This morning on the CBS Morning Show there was a story about a high school student who has possibly figured out a cure for cancer. Angela Zhang got interested in bio-engineering as a freshman. She started reading doctorate level papers and began to see it as a puzzle that she wanted to decode. She eventually talked her way into the lab at Stanford University and was doing her own research as a junior in high school. What I kept thinking as I watched this story is that she was playing. She found something that interested her and made the time to play around with it. She had the support of teachers who encouraged her to go beyond the curriculum, to follow a passion and to play. And look what happened.
So what if we built time for students to play into the school day? Not only in our primary grades – but in the upper elementary grades, middle school and high school as well? Recently at a staff professional development session my principal asked us what Explore time would look like in the upper grades. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I think there are so many possibilities for having an open-ended exploration and play time in all grades. After watching the CBS show this morning I’m even more convinced that carving out the time for this (our biggest challenge, perhaps) would be worth so much. Having this time would engage our struggling students as they find things they are interested and successful in and are motivated to pursue. Our students would be able to challenge themselves and pursue areas to research and explore that may not be part of our standard curriculum. We would help students find a passion and stick with a project over time, creating, problem solving, exploring and playing.
A few ideas I came up with for Explore time in grades 2-6 are:
*Legos, blocks and ramp building – including architectural design books and magazines as well as websites for constructing (this is a picture of kindergarteners building ramps – can you imagine how much further older kids could take this?)
*games – Scrabble, Boggle, Life, Monopoly, Yahtzee – just to name a few – these games are full of fun learning opportunities, yet we often don’t have time to play them in school
*science experiments – I think of all the cool experiments and projects at Steve Spangler Science, and countless other science resources, and think that older kids could experiment and play with a variety of science tools, engaging in problem solving, hypothesizing and persistence to a task they are interested in
*photography – children could explore photography and various editing tools that allow you to manipulate and alter photographs such as ColorSplash and Photoshop, using digital cameras, iPods or iPads
*art – exploration with a variety of mediums, as well as books, websites, etc. to get ideas from
*technology – kids could Tweet, create their own blogs, create digital stories, make movies, etc… there are SO many possibilities here
*reading – I know I would love an extra 30 minutes or so in each day to read whatever I chose – books, magazines, blogs, etc.
*writing – kids could work on their own books and stories or work with others to create collaborative pieces
*projects and research on topics in the curriculum that kids want to explore further or topics that students choose
I feel that with older kids simply giving them the time and then challenging them to create a project of their choosing would be all you really need to do. Of course, you would provide materials, guidance, etc. – but I think they could come up with ideas beyond what we can think of. Finding the time is a challenge in an educational climate where it seems as if every minute is planned with curriculum objectives and pacing guides – with the standardized tests being the ultimate goal. But don’t we want thinkers, problem solvers, engaged learners, and motivated students in addition to good test scores? I would argue that providing this time would improve test scores, especially in your reluctant, struggling students who aren’t invested in school. It would get them hooked on learning, motivated to learn more and I think great results in math, reading, writing and the content areas would be seen. Isn’t it worth a try?
I’d love to hear from you if you are trying anything like this with your students.
How do you make the time? What types of Explore activities/projects/etc. are your students engaged in? What advice do you have for teachers wanting to try this?