06 February 2010

The Importance of Play

My assessment group will be meeting again soon. There is a very ambitious plan developed for our time together and I know that this group of educators will be focused and work hard on the tasks at hand. Those who work hard also deserve to play hard---not just at the end of the day when Happy Hour cranks up, but during the work sessions themselves. The brain likes a little novelty...some opportunity to think about different ideas and be creative.

At the first meeting, I kept things fairly simple. I used Paul Rogers' Name That Movie posts to construct a series of slides. I inserted the slides at different break points during the work. Below is one example---the only movie no one in the room was able to guess. (Can you recognize it? If you need a hint, it represents a Hitchcock film.)

Not everyone is a movie buff, however, and there are a variety of ways to engage an audience without having to resort to the cutesy icebreakers that send educators screaming from a session. Pull a few questions from an old Trivial Pursuit deck you have lying around the house. Find a few good riddles. Print a list of brain teaser questions. Pick up or draw your own Droodles. Or, use my favourite: The Name the Baby Contest.
Jim and Jane Roe are the proud parents of a newborn son. What should they name the baby?
If you want to play, leave your best suggestion in the comments. This question is a lot of fun to leave in the staffroom (or to play over email) with teachers. You'll get some very creative answers.

The first key here is to know your audience. Select adult-friendly items (read: items that won't be perceived as insulting to intelligence or dignity) that reflect your group. You also want to look for items that will allow people to choose their level of engagement. Even those who lurk will still have something different to think about, if only for a few minutes. It only takes one to two minutes of change for the brain to be ready to focus again and you will stimulate some creative and critical thinking for the next task. This is very helpful when you have 90 minutes of writing rubric descriptors lying ahead of you.

My next challenge is to find a way to work in the graphics and post-it wall modeled in this TED talk by Tom Wujec:

I really like the idea of including visual elements that people create. Not only does it require them to represent information in different ways, but it allows them to manipulate the various pieces we are trying to put together. We can share ideas in a different way---take them out and play with them. It seems important to be able to provide this opportunity for learners of all ages, including what happens during professional development for educators.

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