Essential Question: How do you currently infuse play into your class? How might you change this as a result of some of the ideas you have encountered?
From the perspective of a fifth grade teacher, I feel that play is still a very important component of student learning. Our district’s recently adopted math curriculum uses games to help students solidify concepts, although I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes these games aren’t very engaging. Kitty Rutherford (2015) writes for NCTM and supports the use of games as a means for learning. “Playing games encourages strategic mathematical thinking as students find different strategies for solving problems and deepen their understanding of numbers. When played repeatedly, games support students’ development of computational fluency. Games present opportunities for practice, often without the need for teachers to provide the problems. Teachers can then observe or assess students and work with individuals or small groups of students. Games have the potential to allow students to develop familiarity with the number system and with “benchmark numbers” (such as 10s, 100s, and 1000s) and engage in computation practice, building a deeper understanding of operations. Games support a school-to-home connection. Parents can learn about their children’s mathematical thinking by playing games with them at home.” For tasks which can be mundane like vocabulary, I’ve tried different types of games such as taping words and definitions on students backs and having the class work together to try to pair everyone up correctly with their vocabulary partner or playing Memory type games.
Dr. Anthony Betrus (2015) writes, “Games, for their part, have rules, and inasmuch as you can change, bend, or break the rules you are playing. It is through play that we build new knowledge, strengthen relationships, and ultimately grow. Some examples of semi-structured play spaces include Legos, Minecraft, Robotics, and K’NEX. These activities, and others like them, offer a sandbox, virtual or otherwise, that allows for free-form making. And it is through these creative problem solving spaces (often called maker spaces) that we are seeing the rise of a new movement: STEM Education.” The games I most enjoy playing in my class are STEM and STEAM games. I love to give my students a creative engineering challenge, and then, through play, have them discover the solution to a problem. I saw tons of engagement and learning taking place when my students worked either individually or in groups to try to make their balloon-powered cars travel five feet. I saw similar engagement during our STEM-based Halloween party where all the activities were challenges involving Halloween candy (building the tallest candy corn tower, building the most accurate catapult to propel candy pumpkins, building paper boats to float PEEP ghosts, cooperative giant team tic-tac-toe with Halloween candy markers).
An area which I hadn’t really considered to be play before is online gaming. My students are learning coding skills at code.org, and while some are very eager to work through each task as accurately and quickly as possible, a large percentage of my students love to just play with the code to see what happens. At first this really messed with my Type A brain, but when I sat back and realized what these students were learning by “goofing around” or “playing” with the program, I became aware that these might be the students who actually go further with the coding and gain a deeper understanding of it because they are willing to take chances and explore on their own. They are learning, and learning a lot, through play.
Finally, as an extension of my classroom, I try to create my homework so that it is relevant to what we are learning and design it so that it engages not only the student, but also the family. As Matera (2015) states, “Games connect people; they inspire us to do the impossible by working together to reach our fullest potential (p. 228).” This is an area where I could bring in more learning through play with a bit of work and creativity on my part.
Honestly, I’m not yet sure how I would like to change my classroom based on what I have learned in this class. I feel that the play that happens in my room is purposeful and my students are highly engaged during these times. I suppose I would like to fit more time into my schedule to offer these opportunities for play or gain a better understanding of the required ELA curriculum and build more opportunities for play into the daily routine.
Betrus, A. (2015, July 1). Through STEM education our future is bright. Retrieved from http://www. fourthcoastentertainment.com/story/2015/08/01/entertainment/through-stem-education-ourfuture-is-bright/242.html
Matera, M. (2015). Explore like a pirate: Engage, enrich, and elevate your learners with gamification and game-inspired course design. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. San Diego, CA.
Rutherford, K. (2015, April 27). Why play math games? National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/publications/teaching-children-mathematics/blog/why-play-math-games_/