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Certified PreK-6. Masters in Child Development. Advocate for play, teacher & children choice, & the family's voice. Believe in volunteering as social justice.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Teachers Learning Through Play

I'm attempting to blog at least a little every day this month as a way to reignite my blogging and reflection.  I'm hoping that I can become motivated by the masses that are participating in National Novel Writing Month and National Blogging Month, but can't guarantee that I'll remember to sit down and write every day or that I will have something of substance to share every day, but here's hoping for a solid effort!

As I continue to reflect on the Technology in the Early Years conference I attended this past week, one of the things that keeps coming back to me is the idea of teachers and play.  Professionals who support best practice recognize the importance of play as the learning vehicle for young children.  We fight for play in our classrooms, libraries, parks, streets, and homes and design our classrooms and lessons so that children can engage in meaningful and collaborative play.  And yet, that very same philosophy could apply to adults, but is so often taken out of the equation when planning for professional development of teachers.

Children play so freely and with complete abandon.
What types of walls are preventing adults from doing the same?
In the afternoon portion of the conference, participants were invited to explore several hands on workshops.  The workshops were intentionally and very thoughtfully designed so that the participants could get up close and hands on with the materials.  The first workshop I attended was set up to model a studio that you might find in an early childhood school.  There were blocks arranged temptingly alongside a wall that featured projections of castles, several rhythm instruments and natural and found materials next to contact microphones, colored pencils and paper, and a visualization from a computer music program projected onto poster paper with markers near by.  I walked in to the workshop late and saw a handful of adults standing uncertainly in the center of the room.  No one was playing!  Throughout my years in grad school, I've started to loose some inhibitions in regards to play so I approached the blocks and began building a top the table, curious about the way the shadows from the blocks interacted with the projections on the walls.  I left my little building and went to investigate the found materials that the facilitator had set up in the audio play area.  (You know what is fun? Shaking beans near a contact microphone.)  After a while, I began to sit in a corner and write in my journal-send out some tweets-and when I looked up I noticed that other buildings had cropped up next to the one I had built and that a group of women were drawing in tandem with the lights on the wall.  It took a bit of nudging and courage, but once the participants started to play with the materials the conversation in the room took off!  Throughout the space, participants were sharing their experiences with the new materials and questioning each other as to how they could interpret the ideas within their own contexts.

The play had allowed the participants to take ownership of their learning.  This was a powerful interaction for me to watch.  Throughout the course of my internship, a big idea that I have been playing with has been how the current model of teacher PD is not effective and how I can influence the course of PD to flow in a new direction.  Watching the participants play with the materials was like a bell going off.  Could it be so simple?  Could designing spaces and providing time and support for play change the ways in which teachers learn and their attitudes towards attending professional development events?

A fortune I received while at dinner at the 2011 NAEYC conference.
Perhaps it is time to heed this advice and teach teachers to play like children.

I'm in the process of designing a new system of networking for teachers within my internship and have been facing hurdles in how to get a group of stressed, over loaded with district mandates, and often frustrated teachers onboard with the use of technology to network and learn.  Maybe I need to simplify it, to bring it back to play.  Rather than sharing success stories and ideas, I need to give the teachers time to create their own success stories by allowing them time to play with the very tools I want them to embrace to enhance their learning.

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