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The Importance of Play in Education--Even for Middle Schoolers!

Janel's blog, "The Number 2 Pencil", reflects on her experiences with students, parents, and colleagues in education!

Teachers talk a lot.  That is what one of my middle school students declared not long ago.  He is correct.  We do tend to ramble when given the opportunity. There are days when I am guilty of flapping my lips for just a little too long! Thankfully, middle school kids haven't quite mastered the art of polite discretion--"Aww, Mrs. C. can you tell us where you are going with all of this?"

I think my tendency to ramble is the very reason why I gravitate away from the traditional lecture-style of teaching.  I know my students will be sound asleep if I dig into a narrative about underlining meanings of the short story, Araby.  If I plan my lessons around play--or a project, in teacher-ese, I can pretty much guarantee that my students will be engaged in the chatter; not me! 

Yessss.  That is what I want to see and hear in my classroom; kids hunched over their group's tables, scrambling for the perfect position to take part in the day's activity.  Their investigative whispers evolving to low rumbles.  Smiles, laughter, and...."Hey, I get it!"

Research in project-based learning models is prevalent in education today. Funny, I haven't needed to read too much research in my recent years of teaching.  I am absolutely SOLD.  Sometimes we have to go with what works.  Believe me, I used to attend all of the workshops for teachers about the latest prize-winning approaches to learning---remember "whole language"?  

My background in child development and cognitive processing kept tugging at me as I began my teaching career.  School districts would spend thousands of dollars on state-adopted curriculum while I (and most other teachers) would develop our own games, activities, and lessons to teach the very expensive curriculum!  I should have become a curriculum publisher--I would be a millionaire!  

Play.  It is how children learn. Children process and retain more through play.  I can't quote the latest research from an Ivy League professor, but I can tell many a story which support my statements.  

My eighth graders needed to learn properties of buoyancy and the contribution of Newton's Laws to the concept.  Hmmmm.  I could give a study guide with facts to memorize and assign the chapter in the book to read....OR, I could implement a playful activity that engaged the kids, forced critical thinking, encouraged questions, exploration, and discovery.  

So it goes, the project, "What Floats Your Boat?" in my 8th grade physical science class created quite a scene.  The kids had to design a boat out of aluminum foil and duct tape.  It needed to float and hold weight.  The boat with that held the most weight "won" an amazing prize.  To spruce up the sinking boat theme, one student brought in his violin and played the first two lines of the Titanic theme song as foil vessels went under!  It was loud.  It was messy.  It was a bit chaotic. 

My students LEARNED.  They had FUN.  We extended their learning to in-depth discussion.  They problem-solved.  Answered questions.  Taught their friends.  Worked cooperatively.  Explained how and why.  Will never forget it.  They LEARNED.  Who needs research.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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