51/365 What if We Can’t Play?

I had the great opportunity to work with Bud Hunt Wednesday and co-lead a summit workshop at NCCE on hacking the curriculum for the Common Core. A room of 50 educators who work as teachers, IT coordinators, district personnel, librarians and everything in between filled the room.

Bud being who he is and me being who I am, we designed the day around exploration moving toward participants identifying how they could leverage the Common Core to evolve teaching and learning in their sites by hacking the curriculum in the afternoon.

The conversations were rich and the room was full of good will moving into the afternoon.

When we got to the hacking portion, though, it was surprising the number of people who continued conversing about things rather than building something to take back and move their respective conversations.

It wasn’t everyone by any means, and I certainly do not begrudge anyone a rich conversation about practice. What it got me wondering, though, was how much we’ve conditioned teachers away from play and the idea of creation.

The day to that point had been resource-rich and open to many conversations about the problems and goals folks were carrying with them through their workdays.

When the scheduled time to address those problems to, “build the thing you’ve been wanting to build but haven’t had the time,” came, not nearly as many as I would have expected chose to do so.

I don’t know the answers to why, but I do have some ideas and some questions:

  • Did they choose not to because we have built a system where creativity and the building of useful things is seen as devoid of value?
  • Were they restricted by the space (a convention center conference room)? And, if so, what can such a feeling in a room that bears striking resemblance to many school classrooms tell us about what we are doing to students’ own feelings about making?
  • Am I reading the experience completely wrong? Were the conversations in place of making more valuable or necessary before these folks could make their way to creating? If so, what does that tell us about classroom experiences?
  • What could we have done, if anything, to structure the day so that people felt internally compelled to make when given the time and space?

It was a successful day, and I’m happy with the results. People had useful conversation and feedback has been positive. These are the conference equivalent of the questions I’d ask myself after a lesson in my class, no matter how successful I thought it had gone. They are the the weight of feeling like I must always ask, “Why did what happened happen, and how could I have made it better for those who entrusted me with their time?”

I’m thankful to Bud for asking me along today, and I’m thankful to everyone who committed to the experience as worthwhile to improving teaching and learning in their spaces. I’m excited to improve upon it next time.

You can find the wiki for our summit here and the blog posts that came out of folks’ time for writing here.

3 thoughts on “51/365 What if We Can’t Play?

  1. Play, like reflection, often can’t be turned on with a switch. I don’t always feel like playing. As you point out, there is a conditioning that comes with a conference and even if you go out of your way to suggest your session will be different, it’s not the norm and for many folks it’s uncomfortable. That doesn’t suggest they don’t play or don’t value play but as Roger Schank says, “Learning happens when someone wants to learn, not when someone wants to teach”. Perhaps that’s a bit simplistic but I like the idea that some are welcome to continue talking instead of playing. It honors the learner and yet we often feel like we’ve failed if everyone doesn’t want to play. I write this mostly to remind myself.

  2. I’m a designer and MFA design student, and a former high school teacher. Fascinating post; thank you.

    I appreciate the candid reflection on your presentation, particularly this philosophy: “Why did what happened happen, and how could I have made it better for those who entrusted me with their time?” (For the record, I was not there.)

    Your reflective stance echoes that of designers: Why are things the way they are? How can they work better?

    My feeling is that there’s pretty much nothing under the sun that can’t work better than it currently does. (Yep, my conviction warrants a double negative.)

    As to the response of your attendees, I wonder if the term ‘hacking’ raises inhibitions the way ‘making’ sometimes does — perhaps even more so.

    How might we demystify those terms, and develop ways of easing people into both activities — playfully, comfortably, even irresistibly?

    That said, I can imagine your attendees’ enthusiastic conversations resonating with them, and leading them to new ideas, long after the experience. Surely it planted seeds that will motivate them to pursue this area further. It’s a process — one that opens many people to hacking, making, and creativity more readily over time.

    • Karin, thank you for the comment. It makes me smile that I’m reflective of designers as I know and hang around with several of them. It’s nice to know they’re rubbing off on me.

      I’m in agreement with your assessment of ‘hacking.’ Sometimes, in our attempts to be edgy, we edge out those who are looking to move two steps forward, not 20.

      Thank you, also, for moving me back to the positive with the seeds of conversation. I’m hopeful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *