I must say I really enjoyed this week of “playing” for class. I sat on my couch Tuesday night and was playing “Dumb Ways to Die”(http://www.dumbwaystodie.com/) from the Melbourne Transit Authority (found on http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/) and my husband looked over at me and said, “I thought you were supposed to be doing grad work…” When I explained to him that I was indeed doing work for my graduate class, he was dumbfounded. Being a doctor and not part of the medical field I had to explain to him about “adding play” to the classroom and the importance of play. While he somewhat understood because I teach elementary school, he was quizzical about how such a concept works in a more rigorously academic environment (i.e. high school or college). It was an interesting conversation to have because I’m always trying to make school “fun” and have time to “play” with my students because they are so young. However I never really imagined how such a concept does work in the later years of school. However after this week’s readings and videos, I can definitely say that play should not just be limited to the kindergarten classroom, or even more broadly the elementary classroom. Play is certainly an integral part of engaging kids in their own learning.

I think that adding more play to the classroom is a great way to add more equity in learning to any environment. As Katie Salen said in her video, playing allows students to “play to get better, to build confidence”. With students coming to to a classroom with various abilities levels and various access to resources outside of the classroom, playing allows students to work at their individual ability levels and build upon their confidence as they learn at their own speed. Those students who may require more support in the classroom can get that support as the teacher can individualize play scenarios and those that do not need as much support can continue working independently or with a partner to stretch their thinking while they learn. In my classroom I frequently run “guided math” that is similiar in style to a guided reading block. I meet with a group of students to provide direct instruction on a given topic while other students are at various stations completing independent work, playing on our math online enrichment program (DreamBox) or playing a math board game with a partner. Many teachers ask me why half of the stations are “game formatted” because they are skeptical that students are actually learning during these stations. My response is and always has been that I think playing the math board games and going on to DreamBox are possibly the most valuable stations my students complete during our rotations. Sure I can provide direct instruction to students in a small group and hope for good results, but with the gaming format, I see students make meaning out of the topic being played out and they each develop their own understanding of the material being covered. Students who are struggling with the topic of the game get basic practice on the topic but through an engaging format and those students who are highly skilled at the concept being covered are always provided an opportunity to come up with new rules and strategies for playing the game. This way all students are engaged at a level that is appropriate for them. Gaming is such an individual process that it allows me to reach each of my students in a unique way that I am unable to do with direct instruction.

One of the articles this week that struck me most was “Designed Equity: Reflection on Youth-focused Game Jam in South Central LA”. I absolutely loved the idea of a “game jam” and thought it was such a creative way to encourage students to game in the classroom. Students were engaged all weekend in the task of creating their own game and their focused was sustained and effortful the entire time. What impressed me most about the South Central Game Jam though was how the teachers running the event “gamified” the process of creating games! From energy points that teams could earn and use in advantageous ways to changing the rules and how those energy points could be used, teachers kept students on their toes and perpetually thinking the entire weekend. I think this creativty on the part of the educators allowed students to keep students engaged  so the process did not get stale and it also kept students motivated to continue working and not get discouraged. Students knew that they had an end goal in mind and that even if they were thrown for a loop when the rules changed or a team played an energy card against them, the students saw the entire event of creating a game as a game in and of itself! What an awesome concept!

My goal for myself this year after thinking about playing in the classroom is this: I want to allow students to create their own game in my classroom. I think I will start with and build off of my math board games we play during guided math. I want to create a project in which students can work together or alone to create their own math game about a math topic of their choice. I think this will not only motivate students to be engaged and active in the classroom, but it will force them to think more deeply about the math concepts we have covered this year, and create rules and strategies for how to utilize the skills they have learned. This might also provide me some great opportunities for meaningful learning as I can use many of these games next year for my future students to play during guided math!