We talked about our educational experiences and agreed that the best learning moments for us happened when we were playing at real life. I was harkened back to my development as a competitive track athlete:I don’t really have a lot to add this, I mainly just wanted to share. I’m usually not a fan of the idea of separating school from “real life” – usually referred to as “the real world,” because I think school is real life, is “the real world” for our students at this point in their lives. But other than that personal pet peeve of mine over that phrase, the bolded parts above really resonated with me. We’ve had lots of discussions in our staff development about “the real world” and how students have to do thus and such because they’ll have to do it in “real life.” But I keep finding myself returning to the same questions, “Why?” and “Isn’t there a better way?” and “If there is a better way, don’t we want that for our children?” As usual, I have lots of questions, but very few answers.
For those who don't know, I am the 193rd American to run a sub-four minute mile. This is a mark of excellence in my event and I can recall spending years dreaming of accomplishing it. I recall in my earliest years how many adults around me hoped their young sons would achieve this standard of excellence. Their solution was to take adult work and assign it to their children. If a great runner covers 70 miles per week at age 21, then they would push their kids to run 50 miles per week at age 9. And when I was 9, I was soundly defeated in race after race by the kids who ran that way. But long about age 16, I wasn't being beaten any more. I was soon the one training harder, running more miles and winning races. By the time we graduated from high school, I was among the best in the nation and they weren't even running any more.
How could this have happened? The answer is simple. While adult-style work was imposed on them, I was playing. As we grew up, my play became more serious while they struggled with what felt like "work." Not long after middle school, as we were less and less inclined to do what adults around us told us to do, I embraced the running I had long played at while they rejected it as work.
The lesson I am hoping to share is that playing is critical for children. I'm not the first to realize this, in fact thousands of brilliant educators know this. The lesson is that if we want the young to embrace running, or sports, or the arts or science, or any other endeavor...it must be something they find rewarding, inspiring and something they can own. In essence, education should be playing at real life. The emphasis should begin with play at the beginning of education and become more real life as they approach graduation. The more interesting, the more authentic, the more rewarding and the more comparable to real life our educational experiences can be, I'm betting the more success we'll realize.
So, how does this connect to technology at Littleton Public Schools? Well, real life today is a connected, informed and participatory life. Real life in the 21st Century means that traditional barriers of time, space and money are being completely redefined. As we search for the new ways to educate children for a totally different world than what we grew up in, let's make sure we don't forget the essentials...the constants. Play at real life and use today's technologies to connect to other people rather than become isolated. Our human relationships shall always be our greatest resources and assets.
Image Citation: Running Guy, originally uploaded by Aaron.