Serious Playfulness

This overview gathers posts about our explorations of mathematics, various branches of science, and related matters.

The idea and practice of serious playfulness wove through all our time together, every day and every year, and it’s woven through most of the posts for this blog–but it’s especially important here.

serious playfulness taking temperaturesAiming to create a place for serious playfulness, I felt supported and challenged by the ethos of the entire school, which valued both the joyfulness and energy of play, and the focused thoughtfulness and seriousness of a child intent on new discoveries.

Such incredible good fortune! I wasn’t off in my corner secretly following the approach in which I believed; I was one of a whole team of teachers exhilarated by the opportunity to work with children in these ways, while they taught all of us by example, with their own both high-spirited and earnest approach to learning–a different flavor of that combination for every child.

You might also want to read about playfully serious approaches to Reading, Writing, and Word Study, and also to all the dimensions of Sense of Place.

Above all, if you’re interested in understanding serious playfulness live and in process, you should go visit a school where it happens. No description can do it justice, even with the luck of photographs.

 hummanacraft3editHummanacrafts and the Spirit of Invention   Off on the literal and figurative edges of the classroom, serious playfulness led to amazing things, right from the start.

average 2010 betterBuilding Average  Many schools using the MathLand curriculum just made blueprints with their processed data about various attributes. But our experience affirmed the time it took to work from the blueprints and build a model of the average student, body part by body part and year by year, to both serious and comic effect.

set bMath Mentors and Math Games    Confessions of a born-again mathematician, and tributes to inspiring colleagues. For dessert, recreational prime factorization, Set, and Lloyd’s Game.

hands and imaginetsFinding the Right Game  Searching for a way to interact with my elderly and increasingly wordless father, I reached back into my teaching experience–which told me to look carefully at what had become interesting to him.

vihartfibAfterthoughts, Afterlinks, Resolutions, and Thanks  Birthday math rituals / mathemagician Vi Hart / a spunky fictional 11-year-old who feels a deep kinship with Charles Darwin / a great book about the history of humans.

The Evolution Treasure Huntevolution kids at reptiles took a hands-on approach to the history of life on earth. As they moved from station to station, students followed a series of innovations affecting body-plan, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior, over billions of years.

evolution Lisa Westberg PetersTeaching Evolution: Three More Thoughts  Mindful of controversy around me, wanting to share both  science-based understandings and a sense of wonder, I found inspiration and support in my biologist father’s path, in children’s books, and in the writings of wonderfully articulate biologists.

projects temperature investigations grinProjects Time   The archetypal frame for serious playfulness, a twice-weekly format for hands-on small-group projects in science and social studies. Some favorite photos of kids carrying on investigations, talking about their ideas, and sharing with the rest of the class.

Accountability and Projects Time   projects river model0001“The same five-ring circus, the same level of complication that stretched the adults’ ability to be everywhere at once, meant that we didn’t have to. We didn’t have to hold them all accountable, minute to minute. We held them responsible, instead, and they rose to that, for themselves and for each other.”

volunteers visiting gram 2In Praise of Spare Grown-ups    Parent and grandparent volunteers supported complex, active small group work during projects time (often outdoors, hooray)–as well as engaged, energetic use of resources available out in the wide world.

 John reaching editedTaking Temperatures  Gathering, graphing, comparing, and interpreting data about a familiar attribute of the environment, we used both ordinary thermometers and a digital setup involving iPads, LabQuest2, and Vernier software–and sometimes we incorporated all this into a game called Microclimate Tic-tac-toe.

 Mimi sharing with other classes eMimi Reports  When research in books gets combined with the whole-body learning of individual field visits and/or model making, everything means more, and the resulting engagement and energy can sustain truly impressive extended individual work and products.

Alhambra Caroline and IsyThe Alhambra Banquet   We celebrated the cultural, technological, and scientific achievements of Arab Spain, within an awareness of the Mediterranean and wider medieval worlds, by researching and pretending to be historical figures from those worlds. The fun of cooking and sewing and painting scenery, combined with the serious project of sharing history unknown to most American adults, and relevant to many contemporary world issues.

Get Out–and Find Four Things  Struggling to absorb my father’s death, I spent a lot of  time walking outdoors ifind four things with feather and shard croppedn the early spring, remembered the emotional nourishment of outdoor education, and found comfort in a game I taught my students. 

Finally, two posts from the occasional blog I wrote for parents, while I was still teaching:

Farm School blue jeans and MooseyMoosey Goes to Farm School  Why did video production become such an important part of our playfully serious (or seriously playful) approach to content? This essay, written for parents soon after one video’s completion, and originally posted on the school’s website, looks closely at the video-production work of a particular class, with links to the Farm School website and the video itself.

sketching time sample map cropped againMorning Sketching    How a time for free sketching, as students arrived in the morning, helped kids find a good balance between receptivity and productivity. “Sketching time makes a sort of airlock, a way to transition between home and school, a way to transition into output, a way to settle down into the self who chooses what to do, and explores and thinks, and then chooses again.”

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