Play to Learn and Learning2 Play

The future of education is going to be interesting to see. What will be happening inside and outside of classroom walls? Will there be a classroom? Will we have interesting learning spaces both real and virtual?

One thing is certain. It is changing. Not fast enough for some. Too fast for others. The gap between how my parents were taught, I was taught, and my children have been taught is dramatic. But, is education changing in a way that will allow humanity to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond? Will we teach and learn in a way that allows and encourages people to solve major systemic problems?

I was thinking about all of these things as I prepared to go to the Learning2 conference for teachers in Warsaw Poland last week. My mind was troubled by world events but my heart was open. What would I find at this conference that I could allow into my heart and that might illuminate my mind?

The first part of the journey was a journey. I flew from Accra, Ghana and sweltering tropical heat into the cool post winter of Warsaw, Poland. No need for AC! How good it feels to wear a pair of jeans and a jacket. Ahh refreshing!

It is kind of silly to have a pre-conference at a conference but that is what Learning2 has. It should probably come up with a different name like Learn2Lab or Ignition or Shazam or something that makes it seem important because it has been the best part of the conference 2 years in a row now. (Learning 2 Africa last year had a fabulous PreCon) I spent the Pre-conference with Mark Shillitoe and Sarah Woods in Maker Your own Learning in an exploratory maker space in the library. They had cobbled together, in the best possible sense, activities that allowed for exploration, creativity, social exchange, and learning. My time was spent productively and unproductively. I had fun stenciling boxes and getting a bit dirty, I made electrical circuits to “Hack” my conference badge with blinky LED’s and small batteries. I goofed off with circuits making strange sounds that sometimes were musical. I socialized and talked to other teachers about their journey, real and cognitive, to this place. Yes!

The next 2 days of the conference were filled with highs and lows that one might expect at any conference. As I continued throughout the conference I was encouraged and comforted by the fact that I was among teachers in my profession who were trying to improve and modify and adjust their teaching in ways that would create more opportunities for students to make sense of the world that they live in.

Side conversations during UnConference sessions were rich times for exchanging ideas and sharing resources. These became almost like tribal gatherings around the fire. A time to honor and hold the work we were doing together for a higher reason other than that is was our job. We were keepers of the flame.

The main session by Elizabeth Perry that I took the most away from was In Play: Tinkering to Learn in the Secondary Classroom. Play. Could play be the best way for students to learn? Could it be that creating and allowing time for play would give students a chance to synthesize and make sense of the work that they were doing in the classroom? The thesis of this session was that yes, it was exactly what allowed people to lay the foundation for learning. Play is good pedagogy. Making sure the content and the pedagogy work together to construct real learning is the artistic and scientific challenge called teaching. Play with a purpose is a way to align it all and make it happen.

I left this session with much to think about. It has been my own sense in the classroom (and outside of it) that the more play comes into the learning the more students learn. The Pre-Con with Mark and Sarah reinforced this for me as well. The more we can create the environment to play the more we have learning that lasts.

As we came to the end of the conference I had a chance to go to a session in the American School of Warsaw design classrooms with Adam Campbell, School Maker Faires and Everything you need to know to host one. Adam the teacher presenting is going to be putting on a School Maker Faire in Warsaw next week. He walked us through his work and experience in Tunis and Warsaw planning and organizing the School Maker Faire. There is a wonderful sense of learning and play in the Maker Faire that showcases the problem solvers who will be able to solve the problems that need solving and an openness to sharing the learning with all comers. Open source learning.

It is a big event to plan but also one that could leverage all of the learning of play and the play of learning that I am now so interested in. The idea has been planted and some care and watering will be required but this might be the event that comes to highlight the thinkers, inventors, tinkerers, and makers in our community in Accra.

Wrapping up the Learning2 Conference in Warsaw I had a great sense of new possibility. I also had a new sense of community. I am headed back to my school and community in Accra where I hope to implement the things I am learning and play! I know also that once I am back it will be a challenge to make changes and make things happen. All of the other responsibilities pile up. Working through them is key.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Learning 2 community of learners, teachers, tinkerers, makers, players. They are an inspiration.