Playgrounds not Playpens

Hello,

Thank you for reading my first blog post.

I want to start this blog by sharing a few thoughts on the intersection of teaching and learning and technology. Four years ago, my head of school handed me a book and said “Read this, because this is what you will be teaching in your kindergarten.” The book was Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom by Tufts professor Marina Bers.

Marina argues that too many ‘educational’ technology experiences are the digital equivalent of leaving a child in a playpen – closed, very safe, very predictable, and, most significantly, giving the child zero autonomy. Playpen experiences are contrasted with playgrounds which allow the possibility for open-ended and unpredictable play, allowing a certain amount of risk by offering the child controlled autonomy. Marina argues that in order to encourage creative thinking and meaningful learning (I hate any commercial product that claims on the box to be ‘educational!’), educators must ensure that their students access digital technology that is in the spirit of ‘playground play’ rather than limits students to lazing in playpens.

I have been lucky enough over the past few years to be working at JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School, a school that is open to innovation. At JCDS, we have been integrating technology into our curriculum guided by Marina’s approach, and, with great help directly from Marina. This has given me the opportunity to help kindergarteners build and program Lego Robots as expressions of their identity (video available here), 4th graders use the Scratch computer programming language to create a Hagaddah, and Middle School Social Science students create electronic vote counting machines for a school-wide mock election.

I will write more about these (and other) exciting projects in future posts.

Thank you for reading my blog!

Further reading:

Marina’s latest book: Designing Digital Experiences for Positive Youth Development: From Playpen to Playground.

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