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BLC06: Playing At Learning

Yesterday we spent the day playing.

And the folks working in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab believe students (and adults!) should do a lot more of that as part of school, and learning in general.

As part of the Building Learning Communities conference, we joined member of the Group for the afternoon to try out some very creative new tools for teaching and learning (disguised as play).

Beyond having a very cool space in which to work (that’s the main room pictured above), these people get to investigate how young children learn and how to spread that spirit of creativity throughout K12 schooling and beyond.

Mitch Resnick, the director of the Group, noted that Kindergarten is becoming more like the upper grades when we should actually be working to make the rest of a student’s education more like Kindergarten. Unfortunately, he’s right.

For our session, half the group worked with Scratch, a new program that allows students to use some basic programming tools to create some pretty sophisticated animation. It will be a free download when it becomes available later this year.

But that’s about all I know about Scratch right now since my group played with Cricket, a new package similar in concept to Lego Mindstorms. The difference is that Cricket uses different kinds of sensors to create less robotic projects.

My partner and I put together and programmed the Franken-vehicle above. At the tail end is a sound sensor so that when you make a loud noise (like stomping on the floor), the motor turns on for a random amount of time moving the car.

While the process was great fun, it also required a lot of imagining, planning, testing, reflecting, and revising – the same problem solving process we want our students to learn and use.

And, as Mitch told us, success and satisfaction in life increasingly is going to depend on the ability to think creatively.

Which is something you can’t test using a multiple choice test.

blc06, mit, media lab


  1. Steve Dembo

    Wow. Looks like you got a whole lot farther with Cricket than I did! What I wonder about is where this fits into the average school? I definitely think it has a place, but unfortunately i see it being pigeonholed into a generic technology class because it doesn’t directly address state standards. Do you think administrators are going to be open to getting behind a software that address something we can’t currently test for?

  2. Andrew Pass

    I couldn’t agree with you more. High quality kindergarten classes should be the model for all of education to follow. Kindergarten teachers must recognize that students learn best by doing and being creative or they won’t be able to keep their students attention. Unfortunately, in higher grades students are expected to behave even if their attentions are not being properly focused. Even for someone who is afraid of programming, like myself, Scratch and Cricket sound like phenomenal programs. I just hope that teachers learn how to effectively incorporate them into instructional programs so they are not seen as tangential.

    Andrew Pass

  3. tim

    I don’t think either Cricket or Scratch is going to be an easy sell to many teachers and most administrators. Both will require both a great deal of staff development and some fundamental changes to the way most classrooms operate to use them well.

    More importantly, they both address higher level thinking skills which are becoming less important in our schools as the emphasis is shifting to standardized tests. And I think the problem gets worse as students move through the higher grades.

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