The Center at PDS has been working more closely with our lower, middle, and upper school Professional Development Coordinators this year. In particular, we are supporting their collective efforts to improve the New to PDS Teacher experience. To that end, we have been spending some of our Thursday afternoons offering an open house, topic-specific experience to help faculty (new to PDS and otherwise). We are prototyping lots of possibilities each week.
One of those recent Thursdays focused on helping faculty prepare their Meaningful Faculty Evaluation (MFE) goals for the year. A number of faculty stopped by to enjoy some after school snacks and get some help with their MFEs. One of our lower school colleagues (Mrs. R) stopped by to chat about a goal for the entire 1st grade team centered around finding a way to capture more and more of the fantastic insights and comments from student reading group conversations. The Swivl sparked some conversations about possible modes of capturing more conversations. A great MFE that warrants an entire future blog post dedicated to the story.
In passing, as our 1st grade colleague was headed out, we answered a few questions about the Curve. We insisted the Curve is everyone’s space. Lots of middle school and upper school classes happen in the new Academic Center, yet the Curve is a space for anyone interested and willing to use it–Tk thru 12. Mrs. R wondered aloud if she could bring her class to the Curve. We said, “Yes, please!” Mrs. R recounts what happened next:
Initially, the first visit was more of an exploration time to see the Curve and allow the students to investigate. The day before our visit, one of our students came up with an idea during indoor recess to create a game. In the Curve, he shared his idea on the Spark Board, and that led the class into the game design idea. It was organic in the way it unfolded- we were excited to give them the opportunity and see where their creativity would take them.
Game Design challenge in hand, the students continued to explore the various zones of the space. Almost immediately, students began interacting with the Sharewalls and Spark Board. All of these writeable spaces gave rise to small group game design brainstorms. Eventually, the students had to return to their designated classroom space, but everyone agreed The Curve would be a good spot to return to for any number of activities where a little extra room or writeable space might be helpful.
Over the next week, members of the Center team stopped by to follow along in the design process students undertook to create their boardgames. We brought some of our gear and supplies just in case (the finger puppet monsters proved useful). Mostly, the Center team served as curious observers who followed along and asked questions when the opportunity arose. Each group designed a markedly different game and brought an incredible variety of design drivers to their process. We were lucky to have gotten to witness so much of their design and learning.
After that initial meeting in the Curve and a week of observations, here’s what we learned from our 1st Grade Design Friends:
- Play leads to new ideas (These designers played with ideas and questions and materials collaboratively to find their best stuff).
- Inspiration is everywhere (I came to observe one day with copies of a sheet covered in circles for one of my classes. Students noticed these sheets. Politely asked if they could use them. Immediately started incorporating the circles into their process).
- Design is content and form (Both classroom instructors were masterful facilitators every time we saw this class. They were constantly referencing content from the math and reading instruction that happened in other parts of the day. They were constantly encouraging students to consider how to use the skills they were learning around compromise and kindness and emotions. The time was designated for a STEAM challenge but was seamlessly connected to everything else going on in the learning lives of these first grade students. They did not disconnect design skills from any of the content area material they were covering).
- Shared language matters (Sloppy Copy. Compromise. From yet to yes. Win-Win. Flow. The teachers encouraged, and the students consistently used, a rather enormous array of phrases that referenced shared concepts that were being learned and practiced over time. The most powerful meta-moments were those where the students caught one another making good decisions or running into problems and redirecting each other with a turn of phrase that was provided by the teacher and shared amongst the students. One of my favorite student disagreements, when asked about important takeaways from the design process, went like this:
- Student 1: Working things out together.
- Student 2: No. Teamwork.
- Student 1: Oh. Okay. Teamwork. Yeah, teamwork.).
- Flow can be contagious (The class talked a lot about being in flow while working on their game designs. The word was used to describe a state they found themselves in almost immediately after they were given the green light to begin work. They focused on each other and their materials and their ideas. Time flew by in each session. The fact that each group got excited and focused together made it easier for everyone to stay in the state).
As an adult, I spend time trying to find a state of Flow. These designers were in Flow. The word is something I am looking for while my new first grade friends were too busy being in Flow to bother looking for it. They found Flow together by playing. Their learning in the form of game design was indistinguishable from their state of play. They always looked like they were playing in almost every part of the process.
I believe play is learning. If you are not playing, you are almost certainly not learning. I believe play is a form of Flow (maybe the highest form). Play and Flow came naturally to these designers in ways that I have never so successfully facilitated with adults. By trying to find Flow and Play, adults tend to ruin what is most constructive and creative about these states. All of the adults on our campus would do well to find the chance to Flow and Play in our Lower School.
We hope those sorts of Flow and Play opportunities continue to arise from the shared use of the Curve. You can always start (or restart) in the Curve, but you probably won’t stop there.