Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Possibilities in Joyful Learning

“Man's maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play.” -- Friedrich Nietzsche (with thanks to Frisch teacher Mr. Joshua Gotlieb for pointing us to the quotation)

The school year has begun, and many parents are no doubt rejoicing about getting their kids back into a regular schedule. Nothing captures that parental feeling better than this famous Staples commercial:

However, we hope students, too, are pretty excited about learning. In fact, joyful learning is something we really value in RealSchool and something we try to infuse into the activities we plan and the classes that we've "RealSchool-ed." Of course, at MIT fun in learning can be seen in the pranks that are part of the school's culture. Check out this video about the hacking culture at the university. In fact, one of the first points the book Creating Innovators, makes is that PLAY is a key part of the learning process. The book quotes Joost Bonson, a lecturer at the MIT Media Lab, who says:

Look at the tradition of pranks here at MIT. What did it take to put a police car on a dome that was fifteen stories high [one of the most famous MIT pranks], with a locked trapdoor being the only access? It was an incredible engineering feat: They had to fabricate the car, get it to the base of the dome without getting caught -- and then the real challenge was to get it to the top of the dome, and get yourself down without getting caught or hurting yourself. In addition to everything else, you had to track security, create diversions. To pull that off was a systems problem, and it took tremendous leadership and teamwork. (27)

Creating Innovators also quotes Alison Gopnik, author of Scientist in the Crib, Philosophical Baby; professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley; and an internationally recognized leader in the study of children's learning and development. We were especially taken with what Dr. Gopnik said, given the exhibit we're planning for the Aseret Yemai Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance. We're juxtaposing student-collected verses from Devarim, Deuteronomy, about the possibility of repentance and bettering the self with students' favorite inventions from the MIT Media Lab. Frisch seniors learned about the MIT Media Lab in their summer reading book, The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices:

Dr. Gopnik writes:

We've found out that even very young children can already consider possibilities, distinguish them from reality, and even use them to change the world. They can imagine different ways the world might be in the future and use them to create plans. They can imagine different ways the world might have been in the past, and reflect on past possibilities. And, most dramatically, they can create completely imaginary worlds, wild fictions, and striking pretenses. 

Conventional wisdom suggests that knowledge and imagination, science and fantasy, are deeply different from one another -- even opposites. But the new ideas . . . show that exactly the same abilities that let children learn so much about the world also allow them to change the world -- to bring new worlds into existence -- and to imagine alternative worlds that may never exist at all. Children's brains create causal theories of the world, maps of how the world works. And these theories allow children to envisage new possibilities, and to imagine and pretend that the world is different. (26-27)

Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators, adds: "How do children learn such skills? In a word--through play" (27). 

So as we consider the possibilities of renewing and reinventing ourselves and the world, we should also keep in mind the vital role that play has in our lives and should have in our classrooms. We hope all students get to experience a year of joyful learning. 

Here's a sneak peek at the exhibit we're preparing, and thanks to Frisch Chumash teacher Mrs. Yael Goldfischer for having her students comb Devarim for quotations that inspired them to think of change, renewal, and repentance:

Frisch senior Eli chose a verse from Deuteronomy about the remission of debts
in order to show growth through economic renewal 
Another senior, Melissa, created an illustration of her favorite invention
from the MIT Media Lab, the iSet, which is a tool to help
those with autism to recognize facial expressions
For more on Devarim, click here

For more on the iSet, click here.