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

Using video games to communicate information: Interview with Eric Church of the Woodrow Wilson Center at #GLS11

I had the chance to sit down with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Eric Church for a quick interview I broadcast on Periscope.

Eric is interested in the ways that we might utilize video games in order to engage audiences and communicate information. While tools like infographics are quite popular right now, he says the Wilson Center envisions video games entering this space in ways that are more interactive.

This strikes me as a profound rethink of the way we, as consumers, acquire information. Whether through traditional textbooks, newspaper articles, television news or even the hip new infographics, we are talking about a process of direct flow of information. Through gaming, this process could become an alternating current of information.

There is so much potential here. Imagine, for example, reading about Congressional debate over the recent free-trade agreement legislation in the New York Times. In addition to providing reporting, photographs and perhaps video, the newspaper could also provide a link to a simple 5 minute video game that objectively communicates the important facts about the debate in a way that engages readers.

You can view the interview here.

Suggested activity for all vacationing teachers to take advantage of THIS upcoming Monday (and Friday)



I find a lot of my best inspiration for education when immersing myself in environments outside of education. When I’m thinking about preparing young people to be successful in the work environments of the future, I take field trips to cutting edge work spaces that are leading the way to our future. When I’m thinking about preparing young people to successfully collaborate with the innovative thought leaders of tomorrow, I go to where these minds gather today. One such place that probably exists in your own back yard isCreative Mornings.

Creative Mornings happens in 117 cities on the 2nd Friday of every month. While locations and speakers vary, there is a single theme shared around the globe at each site. This month’s theme is Revolution. Registration always goes live at 8am on that Monday (4 days prior to the event). It’s free, includes coffee and a pastry and gets you in a room from which you leave a more inspired person 2 hours later.

There are at least ten quizillion things that are awesome about being a teacher. Having a schedule that makes it impossible to attend Creative Mornings is not one of them. Depending on when in August you go back to school, this might be your last only chance of 2015.

So, do yourself a favor and pop over to their website and create a profile. Set a calendar reminder for Monday morning at 7:59am to login and register for next Friday’s Creative Mornings lecture. Go there on Friday morning feeling friendly and ready to walk up to strangers and say, “Hi.” You will meet some amazing creatives in your community and surely come up with great ideas for classroom connections.

Notes from the #Hwy21 Keynote

The Hwy21 Conference kicked off with a unconventional keynote done with 7 panelists addressing innovation and the local landscape in education. These are quotes and paraphrased comments that resonated with me.

“When we talk about EdReform we talk about students globally…need to talk about ss with names bc they have stories. THEY are waiting for us to innovate for THEM.”

I believe it is vital for leaders to practice what we preach, model hands-on, differentiated PD. We expect it for students, we should expect it for teachers

Innovation comes from unhealthy systems. Healthy systems adapt..unhealthy systems have innovation hoisted upon them. We have to ask ourselves if we must innovate or whether we can adapt.

It’s the kids acting differently about learning that makes (colleagues] want to maketheir kids act like that. — in response to question about environments with resistance to edtech and innovation

There needs to be a sense of kindness and grace. Allow it to ourselves and extend to others. We will fail and when we have kindness and grace it leads to resilence to do better next time.

Money is nice but not the barrier to doing something nice and innovative in your own classroom. Do it yourself. Do it cheap. Do it dirty. [Mentioned “eduPunk”]

I was surprised that the only one burdened by my innovating was me.

Take time to recognize and value the Beautiful Oops.

My students don’t need my help with the what and probably not the how. They need me to help them reflect.

It wasn’t until I started connecting with folks outside my school that I realized the possibilities that are out there. I love my school and we are a great school but seeing what others do really helped me expand and innovate.

Break the bubble. Get into other classrooms and you will grow as a result.

Innovation = Mario Brothers. Get to the flag and move to level 2. You’re moving along but there’s always more.

When genius is unleashed and alumni come back and say ‘I can breathe here,’ that is success for me.

Every kid matters. Kids being proud of their learning and watching them change things is a huge measurement of success.

Panelists were Kelly Tenkely, Kevin Croghan, Nate Ubowski, Chris Moore, Glenn Moses, Liz Walof and Kiffany Lychock