Why Playful Learning Matters

Opening keynote for the GLS Playful Learning Summit at the 11th annual GLS Conference: featuringSujata Bahatt, Seann Dikkers & Kipp Glazer.

Hailed as a polyvocal keynote, the conference kicked off with three amazing leaders sharing the stage and sharing their thoughts on Playful Learning.

Seann Dikkers was first to speak. He began with an entertaining anecdote about gnats. “A few gnats are good and indicate a probable healthy ecological environments,” he said. “Too many may be a sign of an ecological disaster.”

As a child, Dr. Dikkers hated gnats so much that he started a petition for others to sign on and unify in their opposition to gnats. His point was that he did something about what disliked. He acted against gnats.

G.N.A.T.S. = Generally,National Assessment Testing Sucks

“Playful learning is at the beginning of learning, assessment is at the end of the learning. We are so interested in the endpoint, we forget about the entry point.”

Playful learning is reciprocal: “If you can play with my photo [to make memes], can I play with your photo?” This reciprocation, Dr. Dikkers shared, becomes social. It can be a waste of time. It can be impossible to measure. It can also lead to relationships and authentic engagement in the learning process. Though difficult to quantify and easily dismissed as worthless, to the choir attending this conference, the value proposition is clear and present.

Dr. Dikkers concluded with an important and easily forgotten point: playful learning is not necessarily about Digital Learning. It is about connecting, relating and our search for meaning.

“Connected learning is reciprocal & a custom fit. Playful learning is differentiated learning. Playful learning is important because it leads to life choices. It’s difficult to document why this matter but in the meantime I can testify that it does.”

If you didn’t already admire Sujata Bahatt and want to be her when you grow up, her talk would have changed that. Her work with the Incubator School is starting to hint at some of the most exciting disruptions in education that I’ve seen or heard about.

While she shared examples of student work within platforms like Minecraft and ARIS, what resonated in her message was how students at play found their way to meaningful learning.

Bhatt and the Incubator School are focused not on games but on using gaming and play to help students acquire skills and competencies that are essential to success.

BUT, Playful Learning faces 2 chasms…

Chasm #1: The Gatekeepers. As much as students love their learning at Bahtt’s middle school, they are hearing about challenges in high school and college where traditional, textbook learning is king. For Drone Parents (the 2015 version of Helicopter Parents) obsessed with their students taking the prescribed route to get into Stanford, Playful Learning looks like childs’ play. How, Bhatt wonders, might we help the Gatekeepers to understand that valuable and meaningful learning can sometimes look different than what they are used to seeing? How can we help them look upon students playing and see students learning.

Chasm #2: Newness. They are in the innovator/early adopter stage and, in large part due to Chasm #1, face hurdles to growing and scaling. This movement is celebrated and embraced within the confines of GLS11 but unless and until acceptance infiltrates the realms of the Gatekeepers, there is a risk of this being a blip on the map.

Our learners are already waiting for us in the land of play; it is on educators to meet them there and engage them in meaningful and valuable ways that lead to learning. How do we do it? Bhatt does not stake any claims to having the silver bullet answer but encourages you to tweet with #CrossTheChasm to share your ideas and solutions to the problems posed by these two chasms.

** I had to leave just after Kip Glazer started speaking to join the opening of the ARIS Summit. If you have notes to share on her talk, please do post them as a response to this!

*** Access the collaborative notes GoogleDoc here to share in the learning throughout the conference

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