March 24, 2020

Playful Home Learning Series: #2

Jodie Ricci, guest author

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, this is our second post in a series about playful teaching and learning during prolonged school closures. That we are talking about play and playfulness during this global crisis doesn’t mean we don’t take the situation seriously. We are deeply saddened by the ongoing loss of life and toll this outbreak will continue to take. Yet as educators who understand the value of learning through play, we feel a responsibility to help playful learning continue for the many children who will be learning at home.


“An invitation to online teaching: play, collaboration, and room for mistakes!”

by Jodie Ricci, guest author

Some inspiration…

According to acclaimed Chinese artist Xu Bing, the answer is all around us. “Our creations will always be a response to the new energy and questions or problems that occur from our social reality.”

Xu Bing, The Phoenix,

Some context…

For the past five semesters, I have had the opportunity to coach educators from around the world in the Project Zero online classroom. When I began my virtual online adventure, I never imagined that I would see or experience the depth of connections possible in this type of learning environment. The authentic relationships, genuine support, and joy that I’ve gained from my online interactions are an essential part of my identity as an educator. From meaningful learning, to agency and empowerment, to a world bursting with resources, online learning has allowed me to go deeper into my practice, explore the unknown, and peek into classrooms all around the globe. It has given me the space to formulate words, reflect on actions, and to revise my responses. It has strengthened my asynchronous and synchronous communications, improved my writing, and pushed my thinking. It has inspired me to try new things, given me more clarity, and reaffirmed my values. My hope is that this post will help you zoom out, consider the big picture, and turn your uncertainty into productive action.  Doing so will help you feel less alone as you move through fear and into the new creations of tomorrow.

Virtual online learning is indeed an adventure. Welcome to the playground…

Some Considerations…

1. Just start playing…
image from Minecraft game (Mojang 2009)

“Virtual online learning reminds me of Minecraft... You start the game and you're met with the huge, immense, intimidating world. It's actually daunting at first because of the sheer quantity of possibilities. A lot of people have a hard time playing at first because they aren't sure what to build. I mean, what exactly do you build when you can make almost anything? And then you start building...And you sort of lose yourself in it.” -Zack Kordeleski

There is an overwhelming swirl of information bursting through most computer screens right now. Lists of free online resources, project ideas, tutorials, curriculum, webinars, zoom calls, and “how to” guides are flooding through school in-boxes and social media posts. How can we make sense of this information at a time when the speed and pace of change is so fast? Like a young learner who runs as quickly as possible onto a playground, educators need to embrace a spirit of experimentation, adventure, and discovery. If you are afraid of climbing the monkey bars on the first day of school, start with the swings. If you want to jump right in and climb to the top of the playground, lead the way. You do not need to start your virtual online teaching experience with all of the answers. Educators - be kind to yourself, start with one new thing that resonates with you, and give yourself time and permission to just start playing.

2. Find your cohort…
my PZ Online cohort!

It always fascinates me how quickly young learners find each other on the playground. Even though children have different social needs, they eventually gravitate towards each other and find like-minded peers to share in their adventures. In an uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, now is the time to find your cohort. Educators across the globe are in the midst of a fundamental change and we have an opportunity to become even more interdependent and connected. Consider calling a colleague and working together to address the challenges and puzzles that will inevitably come up as part of this new teaching experience. Ask your students “what are you curious about learning today?” Crowdsource, co-inspire, and co-create with teachers from different schools and learning contexts. Propose share-outs, text your colleagues, pose a question to educators on social media, and build mechanisms and processes that will allow you to stay connected with others in our profession. When you have a good idea, leverage your own wisdom. When you hear a good idea, leverage the wisdom of others. The good news is that we are all in this together – so go out and find your cohort.

3. Get back up…
Falling down after a class chair design challenge!

The bumps and bruises that inevitably come with new playground adventures help children understand their own capacity and humanity. Children have to fall in order to learn how to get back up and so do we! We have an incredible opportunity to model our own learning, vulnerability, and mistakes as we transition to online learning. Most of our students are growing up in a digital online world, and now we get to be in that world with them. Messing up, laughing at our own challenges, and admitting that we do not have the answers are all gifts we can give to our students. If we want our students to develop habits that will help them navigate the ups and downs of life, we need to model our own commitment to learning, persistence, and getting back up. Ask yourself, “what do I want to cultivate at this time?” and then go out and model those things in your new virtual online classroom. It’s time to get back up!

An invitation…

As we enter into a new way of teaching and learning, and try to make sense of our current global context, I’d like to propose a toast to all of the educators out there trying to figure this thing out:

In uncertain and clarifying times, we have the chance to construct powerful new narratives. We can use this situation as an opportunity to connect, play, explore, and reinvent. We can create space for play, risk taking, fun, and co-creation.

So, here’s to board games, walking in the woods, kitchen concoctions, dress up, and playground adventures. Let’s do this thing!

Jodie Ricci is the PS-12 Performing Arts Chair at Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio. For the past several years, she has collaborated with students, researchers, and educators to develop an actionable framework to support more distributed and participatory forms of creativity. She is a classroom practitioner of Agency by Design research and a coach in the Project Zero Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom online course. She recently published The SEED Framework for Cultivating Creativity in the Springer Encyclopedia of Educational Innovation, a major reference work focused on creativity and innovation.