Do you remember what it was like to get lost in a world for hours of your own imagination? How about the excitement of learning something new and wanting to spend hours just doing that? If you are like me, I remember it but now I pretend that I am too old to play games. I get caught in the “I’m too busy or I’ve got better things to do” mindset.
Sometimes you need to be pushed out of your comfort zone and be reminded of what it feels like to be in a learning situation where you are not in control especially as an educator. To many times we are the ones who control what is happening in our classroom but forget what it is like to be put into a situation where we need to trust. Trust is an essential part of being able to learn.
What do I mean by that? A week ago I attended the Playful Learning Conference at UW-Madison. I thought that I was attending something that would push me to connect with other educators and learn new things but what actually happened was not what I was expecting. In my first session, I thought I might walk away with a few ideas instead I walked away with a reminder of what it means to participate in a learning environment where I have to trust the leader to not put me in a situation that will embarrass me or make me look “stupid”.
The session started with a game. No not a technology game which is more in my comfort zone. Rather one of those social interaction, face to face games… UGH! We each had to select a sticker with words on it. Now it quickly became obvious to me that I did not understand the words. I can read but when you can read the words and they have no meaning, you realize you are quickly in trouble. So we were able to exchange our sticker for another sticker… but the next sticker I did not know either. By this time, everyone in the room was putting their sticker on and ready to play the game while my stress started to escalate. I appeared to be the only adult in the room who was not capable of finding a sticker to match my small amount of knowledge. I have never claimed to be a fountain of knowledge but this game was quickly making me want to crawl into a shell and hide.
Finally the instructor found a sticker with “Noah’s Ark” on it. So I found a sticker that I could put on so that I could play…. but then the rules got worse. You had to create a blob with others in the room but you could only be part of the blob if you knew something about everyone else’s stickers. You had to know something without them telling you about their sticker. So I had just started to feel relieved only to realize that the game had just taken a turn for the worse for me. If it was that hard for me to find my own sticker how was I ever going to be a part of a blob. What did I do? I pretended that I knew something and started to formulate an exit plan.
So this is how it feels in the classroom….. as a learner I am subjected to the whims of the instructor in a game that I may not want to play. I trust you to not embarrass me in front of everyone else because I am not always going to know what you are asking. But then when I finally think I am going to be able to play, you add another rule. Worst of all, I am rarely allowed an exit plan so that I can maintain my confidence and dignity.
Real play and games need to give learners an opportunity to try and fail. In the virtual world of Minecraft, I can fail. I can dig myself into a hole, exit the world, and try again. There is a difference for me when playing in the virtual world vs. playing in the real world. Maybe we are missing the point as educators when we downplay the value of virtual games and why children are so drawn to these other worlds. We all need to be given the opportunity to try and fail in a safe environment.
Side note: I did get to meet Joel Levin, creator of Minecraft EDU and he signed my plush Minecraft pig!