Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Learning through play ...

I just had a group of 4th graders leave the media center, excited about how much they had learned. Yeah, I know ... 4th graders EXCITED about learning. It doesn't happen often, I have to say.

They came in last week to work on PowerPoint presentation about Cherokee Indians. They wrote their facts, typed up their slides ... no muss, no fuss, no STYLE or personality ... and then printed them out as a handouts. Looks great as an artifact of a technology lesson but what did they really learn?

Well, this morning, they went above and beyond the basics and had a meaningful learning experience. Because of a cancellation somewhere else in their schedule, one of the classes was able to come down to the media center, open their PowerPoints (they had saved them to the hard drive) and then spend 45 minutes PLAYING. It wasn't for a grade, it was just for fun and that is how we presented it to them.

They learned how to proof and correct spelling mistakes, manipulate the font size and color, apply a template, add custom animation, all sorts of fun stuff. If they went too far or really messed it up, they learned they could Undo back to their last save. A couple of kids even said "Hey, this is just like in Word when you can undo a mistake!", making the connection that there are similarities between MS products. (Authentic learning!)When someone discovered something cool, we called everyone's attention to it and let that student tell the class how they got there.

When it was time for them to go, the teacher told them to just close the program without saving the changes so that there was a clean copy, just in case someone lost their original printout. They walked out of here excited and happy, ready to do another PowerPoint for their next unit.

Some of these kids (and their teacher, I think) were just amazed at how much PowerPoint could do! No wonder! If we only let kids use the software to do a handout for a portfolio, what are they really learning? Most of them hadn't even watched their original presentations as a slide show.

I am SO glad they did this and I am going to suggest that every class tries the same thing. Learning through play. It works at any age. It was how I learned everything I know about computers. It's how I teach Kindergarten and 1st grade to word process. They first type their names for a print out at a standard size and font and then they can change the font and size and color however they want. First and second grade can also do that after they print out their poetry. It allows them the freedom to explore without worrying about having to do it the 'right' way.

Drawbacks: TIME!! Who has time in their schedule to play anymore? Also, scheduling time for everyone in the media center is impossible with my fixed classes ... and I'm not always available to facilitate the sessions. This is something I want to work on more with my teachers ... at least those that are open to the experience. Maybe after seeing their success, others will want to jump on the bandwagon.

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