Imagine if classrooms were like playgrounds, learning would be at its highest. This might not be attractive to educators and parents but play is vital for scientific inquiry and conceptual thinking. It is fun and voluntary. It is likely to have repetition like a remote control car, which can only go forward, backward, right and left. The play might seem random and a little variation on the usage of speed or switching the direction will be noticed. By playing, the child is likely to use causal reasoning when the car dashes or hits a dead-end. The cause and effect relationships can help children learn.
Stuart Brown in his TED talk titled ‘Play is more than just fun’, highlights that play exists because of curiosity and exploration. He presents the examples of ‘rough and tumble play’, ‘spectator play’, ‘Imaginative play’, etc to say that human beings are always involved in some form of play. Each kind of play helps the child build, tinker, use imagination, and encourages safe exploration and experimentation.
In an observatory class, children were excited to receive a building box to build a remote-control car. The curiosity was short-lived once the structure came together. Introduction to the electronic components and programming to control the project accelerated the excitement. The plug-play-integrate-innovate concept seem to go well in children play. In the end, a group of children had to make a presentation using pretend play, explanatory play or guided play. Each form of play is expected to help in their retention of information.
Often educators find it difficult to teach because they use direct instruction combined with free play; often a guided play might be more effective. To justify, during the introductory classes of robotics, children of age 5.5 and above were introduced to building box components. Guided play, with more emphasis on free play and less on instruction play. During such play, children named the items according to their shape, like hole-pillar because it consists of a hole and looks like a pillar. It was all due to conceptual learning. While some children observed the number of holes in the pillar, and named it as 5-hole pillar.
If the explanations are found inconsistent or the project fails, an example can be shown to the children who can then develop a new idea or test hypothesis. In another observatory class, a group had designed a Vertical Remote-Control Car. The arguments from the group on the design could raise eyebrows of policy makers and future car manufacturers. They want to devise a car where people will be seated in vertical position (a feeling during take-off of flight) except the driver. This car in a way acts as a two-wheeler to overcome parking issues and congestion. The design seemed a bit off because the car lacked the sturdy base to prevent it buckling and placing of mother board (heart of robot). Such ideas need open-ended WH questions such as when, how, why etc., that helps to trigger the explanatory and exploratory. The mentor’s introduction to technical words (plus in non-technical format) will help connect to a child’s prior learning.
These are good enough reasons to accept that play could help in learning STEM. The sense of belonging and satisfaction through play could lead to some great memories for future.
By Santosh Avvannavar
Alison Gopnik, Aug 12, 2016, The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/08/in-defense-of-play/495545/
Stuart Brown in his TED talk ‘Play is more than just fun’ 2008
Observations classes by QtPi Robotics team