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Life-Long Kindergarten: Reviving play in the classroom and beyond

Dr Mitchell Resnick, MIT professor of learning research, heads up the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten research group. He believes the greatest invention of the last 1000 years was kindergarten. An unusual and noteworthy stance that he went on to motivate at various edtech conferences, as well as in an accessible TED Talk. Resnick’s aim is to inject into formal learning some of the play, joy and abandon found when five-year olds learn, in particular when they learn and create with each other. The ability to play, explore, create, destroy, iterate and recreate with others is, Resnick proposes, a key learning habit that should be better utilized in classrooms and throughout life. He goes on to claim that the ability to create with others is a key skill in today’s fast-changing society - something we explore quite often in this blog in the form of the 4Cs (Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking). Resnick proposes an additional 4 letters: the 4Ps of creative learning: projects, peers, passion and play, with a view to, “Making the rest of school, in fact the rest of life, more like kindergarten, where kids, and people, learn through working on projects they are passionate about, with their peers in a playful spirit.”

Reviving play in the classroom and beyond

Dr Resnick takes his ideas much further than the theoretical, and the MIT Lab has conducted a number of valuable research projects, alongside tool and software development projects, that infuse learning at every level with a sense of play. Let’s explore some of the resources the lab has created, available to teachers across grades.

Scratch

Probably the most famous of the lab’s projects, Scratch is a simple coding program that teaches students how code works, while they create and build their own digital projects. Practically a learning phenomenon, with about one million children having joined the Scratch online community so far, students have used the software to create stories, animations and games built from their own imaginations and experiences. The Scratch page has a wealth of resources specifically for educators, and the “Scratch in Practice” pages have great guidelines, ideas and tutorials for how to start a Scratch project, from scratch! Proponents and scratch fans across the country - and indeed the world - have discovered a range of ways that Scratch can be applied across curricula, and you’ll find tutorials on how to apply Scratch in math, science, language arts and history subject areas. The opportunities to create engaging projects across most subject areas are almost infinite: discover how one class created a game based on the water cycle, and another class wrote and then animated their own Haikus. Scratch may help students develop coding skills, but its essential benefit, according to Resnick is that students are, “coding to learn, not learning to code.”

Bricoleur

This is Scratch addon that allows students to create collages using images and sounds captured on their mobile phones. Another way for students to engage in digital storytelling, the software is particularly powerful as it is mobile-based. Students can “hunt” for inspiration in their surroundings, then use basic Scratch coding blocks to put them all together into a story, animation or even game.

Learning Creative Learning

This is a PD-based course for educators, teaching them the theories and techniques of creative learning. As with most things in this particular MIT lab, the learning is hands on and collaborative: teachers will learn from over 100 educators worldwide who are applying the tools and ideas in diverse classrooms. The course can either be self-paced, or cohort-based, and is completely free.

The Clubhouse Network

This is a particularly ambitious and necessary project that the lab supports and drives. With the goal of providing safe, after-school places for recreation and play, particularly in at-risk communities, the over 100 Clubhouses world-wide continue to not only advance the principles that constructive play leads to learning, but indeed that safe spaces to play and learn are a basic right of all children. According the network’s site: “The Clubhouse Network is a global community comprised of 100 Clubhouses in 18 countries, providing 25,000 youth per year with access to resources, skills, and experiences to help them succeed in their careers, contribute to their communities, and lead outstanding lives.”

Wrapping up

Dr Resnick not only has the passion and experience that drives the lab forward, but has in fact dedicated his academic life to advancing the idea that technology must be seamlessly included and blended into learning, to counteract what he calls, “broadcast” learning (sage on a stage). For a more in-depth examination of Dr Resnick’s ideas, find his publications here, or for a shorter more accessible read, try his book, “Lifelong Kindergarten” - replete with practical guidance, resources and case studies from around the world.
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