A reflection on playing and learning and why we have difficulty teaching beyond the “what”

I hosted our Twitter session this week on #etlead (see transcript at sfy.co/p0y08); we chatted about our favorite lessons to teach and why and how we create space for “hanging out” in our classrooms.  We almost all seemed to agree with Thomas and Brown (2011), that playing was a form of self identity – that how and what we play tells a lot about who we are and creates a sense of social agency in our respective spaces.  Everyone shared their strategies for supporting students to arrive at a solution in their own way by “breaking down the riddle” of content and examining it from their own interests and perspectives.  We also shared characteristics of our classroom culture and it was a good mix of qualities, tools, and strategies employed by each of us to support a meaningful learning environment.

We ended our twitter chat with brief updates about our mentoring projects; I am having fun with my mentee, helping her to learn different tech tools each week that she can use to facilitate dialogue and collaboration with her work team.  This last week we spent some time discussing cloud storage and setting up shared folders in Dropbox, then we examined Screencast-o-matic and how it could be used to develop training modules for employee orientation.  I am learning that being a mentor involves striking a balance of guiding and allowing the mentee to make choices that are in their best interest and not to “move” the mentoring process along.  I am also learning to listen and look for cues from my mentee about what she needs, how she learns best, when to explore a topic or skill in depth, when to simply listen, and to be flexible in how the mentoring relationship unfolds.

Ali (@ak_agryga)  blogged this week about needing to find a meaningful way to use social media in the classroom with younger learners.  I think it would be very challenging and it would really need to lend itself well to the content; she also shared links to other classroom social media projects and it seems that other teachers are finding ways to use social media to enhance their content.  One obvious benefit is connecting students with other classrooms and learners across the country or the world; I added that the immediate, real-time nature of the social connections is what appeals to users of all ages and somehow teachers could take advantage of that aspect of integrating social media into the classroom.  

Sunshine (@winnsunshine) shared about playing in the classroom and how we need to make it a priority for making learning meaningful for students.  I find it interesting that we have to work hard to convince educators that playing and gaming have an important role in learning.  I commented that it’s almost as if people assume that teachers use games or play to “trick” students to learn and that learning cannot be the same as something fun.  I believe if we can bring back play and gaming and make them synonymous with learning, then the “where” and the “how” will become easier to teach.  

As I read other blogs, I sensed that teaching that moving from teaching the “what” to the “where” and the “how” is relative for teachers.  Theresa (@teacherak14) shared a good example of this; her students struggle with having adequate research skills to find and evaluate reliable sources of information online.  Despite this, teaching them these skills would take too much time away from the lesson itself and she argued that it would be ideal if another course could address teaching those needed skills so that they could be applied in her classroom.  I can completely understand the limited time in classes to teach the content let alone all the study skills needed to be successful.  However, I disagreed with the approach that skills and content should be taught separately. I felt like it would be as if we were teaching the what and asking another teacher to provide the where and the how.  

The story that Thomas and Brown (2011) related about students being able to better identify Iraq on a map when provided with the internet and a computer received a lot of attention on our blogs this week.  I think this example resonated for me because I’ve spent a lot of time explaining where I am from and finding that pointing it out on a map does not in any way help others understand where it is or what it is like to live there; not that I try to use the map to demonstrate that but people always ask where it is but when they find out where it is, they are no closer to understanding where it is or what it is like.  We’d probably be better off asking what the climate is like, what plants and foods are found there, what languages are spoken, etc.  I disagreed with Theresa’s statement that showing a paper map of Iraq would help students understand how that country and the region has been impacted over the last two decades.  The benefit of digital and online maps is that they provide students with real time data that can be updated regularly, as opposed to paper maps or even globes that do not accurately show ethnic, population, tribal, language, and demographic data about a country or region.  I think this continues to be a fundamental issue in teaching – teaching content according to what we prefer without acknowledging the discrepancies that students will face in the real world.


Thomas, D. & Brown, J.S.  (2011).  A new culture of learning:  Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change [Kindle book].  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

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