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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#unrules26 - Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, then add rigor.

Unschooling Rule 26 (#unrules26) is: Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, 
  • Current Scorecard Rating:   OMG! Thought-leading breakthrough
It is almost impossible not to believe play is absolutely essential to mastery.  In my preface to my earlier book Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds, I described this composite scene, as model of how we learn:
A five-year-old girl visits a swimming pool at the beginning of the summer, and is terrified.  But with some playful challenges from her father, she works up her nerve to dip her toe in the water.  She has entered a new world.  
Slowly, she begins playing games on the pool stairs.  She imagines the water is the ocean, and she lives in an undersea world, where her father is the king.  She begins to splash with other children.  In playing, she is learning how this new world works.  The pool then becomes a comfortable environment for her and her friends to spend time.   
Finally, she begins to deliberately challenge herself.  It is not enough to be in the shallow end; she wants to learn to swim to the deep end.  With the coaching of her father, she pushes towards the dark and cold, experimenting with strokes, sometimes getting mouthfuls of water.  She gets frustrated, and then excited with each new skill.  It takes time, and progress is uneven.  Two steps forward may be followed by one step back.  But by the end of the summer, she has become a competent swimmer, and could swim to safety in many different environments, from other pools to lakes to beaches.
There is so much consensus on the critical role of play, from the ground-breaking work of Jean Piaget to a  CNN Opinion piece: Want to get your kids into college? Let them play. Despite the compelling case made, an entire generation of school kids has already gone through middle school and high school since Dr. Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy came out.

Every five years, there is a new intellectual appreciation for the role of play.   At the same time, the amount of free time necessary for play is reduced.

There are two, opposite approaches to play, one is the sandlot model of self-structured play, and another is the little league or computer game, with high degrees of structure and affordances.    

  • The first kind of play is unproductive (in the short term), and so schools won't do it.  
  • The second kind of play takes a lot of creativity and charm.  It takes leadership, not management.  So schools can't do it.
Some recent coverage:

08/06/2014: NPR: Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain
  • [C]hildren need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.
03/19/2014: An article in The Atlantic (A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.) supported the need for real play, including
  • Kids once took special pride in “knowing how to get places” alone, and in finding shortcuts adults normally wouldn’t use.
  • If a 10-year-old lit a fire at an American playground, someone would call the police and the kid would be taken for counseling. At the Land, spontaneous fires are a frequent occurrence. The park is staffed by professionally trained “playworkers,” who keep a close eye on the kids but don’t intervene all that much...  A playworker is always nearby, watching for impending accidents but otherwise letting the children figure out lessons about fire on their own.
For the most recent Unschooling Rules scorecard, see: http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/search/label/Scorecard

Sidebar: Schools that don't encourage "genuine play" in a subject-matter sacrifice both competence and conviction

Funnily enough, the most successful academic use of "play" is not, as one might expect, the extension of successful socializing and educational play from kindergarten to subsequent first and second grades. In fact, we are seeing the opposite here, with more directive style content and approaches being pushed down to younger ages.

Rather, the biggest use of "play" in academics is coming at the graduate school level, where "simulations" and "role-plays" are being used, almost inevitably media-assisted, to develop skills in the next generations of doctors, business people, and lawyers, just to name a few. In other words, the closer to the point of the real use of content, and the more sophisticated the content, the more play is encouraged.

This is because competent graduate schools understand that the goal of learning is: Competence + Conviction = Comfort

Competence is a pretty well understood idea. It is the ability of a learner to apply the right skills.

But developing conviction in a student for any subject matter is even more important. Conviction is the enduring understanding and drive in the learner to do the right thing.

I look at the conviction level by gauging:
  • How do people actually behave when no one is watching, and/or when stressed?
  • Can people improvise to appropriately adapt learned approaches to situations not explicitly covered in the material?
Ultimately, comfort comes from the combination of the two. And comfort, unlike the awareness of facts, lasts for decades. Comfort is reinforced and made stronger by the productive world.

As an aside, all of the identified "non-universals" of society require conviction, and include:
  • Model Based Science
  • Equal Rights
  • Democracy
  • Focus Culturally on Similarities over Differences
  • Slow Deep Thinking
  • Legal System over Vendetta
  • Perspective Drawing
  • Theory of Harmony
  • Agriculture over hunting and killing
From my own work, I have framed out a design approach to begin the conviction developing process using simulations:
  • Allow students to experiment with their traditional behavior. Allow them to do what they would naturally do. Then show not only the immediate, apparent, and high-probability consequences (which are often positive) of their traditional behavior, but also the long term, hidden, and/or "unlikely" but possible consequences (which can be devastating). Allow the player to experience emotionally the direct devastating consequences.
  • Visualize the "invisible system" - the flow of events that people can't normally see, but leads to any devastating outcomes.
  • Allow students to repeat the scenarios (which means they can't be too long, or rely too much on linear content), and then "discover" for themselves the right way of doing things.
  • Include the little feedback signs to teach players what are signs in the real world that indicate a straying into risky behavior.
  • Put the student in novel situations that require improvising based on their earned knowledge.
  • Present tailored, not generic, after action reviews/debriefings.
Play is the oldest form of education. And any parent that relies on, or any organization that hires from, institutions that don't use play will get people with only brittle, superficial, and transient knowledge at best.

See also:
Unschooling Rules 26. Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, then add rigor.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Recording of Clark Aldrich's Unschooling Rules Presentation

Here is my presentation from The Homeschool+ Conference: http://www.homeschoolconference.com/

The book is Unschooling Rules, and if you liked it, please feel free to write a review on Amazon.