her colloquium and podcast which pushed us to redefine “fluency”.  So let’s take that even further!  What is “mathematics” anyway? If I were to ask a primary teacher, “What is mathematics?”  I would expect them to say something about learning to add and subtract.  Intermediate… Continue Reading

Piaget’s Water Level Task

While it might seem obvious that living in a three-dimensional world would require a certain amount of innate spatial abilities, it is less obvious in how this spatial ability informs science and math learning. Current research in visuospatial ability does show that children who have an understanding of how shapes fit together, and can see… Continue Reading

Talking Math

Allowing our students to talk to each other about mathematics is very important in today’s educational culture.  Gone are the days when students sat in rows quietly working on repetitive worksheets.  Instead, we want to hear what students are thinking.  How are they processing information?  What do they see as important?  What solution pathways are… Continue Reading

Defining Fluency

Last week we had the pleasure of hosting Cathy Carroll, a Senior Research Associate with WestEd and our state President-elect of the California Mathematics Council, as she facilitated a colloquium  to investigate “fluency” in mathematics.  She also followed up with a podcast to delve deeper into what it means to be fluent.  I have been… Continue Reading

From Red Rock to Green Wall

I have nearly 30 years experience in the teaching of mathematics and the teaching of the teaching of mathematics. Some of my favorite teaching moments have centered on the use of, or focus upon, problems to teach with or from. Every summer for nearly 15 years I would teach the Problem Solving course at Fresno… Continue Reading