It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.
- Leo Buscaglia
Most of the time, we think of learning as coinciding more with work than with play. The word, "learning," tends to bring to mind images of textbooks and students bent over desks to study material, or even sitting at a computer doing online research. However, many teachers, and now some schools, are starting to acknowledge that hard work is not necessarily synonymous with great learning - in fact, playing and exploring are experiences that are scientifically proven to cause knowledge to more effectively stay with students.
In Los Angeles, a group of founders and teachers have created a school based on the notion that learning through playing is the best way for students to grasp and retain new material. Aptly named, the Playmaker School, the staff is dedicated to teaching students through nontraditional methods. Rather than teaching rote memorization of historic dates, for instance, the school instructs students on what tools are available to look up such information (this is the age of Google, afterall), and instead of pushing students to regurgitate such information, students are asked to question what this information means.
This is a school that, instead of teaching facts and figures outright, asks students to create meaning, make connections, and problem solve. It asks students to be curious, creative and persistent until the answers are found, and encourages students to use the technology available to them. It's definitely a groundbreaking new way of teaching students how to learn, and staff are constantly re-evaluating their methods to make sure that materials presented are challenging students as well as playful.
Students at the Playmaker School love it, of course. Nolan Windham, grade 6, remarked at how other parents would be critical of how much play was involved, and question if they were learning anything. He says:
"We’re thinking about how when we take in information, how to process it and how to create information and how to create media, how to create different things, and that’s what you are doing in your adult life. You’re taking in things, you’re taking in information, you’re taking in food, you’re taking in money and you’re giving out services, ideas like physical labor. Just all of those things you are giving and taking in, but here you are really learning the internal processing. How all these things work together and what they mean.
So far, the school has had raving reviews from staff, students, and parents, but there are many obstacles in the way of starting an education revolution. Standardized testing, core curriculum standard mandates, and other rules and regulations prevent this model school from rapid expansion. The education system has long been faulted with out-of-date techniques and tests, and perhaps the Playmaker School and its students are living testimony to why these things aren't necessary anymore. Unlike in most educational institutions, in the Playmaker School, if something doesn't work, teachers and students have the ability to change it. Teachers listen to their students, and allow the students to have agency in their own education so that students have the power to change a class for the better. If the education system as a whole would listen to its students, the revolution of our educational system would already be underway.
Reading about how the Playmaker School teaches physics through having students build model rollercoasters, or imagine and have to research what might happen if the world turned inside out not only feeds student imagination and creativity, but provides valuable teachable moments which educators thrive on. Ultimately, it is a step towards a better education system, but we are going to have to fight against an established system that teaches to standardized tests and regulated curriculum in order to ensure the continuation of such school and provide learning environments like these to more students.
Source: A School That Ditches All the Rules But Not the Rigor