Play and Primary Sources

As I have been thinking about changes that I want to make in the new school year, I decided that I want to make a section of the room that is devoted to play, simply fun and engaging investigations and challenges. I have a wonderful but very large desk that I am going to repurpose it in order to create more space. I have taken out all of the supplies and papers and put them into a filing cabinet in my closet. I turned it to face the wall, so it is now a table, rather than a desk, so that it can become the heart of my new Play Space. I want to start with primary sources as the tools for the space. I won’t limit it to them, but I want to use them to trigger the imaginations of my students.

First I am going to print and laminate a collection of photographs. There is so much to think about with a good photograph. I want this space to be a place where there is no direct connection to grades and “work.” I want it to truly be for the kind of fun that can come from investigation and exploration, from trying and testing. I recently saw a really effective use of photographs by Stuart Chandler on the Olympics through time.  I want to create prompts, like the ones that he uses: What appears to stay the same over time? What appears to change? Can you find any connections? What is similar? What is different? I am going to put them on the bulletin board above the table/desk. I don’t want them to be seen as tasks but to serve as unconscious prompts. My current plan is to change the photographs and prompts throughout the year. There are lots in the photographs to trigger the imagination and curiosity from the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs collection. The Primary Source sets on the Teachers Page at the Library of Congress also are a wonderful resource. Some of them will be connected to work that we are doing in the classroom, but most of them won’t be.

I also am going to take some of the photographs and create puzzles out of them by cutting them into pieces. I will have some that are simply cut into quarters, but I also want to have some that will require some careful observation to put together correctly.

Another part of the Play area is going to be a big box of Lego – the leftovers of having three sons. I want to have pictures of historic buildings and challenge the students to recreate the buildings in Lego. I am currently thinking that I might tie this activity more directly to the time periods we are studying – an amphitheater for the Roman Empire study; a log cabin or tepee for early US. I will definitely take out some books on architecture from the library to have as part of the area, so if they want to choose a different building or time period, that will be possible.

I also want to have some resources on new technology through time. I am going to talk to our Science and Engineering teachers to see if I could get some gears and pulleys to have with the Lego. It would be such fun if someone decided to make a printing press or a water wheel.

I have some card games and history flash cards that I have collected through the years that I will put out as other resources or inspirations.

The two main challenges that I can see right now are time and effort! Where will I carve out time for the students to play? If I don’t give it time, then it won’t happen or be seen as having value. I already have games on my class website that they can play when they finish an assignment. They love those, especially when I let the whole class stop whatever we are doing and just play together. Then they share ideas and solutions. It is a definite favorite! I will need to make some time like that for the Play Corner. Perhaps when we are rotating through activity centers, I will make a stop at the Play Corner, one of the tasks.

The other challenge is for me to maintain my energy in finding new photographs and activities to make the corner interesting. If I don’t change what is there, then it will become commonplace and not a place of interest. When school is in session, there are so many demands on time, I know that I will have to really keep this as a priority. Perhaps though, if it generates interest, the students will participate in keeping it interesting, looking for new pictures and games to include.

Any thoughts, ideas or suggestions are welcome! I am looking forward to the energy and excitement that I imagine this can bring to the classroom!

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9 responses to “Play and Primary Sources

  1. Become a part of the fun movement.

    http://www.deepfun.com/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernie_DeKoven

    Glad to read your post. Fun gets such a dirty reputation in education, being so hard to quantify and assess and all…

  2. incorporate the design and development of the play space into your curriculum. that way the students also get to contribute to it. And you can incorporate your lessons into the play space. I think education should be fun and playful. they go together!

  3. I love what you are trying to do here with your game/play area. I understand how difficult it is to relate to curriculum. ‘Twas ever thus. Any chance activities like asking kids to write reviews of their favorite games (for publishing in a class blog) could be seen as curriculum-related? – you know, critical thinking, writing…? Or getting kids to organize the games according to different criteria – favorites, thinking games, word games, games to play with friends – ?

  4. Time is always an issue isn’t it? Any chance you could institute an 80/20 or 90/10 rule? The students could have 1 day in 5 or 10 to pursue their own learning (play) interests. They just have to share what they learn via blog posts, short presentations, artwork, projects, etc. Obviously, you have to set some guidelines and be a good steward of the other 80/90 percent of the time. I think it could be a great opportunity. After all, playing is learning.

    • I love this idea! Thank you! I will see how I can integrate it into my schedule. Perhaps some general “Play” goals. I found a standing desk at IKEA – a small sideboard, actually and am cleaning up Lego and printing photographs this week. I am really looking forward to watching this evolve.

  5. I wonder about adding technology to the play station at some point during the school year. One week kids might play with an app and primary sources, another week perhaps do a screencast using primary sources, and yet another week record interviews of classmates describing how a primary source relates to their own lives. With technology, this could become more of a creation space.

    • Thanks, Mary! Great ideas! The students all have laptops, so I tend to do these sorts of activities as part of the “class,” but I will think about how to add them into the Play! Gotta love Primary Sources!

  6. Pingback: Primary Sources – Week 1 | Middle School Matrix

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