Monday, January 28, 2013

Play versus work

It took me a long time to learn the difference between play and work - Al Gore, 2005.

On the weekend I watched 'An Inconvenient Truth'. The above quote appeared about half way through and really stuck with me. I think most school's mission statements should be phrased in a similar way, but that's not what this post it about...

As I've mentioned before, my colleague and I are trialling our own Outdoor Learning program this year. We've based it off our highly successful Early Years model that has been running for two years now. In one of my previous posts I spoke about the benefits of getting out of the classroom. It has really helped us to further differentiate our teaching this year and we would definitely be advocates for continuing it in the future. An additional (and unexpected) bonus is that its also allowed us to bring greater authenticity to our work back inside the classroom. Last month we spent two and half hours on a Thursday afternoon working on mean, mode and median. Many teachers like to teach maths in the mornings because they believe that their students are more alert and receptive. We were very surprised to observe the kids' enthusiasm for their work for a long period of time on an afternoon at the end of the week. The reason is because they were using real data that they had collected from their outdoor learning experience earlier that week. The learning was all about them. And they were highly engaged.

This week we thought we'd take advantage of the snowy slopes out the back of our school and do some sledding. The plan was for the students to time themselves doing three sled runs down the slope and we would then use the information for our data handling work in class. We've been exploring measurement so there were obvious links there too. I also challenged them to think about any connections recognised throughout the activity. What was the relationship between sledding technique and time taken? Between the amount of snow and time taken? Between different students? What is this thing called friction?

The students knew last week that we would be doing this activity and two of them approached my colleague with this question: "If we're going to be sledding, then what will we be learning?" This is great for at least two reasons. One, they're thinking about the learning opportunities that might be happening in the things that they're doing. Ron Ritchhart would probably classify this as a learning-based environment, where the participants look for opportunities to develop understanding, instead of a work-based environment, where the participants only see activities to be completed. They know that they're at school to learn and when the learning isn't obvious to them then they feel like they have to dig a little deeper. What a great attitude to have. The second, and probably most exciting, reason is that the kids aren't finding it easy to determine between having fun and learning. Long may it continue.

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