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Full STEAM Ahead:The Power of Play

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato

The world has changed and the financial system seems to be unraveling. Work is definitely changing.  The focus has moved from consumerism to personalization. Instead of supply and demand, it is “what’s in it for me?” and “what can I get that is just for me?” Now that this type of personal on-demand type of system is in place, how does this impact education?

Schools in the US are designed around the industrial model where the teacher is the all-knowing expert delivering instruction to meet the standards and tests. With this model, students are learning the same thing at the same time. If schools are going to produce a new type of worker who can deliver what people need on-demand where they personalize each situation for each user, they will need a different kind of education system than we are delivering now. Students will be active learners designing their own learning environments based on their needs and finding the most creative learning environments that build on their strengths.

Traditional schools create workers who prepare for jobs that are no longer here. These are jobs where workers followed orders and usually had one job for life. Those types of jobs are being outsourced. Students today are going to need critical thinking, problem-solving, and entrepreneurial skills. Most jobs today and in the future will be in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Plus, employers will be looking for creative and innovative people who think on their feet and who have an arts background. The new MBA (Masters of Business Administration) that businesses may be looking for will be the MFA (Masters of Fine Arts). The focus on STEM education will be STEAM. (The A is for Arts)

Look at where consumers are buying products:
  • iTunes downloads of music
  • Apps for free on smartphones
  • Amazon finds other products like the ones you purchased already
  • Netflix lets you stream movies on-demand on your Wii system


This new type of worker means amazing opportunities for people who are creative and innovative. Some people are born creative and think way out of the box. They were the ones that just did not fit in the traditional school model. Schools have to change to make people more creative and innovative. Unfortunately, right now public schools that are losing funding are getting rid of the arts and focusing on testing and memorizing facts. Creative students are leaving these schools. Actually there may be creative students in these schools, but how would you know?

Schools have to change to compete. Virtual schools are providing on-demand teaching so why should students sit in a classroom and be subjected to traditional teaching methods anymore? This is a moral issue. We need to prepare our children for their future.

Play and bringing back joy to learning is what schools have to do to prepare our future citizens. When you are involved in playing a game with your friends, how do you feel? Watch children play and interact with other children. They are fully engaged and probably remember those activities for a long time. Ask a child if they remember the worksheet they filled out last week. Was that fun? Do they remember the answers? Schools need to provide engaging activities that turn students into critical thinkers, researchers, and designers.

Creating games follows the constructionism theory that was defined by Seymour Papert.

“From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product."

The idea of constructionism is “learning-by-making.” Constructionist learning involves students drawing their own conclusions through creative experimentation and the making of social objects. The constructionist teacher is more of a facilitator assisting students to help one another understand problems in a hands-on way. Some examples of learning-by-making include creating board games, scalable game design, and designing 3-D objects.

Creating Board Games
Bernie Dodge, PhD, teaches Explorative Learning Through Simulation and Games (http://www.thegamecrafter.com). Students can playtest their games before they design and submit their board game idea to The Game Crafter where their game can be sold in a professional design on-demand.

Scalable Game Design
AgentSheets [http://www.agentsheets.com] is a unique software authoring environment where users of all ages can build games, interactive demonstrations, and modifiable simulations using Conversational Programming that makes the computer your programming “buddy.” The computer tells you visually how the game or simulation you are programming is going to act before it runs. The iDREAMS project using AgentSheets has taught over 1200 middle school student to program complete video games and plans to reach over 7,500 students. The program uses the psychological notion of flow to gradually develop design skills that match design challenges. Flow proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is where a  person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Students progress from simple arcade games to games and computational science applications that require sophisticated Artificial Intelligence.

Designing Three-Dimensional Objects
Fab@School uses the constructivist/constructionist approach [http://www.fablevision.com/new/index.html]  to revolutionize STEM learning by featuring an inquiry and project-based curriculum along with the arts that allows students to create three-dimensional objects - everything from model skyscrapers and bridges to pop-ups, gears, and working mechanisms using a digital fabricator. Students design the objects on a computer and then send it to the fabricator to "print." When finished, a student has in physical form what they created on the screen.

These are only three ideas of learning-by-making. Now anyone can write, perform, and sell their music, make apps for the iPhone or iPad or Tablet, tell their story digitally, or write and publish their books on Lulu.com. Look at teaching entrepreneurial skills as a challenge and an opportunity. Bring play into the picture. For teachers to change to facilitators, it is a good idea to first become players themselves. Teachers need fun also. Consider changing professional development opportunities from Workshops to Playshops. " To design an instructional game well, you must be both systematic and intuitive, analytic and artistic.

Bring play into the picture. For teachers to change to facilitators, it is a good idea to first become players themselves. Teachers need fun also. Consider changing professional development opportunities from Workshops to Playshops.
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