Playing is Learning


When Departures Youth Voices was invited to apply to the New Media Literacies (NML) Summer Sandbox Professional Development project earlier this year, one of the key concepts that attracted me was the value attributed to play, specifically in re-interpreting the relationship between teachers and students. I was struck by the simplicity and complexity of the idea. Simplicity because of the ease of play: The lack of stress that inhabits a task where the outcome is not primary, but where instead the joy of exploring, devising new ideas and strategies are the focal points. The complexity arises in our lack of practice and openness, as adults and educators, to jump into play and accept that the process is paramount to the outcome. The pressure on teachers for quantitative results is so extreme, it may seem a luxury to look at the quality of the process as the goal. The educators we worked with took this leap and allowed us to join in on the fun.

NML identifies play as one of the core cultural competencies that enables participatory learning to truly take hold. They define play as "the capacity to experiment with one's surroundings as a form of problem-solving. Over the course of our three Departures Youth Voices Professional Development Play On! workshops the umbrella of PLAY (Participatory Learning and You!) definitely cast a shadow on all our activities. There was an openness by the participants to try new things, make mistakes, share new insights and explore the Youth Voices curriculum. The five hours we spent together each Saturday flew by as everyone was actively engaged with exploring digital literacy in the classroom, creating power points, maps and digital murals.

The Youth Voices curriculum offers an opportunity for participants to reflect on their community and critically examine how they see and understand their neighborhood; what memories, experiences, people, places and history define their sense of place. As our small crew of workshop participants/educators were engaged in this they were also encouraged to consider the smaller community of their classroom and students. How could Youth Voices, media literacy, digital technology and participatory learning be further integrated into their classrooms? How can it motivate students to be participatory learners; creating and circulating original content, collaborating and connecting with people to extend and distribute the project(s) in the digital and physical landscape.

Participants voiced ideas such as: using maps and mapping as a way to dig deeper into a novel by tagging key locations and events, or documenting a field trip taken to learn more about the Occupy Movement. They also posed questions such as: what if the founding fathers used Twitter to spread news about the American Revolution? how would they exploit the limit on characters?, or what would Benjamin Franklin's Facebook page look like?

Two of the workshop participants were from Operation Street Kidz, a non-profit grassroots organization working to promote learning and creative opportunities for disenfranchised youth. Their interest in digital media and media literacy is as a tool for connecting with and inspiring young people. As an organization that often works in informal settings, they see the potential for Youth Voices to help build confidence and provide valuable skills for young people, ultimately fostering positive connections to their neighborhood while placing a value on their stories and experiences.

Our plan, as we continue to work with educators and develop our professional development component, is to take the feedback we've received and grow our curriculum in a way that utilizes and promotes the characteristics of participatory learning and play, all the while continuing to support our new found partners, inside and outside of the classroom.

Below is a video by the NML showcasing the experiences of the educators who participated in the Summer SandBox Professional Development at the RFK Community Schools.

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