Learning by Choice: Play, Sports and A La Carte

CoExist reported recently on the Playmaker School, a trial school within a school, designed and developed by the GameDesk Institute , funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and launched in partnership with New Roads Schools in California.

As described by CoExist, “PlayMaker is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure school centered on an interest-driven curriculum. Although it teaches science and engineering, its students discover answers after receiving the right materials and context to find them, rather than answers prepared in textbooks. A fraction of the “classrooms” are traditional desk-and-chalkboard versions: digital sandboxes, software games, and workshops with drills and sawdust are common. ”

PlayMaker is an “open source school,” says GameDesk, with an ” open-culture environment whereby a community of national teachers, parents, and administrators can see and learn from what is practiced in the school. Innovation leaks oil and the new school hopes the community will learn as much from its mistakes as its success. ”

The school emphasizes four main educational components:UC

1. Learning through play, ” in a challenge-driven, playful environment, while role playing and developing systems knowledge”.
2. Learning through making: via ” hands-on building, architecting, deconstructing and rebuilding and tinkering to understand how systems and ecologies work, and to learn how to apply the knowledge they gain in real ways.”
3. Learning through discovery and inquiry: where students ” investigate and create meaning around concepts.”
4. Learning through Interest-driven curriculum that “encourages students to pursue learning through their own interests.”

And Playmaker isn’t the only game in town. UD Team is a sports themed charter school in Brookyln where, Sports Illustrated reports, “sports consume several hours of each extended school day,” with the goal of using “sports as an academic-engagement tool to drag the highest of the high-risk students back from the precipice of scholastic failure.”  Students spend the day with their “team” – a group of classmates .  A coach/mentor accompanies them to all their classes , and the team accumulates points “Hogwarts style” each day.  So far, attendance is up at UD Team, compared with the average at participating students’ previous schools, and so is academic engagement.

Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White is putting his own spin on Curiosity Driven Learning, along with education leaders in Michigan, Arizona and Utah who believe that schools are “too confining,” reports Reuters, trapping children “in chairs, in classrooms, in the narrow bounds of an established curriculum.”   School districts in these states are experimenting with what White calls “Course Choice,”  that allows students to build their own customized curriculum from among hundreds of classes offered by public institutions and private vendors.

While some critics have complained that the system overlooks the technology gap, White contends,”Whether you want to be a welder or a nuclear physicist, it’s highly likely that there are places beyond your local high school that are better able to prepare you for that. Within the four walls of the school, there is only so much you can do.”

Questions of funding, accountability, technical issues and sustainability abound, but White and others are moving forward.  ”It’s disruptive change,”  Idaho schools chief and a la carte model supporter Tom Luna, told Reuters. “Not so disruptive for kids, but very disruptive for adults.”

The best learning usually is!


Making Things at PlayMaker from GameDesk on Vimeo.