Play is important business in learning. Play unlocks learning in new ways because challenges are met with excitement and perseverance, rather than hesitation. In addition a play-based approach to learning increases creativity, abstract thinking, problem-solving, social cognition (empathy and perspective), cooperative learning with others, imagination and persistence. We saw play do all of this and more during our second annual Day of Play based on Caine’s Arcade Cardboard Challenge.
This year we gave our students a common focus: build a Rube Goldberg machine. For those who aren’t familiar, Rube Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor, and author. Rube was known for his crazy inventions (cartoons) that made simple tasks more complex. While he never built the contraptions he drew, many others have given life to these inventions. The goal of a Rube Goldberg machine is to complete a simple task through a series of chain-reactions. The more complicated and silly, the better! Some classes took on the challenge of building a machine as a whole class, other classes broke into smaller groups. The results were absolutely incredible!
We spent the weeks before our Day of Play collecting cardboard, tape, tubes and making sure that our prototype lab was fully stocked. Students began dreaming up their own inventions and creating plans in the days leading up to the Day of Play. We didn’t have a specific outcome in mind for the students. We showed a few YouTube videos introducing them to the concept of a Rube Goldberg machine, and then let them run with it. The learning that happened as a result is testament to what happens when you let students own their learning. Before we knew it, students were having serious discussions about simple machines, stored energy, force, friction and design challenges. These weren’t prompted by our teachers, but rather a natural outcome of students exploring areas of curiosity as they planned. Team Baldwin and Team Nancy really honed in on the idea of different types of simple machines and decided to do further research and try to incorporate a variety of them into their project. Team McGarrity spent a lot of time discussing different types of energy that were being used and learned about forces through trial and error.
On Friday, it was time for our Day of Play to begin! Our students spent the morning working together to create their machines. The discussion was rich as the designs took shape. There was a LOT of failure. The failure was never a stopping point but rather an opportunity to readjust plans and try it again. Numerous students asked me if it was okay to stay in during recess to keep working out the kinks. I saw students work together, problem solve, build, discuss, adjust, innovate, dream, hypothesize, and test. The process was truly something to see! Throughout the day exclamations of, “it worked!” and “this is so awesome!” could be heard. After lunch, we came back together as a whole-school and listened as students explained the ideas behind their machines and then watched the machines go. Sometimes a machine that worked without fail during the testing earlier, hit a hiccup during the actual presentation. We just persevered and talked about what needed to be adjusted to keep it working.
Each machine was totally unique, just like the students who built them. You could see the students in their machines. The video above shows each machine built during our Day of Play. A community favorite was the Photo Booth machine that snapped a picture of the whole group at the end of our day of play. The kids were absolutely in their element!
In addition to the science and engineering that were explored, students learned how to work together in community. I love that each class got to share their genius with the rest of the student body. This is how community and culture are built!
We are creative.
We are innovative.
We are Anastasis!