The Kindergarten Approach to Learning

I’m toying with participating in the Learning Creative Learning course which starts up today.  I participated last year, but as usually happens I started off with a good head of steam which then quickly petered out.  I’m hoping to have more staying power this time.

This week’s activity is to read Seymour Papert’s essay on Gears of My Childhood and to write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you.  I wrote about this when I took the course last year–you can read it here.  This time around I thought I would respond to the other reading for this week:

In the paper Mitch Resnick argues that the kindergarten approach to learning is an approach that fosters creativity and that it should not be discarded after kindergarten.  With technology we can use kindergarten-style learning with learners of all ages.  Resnick describes kindergarten-style learning as using a process of the student imagining what they want to do, creating a project based on what they’ve imagined, playing with it, sharing the creation with others, reflecting on their experience which leads them to imagining new ideas and new projects.  The image below is from Resnick’s paper and illustrates the process.
I have been using an approach similar to this when introducing a new topic or technology with my students, though I could certainly extend it further in my practice (especially the reflection part).  For example, this year my students are creating their own mini radio shows.  They are essentially podcasts.  I started out by introducing students to the audio recording software Audacity*.  I’m not a big fan of giving really explicit instructions on how to work with a piece of software.  It is probably because that is not how I learn to use new software and because I don’t think it is a realistic approach to use if you want to encourage people to be lifelong learners.  I want to encourage students to play and experiment with software.  So with Audacity, I showed the students the basics; how to record a track, how to delete a track, and how to copy and paste parts of a track.  I also showed them where the effects were located and what some of them were (eg, echo, change pitch, fade in/out etc.)  To keep frustration at bay, I reminded the students that their job is to explore and experiment.  There will be some things that don’t work, and I’m here to help them through that.  There is no concrete object/project that they have to complete at this time.  Then I set them loose with the objective to play and experiment!  I did this last week with a small group of grade 1s and 2s and it was a lot of fun.  The kids had a blast exploring and they were creating interesting audio with a real joy that would not have been there had I given them a recipe of prescribed steps to follow.

With my other classes that are a little further along in this process I see students who are fearless in what they are willing to try.  They create interesting audio, share it with their peers, receive feedback, move on and create something new from what they have learned.  I use this approach with almost all new technology that I introduce my students to (eg Scratch, MaKey MaKey, BitStrips…), but I need to consider if there are other areas where it would work too.

How do you encourage a kindergarten-style of learning in what you do?  Please leave me a comment below, and thanks for reading this!

*Note: I chose Audacity for a number of reasons:
  1. it is free, so if my students really get into using it they can put it on their home computer for free
  2. it works on multiple platforms (PC, Mac, Linux) so again, if students really get into using it they can add it to their home computer pretty much regardless of platform
  3. it does a lot, without being overwhelming
  4. it is open source, which I’m keen on

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