Playing School

I am sitting in class at the moment, minding a group of kids for another teacher that had a meeting to attend. The kids are good, working quietly and getting their task done…

Then up popped a mate on Skype, a teacher from Saskatchewan, asking a couple of questions about a podcasting project I did last semester so we chatted online for a while talking about all sorts of podcasting stuff. He did however mention that where he was in Saskatchewan was having a huge snow blizzard at the moment, and that a friend of his had a some photos of the storm on his blog.

I headed over to his friends blog and found an interesting post about what happens in school during a snow day. What I found interesting was this comment…

“We took the morning to divide our 13 student class (a result of a depleted school population) into four groups to create a project about the effects of the blizzard. We had a podcast group, a newsletter group, a video group and a digital story group.”

This is what school should be like everyday. Kids creating and publishing content based on what’s important to them and the world.

It’s true isn’t it? Kids really can see a very clear dividing line between doing authentic tasks that matter to them, and doing tasks that simply require them to “play school”. Playing school is all about doing things to keep the teachers happy, who are in turn often just keeping the system happy. I keep observing that when we treat kids like intelligent human beings with interests and passions and we design tasks that enable them to feed those interests and those passions, whether they fall within the boundaries of some arbitrary curriculum or not, they become truly engaged in what they are doing.

I could tell you quite a few stories about tasks where I’ve had students doing real tasks that they truly cared about, that let them explore ideas that truly mattered to them, and where they went way above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that every i was dotted and every t was crossed. If it matters to the kids they will take enormous care with their work.

The problem with most school tasks is they are so lacking in relevance to kids. We ask them to “submit” work, where we should be asking them to “publish” work. We ask them to “write” where we should be asking them to “communicate”. We threaten them with deduction of marks if a task is not “successful”, instead of rewarding them for trying something new. And we continually ask kids to engage with work that most of us would object to doing ourselves. Have you ever looked at the tasks you ask kids to do? I mean really looked at those tasks, from the perspective of the kid? It doesn’t surprise me that many kids are bored with school.

Let’s think more about designing learning experiences for the kids we teach that are more in line with the sorts of tasks that we’d like to do ourselves. Let’s try to make these tasks truly curious, engaging, interesting, enthralling, fascinating experiences…

We live in a world that has so many possibilities. Let’s try and build some of those incredible possibilities into the school experience.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Playing School by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

0 Replies to “Playing School”

  1. Tell me about it Chris. Over the past few weeks as I have been writing (re-wording) a course for Intel around the Teaching of Thinking with Technology I can’t help but feel comfortable in what I have been doing which is playing a small part in bringing the notion of problem and project based learning into the classroom. Projects and learning activities that are based on real life, meaningful challenges, exciting, modern and interesting ways to discover, think and share ideas, thoughts and learnings. I think it’s a fine balance between meeting the expectations of parents, other teachers, Ed departments, govts. and communities and the prime interest and engagement of students. I read in Technorati this morning that there are 175,000 new blogs created a day with 1.6 million posts per day, or over 18 updates a second. How many of these, I wonder, are about what teachers are doing in the classroom or are about things that kids are learning with real excitement, engagement and spontaneity in the classroom? And how many would be recognised as genuine, real learning for our students? I think we have a long way to go yet but at least we have made a start haven’t we? 🙂

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?