Play to Learn

I feel like one of the most untapped pieces of potential for great learning is playing games.

Today I spent just about all day in a game store where they have bookshelves full of IMG_0965.JPGrandom games you can play. As a student, it’s $5 for me to sit at a big game table in the store and be able to play as many games as I want from 8am to 11pm and can even leave and come back for no extra charge. We played from 1:30-11 only taking a little more than an hour break to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and it really was a fantastic day.

We challenged ourselves to learn new games so we played two rounds of two new games and then ended the night with 15 minutes of one of our favorite “classics” for our family to play.

I had forgotten how hard it can be to learn a new game. So often when playing games, at least one person already knows how to play and they can help explain as you go. When no one has ever played the game, you can easily spend 20-30 minutes just doing reading comprehension to try and understand setup and how things work in this particular game world.

We found also that after learning our first new game, learning a second new game became easier because we had more confidence at being able to piece together and remember odd assortments of rules; games push your creative muscles.

Games are so great for all sorts of brain activity. On top of the reading comprehension needed to understand instructions and the communication skills to explain the instructions to the rest of the players and the questioning skills to truly know the instructions, we had all sorts of learning moments: We had to challenge our memory, quickly develop strategy, be able to plan for 3 steps ahead, prioritize, consider risk management, communicate our ridiculous sounding ideas, and in one game we even had to work on our geography knowledge.

Honestly, I may have only played games all day, but my brain “hurts” so to say, and I feel physically tired from all the processing I did. Mind challenges are some of the best ways to grow our brain capacity and therefore expand our learning toolbox.

I wish there were shelves of games at schools. I wonder what it would be like to be able to just get a group together and pick out a new board game to try learning over lunch time. Games are such a great way to build community and brain muscle it just seems like a naturally benefiting idea for schools to incorporate more game time into school.

That was part of the reasoning why I created the Kemps Khoas club way back when which was a club devoted to a card game tournament building community between faculty and students. One of my wishes that I never got around to in high school would’ve been to really develop the club to go beyond just the one card game.

Playing is such an essential part of learning. I wish I saw more games at schools.

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In On the Joke

I once had an English teacher who told my class on the very first day, “The real reason that we read, and especially the reason we read old literature, is really just so that we can feel smart when we understand references at a cocktail party or other conversations.”

At first, we were all shocked that our English teacher wasn’t trying to give us some long speech about how brilliant old writers were and how we need to read them to understand our history and how it affects our future, yatta yatta, etcetera etcetera. After a moment though, and especially now that I look back on this statement, I have come to realize just how true it is. The best part of reading is feeling “in on the joke” when some obscure reference is made. And I noticed this especially true in terms of me spending time taking Latin as my foreign language.

Let’s be real, we all know few people in the world even speak Latin at this point, but the reason I took it is because it’s all about stories. All the myths and histories wrapped up and mixed into one. When we were in class we would be translating actual novels and texts from ancient times that get referenced all the time in modern literature. I find myself being more appreciative of this middle school decision of mine all the time.

Tonight was a great example of feeling “in on the joke” when I saw the new musical “Head Over Heels.” I’m having a hard time finding the right words to describe the show, so I think I’m just going to use the description provided online. (Which was all I knew about the show going into it because it’s still in previews, therefore, no reporters can comment yet.) :

“An inspired mash-up of posh and punk, Head Over Heels is an Elizabethan romp about a royal family that must prevent an oracle’s prophecy of doom. 

To save their kingdom, the family embarks on a journey where they are faced with mistaken identities, love triangles, sexual awakening and self-discovery.

Set to the iconic pop music of The Go-Go’sHead Over Heels delivers an experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” – tdf description 

The show was hilarious in itself, but I feel like I was really able to appreciate it that much more because I felt “in the know” when it came to certain references due to my background taking Latin. Now while I know I was never all that great at Latin, I did stick with it all through middle and high school and thus was quite amused with myself this evening for being able to pick up on the references in the show made to ancient works/general themes you just find funny for some reason after talking about them for years.

I just love witty writing and this show had a ton of that on top of the twists turns and dramatic gestures that come along with giving an ode to the olden times.

This whole post was a lot more fluent in my head while still at the theater, but I suppose everything is as it should be because I clearly saw a good show based on how my mind is now blown and dead with thoughts and challenges spirally around inside not knowing how to manifest themselves into coherency just yet.

A Goose on a Witch Hunt

Today I went on a wild goose chase. Or a witch hunt. Whichever metaphor you prefer really, I myself used both descriptions today, the point is I struggled to track down what I was looking for and had to travel across town to find it.

I love finding myself getting hooked into a really good book series. My standard of “really good book” means that I’m more likely to want to find a spot to sit and read for hours rather than go on Netflix. Additionally, I can find myself getting nauseous after trying to read while in a car, bus, etc., so if I even attempt to read until I simply can’t, then it’s really gotten me hooked. Recently, I’ve been reading “The Darkest Minds” series by Alexandra Bracken, and this series has hit both standards of “really good book” for me.

(Sidebar: It’s one of those “I actually don’t typically read education books…” moments where instead I’m reading a dystopian story about children who develop dangerous powers and how the government reacts to the situation poorly… Good read, sorry for my poor summary, and it’s being turned into a movie coming out in August!)

When I say “recently” I literally mean I started the series about a week ago and read the first two books in three days each, which for me, three days is pretty good for a 500-page book.

Today my mission was to find book three.

I wanted to go to a Barnes and Noble because I have a bunch of gift cards that I’ve just not used recently. (College finds a way of keeping you from doing too much “reading for fun”…) However, that meant going 30 blocks downtown and all weekend the subways were skipping most stops on the 1 Train due to construction, so I decided to wait until today to go on my adventure which meant anticipation all weekend long.

I walked down first to my favorite bagel shop in the world, then hopped on the train downtown (after finding it because I’ve not gotten on or off from that station in a while), to my surprise I found the bookstore with ease. However, after looking around for a while, because who really enjoys having to ask customer service to find a book for you, I finally asked a lady and discovered they were out of stock at this store! Then in my stupid judgement call of the day, I agreed with her idea to call the next closest Barnes and Nobel to see if they could hold the book for me.

This was a stupid judgment call because I forget that in NYC it’s not always about proximity. Just because one place is technically closer than another does not make it easier to get to. The bookstore the customer service lady called was across town on the East Side on the other side of Central Park. If I would’ve been thinking logically though, I should’ve checked the location downtown since that’s where I had to go by later in the day or if not I’ll definitely be close by to the store tomorrow.

Anyway, I already called the store, so I decided I had time to kill while my family was debating what our evening plans would be, so I went out on my adventure across town. I hardly ever go to the East Side (no particular reason, just no need), and I also hardly ever take the bus because the subways are often more efficient; therefore, this was a double adventure on uncharted territory, and I was impressed with how little stumbles there were after originally being at the wrong bus stop for ten minutes.

In the end, I found my book!

But then I realized, in all my work trying to figure out what store to go to and how to get there, I had forgotten that Columbia University is only a few short blocks away from my grandma’s apartment. And Columbia’s bookstore is a Barnes and Noble store… I could’ve had my book in 15 minutes (assuming it was in stock), and yet instead I ended up the silly goose on the hunt for a book kind of about witches.

While maybe I did some things out of the ordinary today, I don’t particularly feel like I learned much new or had some super impactful moment or met some incredible new person – nothing that makes you go “Oh wow the journey was really worth it, I’m so glad I mess up!” Because you know what, not every journey is remarkable. It seems like sometimes we tell only the remarkable stories, but sometimes life just happens and if you could’ve gone back and not made the mistake, you probably would’ve chosen to do so. Not every journey has to be life-changing, and I think that in itself is also something worth learning and remembering because otherwise, expectations might just be a little too high.

Honestly, it was a depressing moment to realize I could’ve saved three hours of my day, but sometimes we make decisions and just have to roll with the punches, go on the adventures, and make the most of the journey. Then hopefully next time we’ll have learned how to make our journey shorter.

The Book Dilemma

For the past several weeks I had been meaning to go to Barnes and Noble. I haven’t read a book since around the time of spring break and summer is typically when I start reading more.

I was procrastinating, however, because a good book can sometimes be the easiest distractor in the world. You feel like you’re being good because you’re reading, but really there are 50 million other things you should be doing. Or in my case really just one major thing I should be doing: homework for my online history course…

For this course, I take a test about every other week and each test covers about four chapters which are each about 30 pages in my textbook, plus I have around six hours of lecture to watch per week as well. I’m typically a fairly slow reader, therefore, I know that any time I have for reading should really be spent reading my textbook, not a personal reading book.

Today though, we had coupons that were about to expire so I finally went on the search for a new book series to start. I ended up finding two books that start different series that sounded interesting “The Darkest Minds” and “Shadow and Bone.”

(Quick tangent: I find that people are sometimes surprised by the books I read. Due to my love for transformative education and innovation and just general nerdiness, people tend to assume I read all sorts of educational, thought-provoking, non-fiction books. This is false. There are times when I’m still very much just a teenage girl and in fact, most of the books I read are random stereotypical young adult dystopian series. While I do find myself intrigued by a lot of the back cover messages of those educational type books, I can’t get myself hooked on them easily so I often stick with articles or blog posts for that genre of reading.)

So now I’m in a weird limbo period where I have less than a week left of my history class and am now trying very hard to finish strong with reading my textbook when I know the books I really want to read are an arm’s length away.

I have such a love-hate relationship with the feeling of getting sucked into a good book…

One more week then I can explore these new worlds.

Family Bonding

My family has a habit, which is apparently a bit odd according to my friends, where we end up watching TV shows together. To the point where you are not allowed to watch the show without the others.

For example, my mom, sister, and I all watched The Gilmore Girls together and considering that show had like 7 or 8 seasons, this was an intense commitment of watching almost every episode together.

Then my sister and I have our current show: Shadowhunters which we know it’s not great but we’re too deep…

Our entire family watched Once Upon a Time together after starting with just me then my mom getting hooked, then slowly everyone else joined the bandwagon.

My mom and I watched RISE together.

My aunts and I watch This is Us together.

You get the idea.

Point is I don’t think I realized how much of a norm this was with my family until last year when I started watching The Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix. This show is based on one of my favorite book series of all times so I had to watch it, and I was only about an episode in when my brother started looking over my shoulder at the kitchen table where I was watching. He stuck around for another episode and then asked me, “Can this be ‘our show,’ like how you and Kylie have your show?”

It was really sweet because I hadn’t realized that he clearly felt like he was missing out since at some point in time I guess having “a show” became a part of how my family bonds. We all have pretty busy lives, so we’re not altogether too often and when we are it’s often after a long day where we want to chill out and apparently watch an episode of a show.

I obviously said yes to my brother, but it’s been funny because he’s still fairly young so binge-watching isn’t something he’s into yet unlike how my sister and I watch shows. So now a year later we just finished season 2 today; albeit season 2 only came out in March so there was some reason for the delay.

It was just interesting for me to think about all the different ways family’s bond with each other.

No Plans

For the first time in a long while, I woke up this morning to no alarm clock.

Then I went downstairs and had breakfast and realized there were absolutely no specific events of the day. I proceeded to start to read my history textbook and then fell asleep while trying to get through it…

The amazing part was that it didn’t matter. I could fall asleep on the couch and just stay there!

I’m currently at the lake with several other family friends as well, and so they all went on the boat while I was asleep. I awoke to just me and the dog and continued to just relax, listen to some gymnastics music (it’s time to start editing music for next season), read a bit more from my textbook, and grab a snack. Of course, eventually, everyone came back and things got hectic again, but it was really great to just enjoy a day with no plans. Even though it’s summer, that has yet to really happen until today.

“Core Courses”

Today my textbook finally arrived for the online class I’m taking until the end of June. I’m taking US History post-1865 basically just because it’s a core requirement and I’m not a fan of history classes, so I thought online over the summer would allow me to go at my own pace and get it over with faster.

The annoying thing is that I feel like I know most of this stuff already. Well maybe not “know” but I’ve definitely learned it all before; as in I couldn’t take a final this second and ace it, though while listening to lectures and reading the book it’s all the same stuff I’ve been getting taught since 4th-grade history. It’s the same old survey course where we get through a few high lights of history without really diving deep into it or actually applying what we learn.

I hate how so many core courses in college seem to be this way. They’re just the same old worn out courses with information we’ve been learning since 4th grade. Essentially the way I see it, higher ed has decided that they can’t trust the 12 years we spend in primary school, thus they make us retake all of those courses again.

Furthermore, if this is the case and higher ed makes students retake these courses all over again, then why can’t high school focus on other things and let college handle the survey of xy and z courses?

We Need More Magic

I’m currently about halfway through my week of adventures in Italy with 7 members of my family, and so far it’s been a world wind of emotions. Yesterday though was particularly interesting because my aunt and I met up with the mom of a friend she made while at an artist retreat in the jungle. We had never met this woman before, and needless to say, it was a very random connection in which we had no idea what to expect, but we had a great time!

We grabbed some gelato and took a pit stops at the local market to get some food, and then we went back to her incredible apartment overlooking the river and ate some lunch while discussing life. It turns out that she is a native English woman who is semi-accidentally became a homeschool teacher who has lived all over the world and only recently moved to Rome. I say semi-accidentally because she started out homeschooling her own children and then, due to happy circumstances and a willingness to take risks and seize opportunities, she started a whole homeschooling meets tutoring business. Kids who speak all sorts of languages will work with her for various amounts of time to help with getting ready for going to English school by exploring Rome and making personalized “classes” relevant to the lives of these children.

She was speaking all sorts of learner-centered language and it was honestly just crazy awesome to me that even though we live on different sides of the world we had such similar opinions and ideas about the education system; there is truly a universal language around transformative education that is developing!

As perhaps one may guess, we had some very interesting conversations about education. Particularly, I loved how we talked about the necessity of incorporating magic and fantasy into education.

Think about it: the world around us is full of magic- things we can’t see or fully explain but know that they exist- like gravity, types of lights, dark matter, etc. Now some things may just not exist, but letting ourselves believe in magic helps to teach us to be imaginative and push the boundaries of what is real and strive to make the impossible possible. Once upon a time airplanes seemed like a magical fantasy, and look at us now exploring what it might look like for humans to live on Mars! We have to teach kids to dream and believe what they can’t see if we truly want them to be innovators and be willing to conceptualize what we believe is true about the world. So why don’t we talk about magic more often in school? Especially beyond elementary school! Plus in my mind it’s such a great way to bridge the gap between humanities and stem courses; reading about magic and discussing what science the magical concepts were based around and then imagined further sounds like a fabulous integrated project.

With this discussion, we talked about a wonder of ours: are we teaching sciences to the wrong age groups? Physics is crazy! Nano-science, space, light and sound, etc, there are so many things that can be kind of hard to imagine existing when we can’t really see them nor do we know everything about how they work, but it’s young children that typically have the greatest bandwidth for believing in the unknown. What if we spent more time exploring big science concepts like dark matter to elementary schoolers, and in high school, we spent more time continuing to foster the ability to imagine, dream, and believe in seemingly crazy possibilities?

Clubs for Credit

I did 17 theater productions in high school, so it’s no surprise that once getting to college I immediately found out how I could get involved in theater. It turns out that there are lots of different ways to get involved with DramaTech because the blackbox is pretty much completely student run, everything from acting, directing (sometimes), lights, sound, set, costumes, makeup, marketing, even choosing which shows to do for upcoming seasons is decided by groups of students.

I’ve been debating joining the group that reads the plays in order to pick upcoming seasons, and I remember thinking, “Wow that sounds like a lot of work, I don’t know if I can make that time commitment on top of other things.”

Then yesterday, I was walking across campus heading from math to English and I was just thinking about how we are required to take classes for English credit if we didn’t come in with AP credit. I started thinking about how my English class at a tech school is very untraditional; it’s all about sound and listening and hearing. Then I was thinking, “Well the play reading group may not be a class, but they probably do as much work as any English class.” Now I’m not in the club, so I don’t know exactly how it functions; however, I imagine that they read at least a dozen plays and have multiple meetings where they have discussions about the shows and their themes and messages, etc. And I’m sure they have to take a lot of notes so that when they go to meetings they remember the show, and for the future at the end of the year they can remember older plays they read.

So they read pieces of work, annotate and take notes while reading, then use these notes to have analytical discussions, and finally have a final task of putting together the next years season as a culmination of their hard work. This sounds like an English course to me… Can you imagine if it counted as one?

Honestly though there are all sorts of clubs in both college and high school that I feel like could count as credit hours and it’s too bad that they don’t.

I even if you could take it a step further and what if there was a high school course that was similar to this play reading club where not only did they receive credit, but what if they were then also given the option to take the AP Lit exam at the end of the year and potentially get AP credit?!? I mean really what’s so different between the club and an AP Lit course? They both do a lot of reading, analyzing, and discussing, but one probably does a lot more multiple choice tests… Meanwhile in the other assessment is pretty straight forward- if you didn’t read the book you can’t productively contribute to the conversation/debate about if it should be included in the next season.

I love the idea of being challenged and learning at a level that is naturally more vigorous, but I truly wish AP courses would disappear or that at the very least the notion behind them would change. There are so many creative and engaging ways to learn and I wish more teachers would start to explore what they can do even within the boundaries of “AP classes,” because I’ll admit, it stinks to have to re-take a class you feel competent in already from high school so APs are great for getting college credit. (I speak from experience being one of those people who bombed the short answer in AP Calc BC and now must re-take calc 2…)

I wonder with the future of education how we might take the concept of APs- more challenging courses for learners who want to push themselves and could potentially get exempt from into college courses- and yet still have classes, or maybe even specialized clubs for credit if they meet certain standards, that are unique and support using the idea of using what you learn for a greater purpose.

I suppose this is the constant struggle and really I may not even be coherent at this point because I started this post one day and then picked up when today even though my mind is not in the same place as when I started, but those are my thoughts.

I wish clubs, in which members truly do a significant amount of work related to a specific subject area, could actually receive credit for required high school or college graduation requirements. (I bet some schools do already, now the rest of us just have to catch up.)

Time to Head Home

As my grandparents mentioned to me yesterday, “These will be your last few days of just being able to relax for the next 8-9 years.” This feels even more true as I get ready to finally head home tomorrow morning for the first time in 6 weeks.

Starting tomorrow, my life will start to get crazy again with constant activities and work, but to my own surprise, I actually feel ready for it. I’ve never been one to really get homesick, but as a great author wrote in his book, The Light Fantastic,

“The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you’ve got to go somewhere afterward where you can remember them, you see? You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home.”  -Terry Pratchett

I finished reading this book a few days ago and when I read this line I knew it was time for me to go back home. Time to see old friends again before we part ways once more. Time to pack and get ready for new adventures.

Monday morning I head to school for orientation and then I’m gone again to Scotland with 9 of my fellow Stamps Scholars to kick off the school year. Then I’m only back home for a day before moving in, so I really won’t be home for long at all. So I guess I’ll just have to especially cherish these next couple of days. #EndOfNormal