Miami Rocks

Video Tennis in the 1970s
video tennis today
Video Tennis Today

It was a good day, yesterday, at Miami Country Day School.  I have to say that the audience there was one of the most positively responsive groups of teachers I’ve worked with as long as I can remember.  Maybe there IS something to HUMIDITY.  I felt, at times, like I was walking around in a terrarium.  But the air conditioning worked in doors (more than I can say about my hotel room last night in Orlando).  I suspect that John Davies (mentioned yesterday) has had a huge influence on the school, because they were — well I just can’t think of the right word.

Interestingly, the session that generated the most conversation was video games.  There were a number of younger teachers in in the audience who spoke very eloquently about their gaming experience.  We talked a lot about the freedom to fail, but one young many admitted that he didn’t happily fail.  He got angry when he failed.  He put the game down for a while, went to something else, and then came back and worked at it again.

I think that one of the parts that resonated most with me came when I displayed a slide where I quote Glenn Wiebe (History Tech), “Games haven’t gotten simpler over time, they’ve gotten more complex.  Why?  Because the brain demands it!”

Generally speaking, technology has become simpler over time.  That’s how it sells, by turning the tool into an alliance — a toaster.  Certainly there are exceptions.  But a fairly consistent exception has been video games.  Video games have become increasingly sophisticated and complex — and is it what Wiebe says, that the brain demands more complexity.

Does the brain, at play, demand complexity.

The question that this discussion lead to, in Miami, was, “How can you encourage brains at play in our classrooms?”

What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Miami Rocks”

  1. I have it easy, because my students have only had 3 previous grades in which to have the “play” sucked out of them before they get to me. Even so, occasionally a student will come to me with a totally turned off attitude towards anything school related. My approach is that if you give them control of everything in the classroom as soon as you possibly can, they will begin to open their minds to play, and learning by default of course. Usually the first few times I do this, they just sit motionless thinking it is perhaps a trick or a joke. Then they realize they don’t remember how to self-direct at school, and that takes awhile to kick in, and then the tide turns and amazing things begin to happen, and I get to play with them for 9 months…then cry because I am worried they will forget how to play again next year.

  2. Greetings from Ljubljana, Slovenia!

    David, you said “The question that this discussion lead to, in Miami, was, “How can you encourage brains at play in our classrooms?”

    So, I’m making you teacher or principal tomorrow in a school. What do you immediately to enourage brains at play?

    Seeing the evolution of video tennis over time is interesting, but does little to advance progressive educational practices or even provide opportunities for more children to play “real” tennis.

    Do we need to wait for educational video games that don’t or may not ever exist to achieve your worthy goal?

    What should your loyal readers do?

  3. I’m glad that you asked, Gary. In a sense, I would dovetail into what Vejraska said, “..if you give them control of everything in the classroom as soon as you possibly can, they will begin to open their minds to play..” In other words, the classroom should belong to them, in the same way that a video game controller is owned by the player. This means the walls, the desks, the windows, the light switch, the teacher’s desk, the teacher, …

    Of course, I’m speaking somewhat metaphorically. Most specifically, I believe that the goals and the means toward those goals should belong to the learners. This means that the textbook (metaphor for all of the media being used to learn the content) should be editable.

    It means that learners (master and novice learners) should be able to communicate with each other at any time and be responded to — both inside the classroom and out.

    It means that the goals of the class and of the assignments are target that students understand, can talk about, and will invest themselves in.

    It means that the method for assessment is forgiving, a learning experience, and provides a safe place to fail.

    It means that you have a teacher, a game master, who can guide the conversations, guide the movement of the pieces, guide the arrangement of the game board, fairly manage the bank, and change the board at a moments notice.

    It means that every day, there are conversations about the learning, about the work, about the ethical implications of what’s happening both inside and outside of the classroom.

    It means that the members of the class are free range learners (not my term), information artisans, and communicators.

    I’m sitting in the airport on Toronto right now and will try to respond more specifically later.

  4. Best question I’ve heard all year.

    Free range learners, hmmm. So what would it look like if I filmed a class where the teacher was the game master? What do the lessons look like? Where am I in the classroom? How does instructional scaffolding come into play?

    I eagerly await more specifics.

  5. I know you were directing those questions to Dave, but I will throw in a few ideas from my classroom. If you were filming in my room, you would see a classroom government and jobs system, set up and managed by the students, who get paid every Friday (after paying taxes, utilities, and desk rental of course). Lessons would begin as a conversation, then go in the direction of the learner (ie- what do you know about fractions? Show me what you know- do it any way you wish-take it as far as you want to go….some will write songs about fractions, some make moviemaker stories about fractions, some write a fictional book with fractions as characters, etc) Where am I in the room? Well, usually not in front- most of the time off to the side working with a small group, or doing informal assessment, or re-directing a group or student who is stuck in the process. Products vary according to the learner, but every student is exposed to the same basic content. My lesson plans look like a big laundry list- what I need to do (find web resources, provide extra coaching and support for a student, meet with groups to set project deadlines) and what they need to do (blog, work on math project, continue publishing journal story). The only time I am really directing them as a whole group is for about 10 minutes every morning where we review the “to do” list. The rest of the day is theirs for the most part. I train experts for every tool- camera, video camera, scanner, printer, ppt, etc. so when someone gets stuck they ask each other and not me. It is a lot of work at the beginning of the year, but then it is AWESOME! Did I mention they are 8 years old? Hope that was what you were eagerly awaiting…

  6. Wow! Do people regularly tell you that you are amazing, vejraska? Add me to that list.

    Thanks for the ideas. I immediately latched onto the notion of treating lessons like to do lists. After all, is that what an objective is anyway? Something the kids need to do. I also like using that KWL structure of asking “What do you already know about…?” You’ve given me a lot to work with!

    And, Dave, I think this is exactly your point about blogging: it’s all about the marketplace of ideas.

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