Thirty-five years ago when I first began working with PLS 3rd Learning,  founder Joseph Hasenstab frequently challenged educators to consider the impact of classroom studies compared to the impact of extra- curricular activities on students success in life. Joe suggested that classrooms should look more like after school sports and clubs as students learned more “life skills” there. He also believed that the unstructured, “non-adult run”, play of kids created opportunities to learn important real-life skills.

This week I found articles and video clips supporting Joe’s thinking. In a blog posted on Mindshift, How Play Wires Kids’ Brains For Social and Academic Success, Jon Hamilton sites research of Sergio Pellis from University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,”… “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.”

 It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems. Play is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork

Here is a short video clip  studying play in rats. (worth a look).

A NPR audio clip  illustrates these keys statements:

*The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways. But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.

*Skills associated with play ultimately lead to better grades. In one study, researchers found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills in third grade.

*Countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.”

With Joe Hasentab’s guidance, PLS 3rd Learning developed training for teachers around “Live Event Learning”. Live Event Learning is a way to provide students opportunities to learn and apply content knowledge and process skills in settings where the decisions they make and quality of their work and performances have real consequences.

I am working with the Cranford, NJ School District who has the following sentence in their mission statement:

Central to our programs are relevant, real-world learning experiences that stimulate and encourage curiosity, effective communication, goal setting and problem-solving skills while providing opportunities that promote creativity, self-expression, physical/emotional wellness and an appreciation of diversity.”

They envision that in order to add the critical 21st Century skills to the academic outcomes that they want their graduates to have, real-world learning experiences are important.

Exploring these possibilities with their board of education I shared two videos to spark discussions surrounding personalized, real-world learning.

The first  featured 16-year-old Noah working at a nonprofit two full days a week, protecting and restoring his local watershed.  His high school, San Diego Met, part of the Big Picture network ,develops internships for all students. As you listen to Noah describe his experiences note the common elements that were mentioned in the important role of play. When is work play?

In the second clip,  the Independent Project at Monument Mountain Regional High School, a public school in Massachusetts, provides an example of “non- adult run”.

The program has three components:

*On Mondays students come up with questions that pique their interest in relation to one of their school subjects. They spend the week researching and exploring the answers or understandings which they then present to the group on Friday.

* The Individual Endeavor lasts the entire semester and students can choose anything that demonstrates effort, learning and the mastery of skills.

* The Group Collective Endeavor has students work together on a project that has social impact and makes a difference.

As a new school year starts, these posts and videos might spark some valuable conversations about how teachers plan to create the best opportunities for student learning.

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