Brain-Based Learning

Creative Play and Scientific Inquiry, Part 2: A Mandate to Make Learning Meaningful

March 13, 2008

This is the second part of a two-part entry. Read part one.

In many of our schools, we have stopped giving our students real creative challenges because there is not enough time for anything open ended. Open-ended projects, by their very design, allow students to explore a wide variety of interests, concepts, and skills. That means we can't easily assess these projects with a multiple-choice test; therefore, schools suffer when they pursue them. Low-performing schools believe they must spend every available instructional minute focused on tasks that will raise standardized test scores.

So our kindergartners miss out on creative play. Our elementary school students lose opportunities to explore science by reading what interests them instead of the carefully selected readers we provide. Our middle school students spend their science-class time memorizing rather than investigating. And our high school students simply walk away because they no longer care what is on the test, having become disengaged years before.

At the same time, we expand the capacity at our prisons, already filled with people who lack self-control. We incarcerate more than 1 percent of the total population and more than 10 percent of young African American men. It may seem strange to make this juxtaposition, but I believe that the ability of our young children to play, explore, and satisfy their curiosity is far more than child's play: It is a matter of life and death.

I only hope the reexamination of the whole standardized-testing project that awaits us after the demise of the No Child Left Behind Act -- and I do believe its days are numbered -- will yield some deeper questions about the nature of education. This shift does not mean we will ignore the ability to read. It means we seek to inspire students by having them read material they are interested in reading. It doesn't mean we do not teach math skills. It means we must be creative in developing a true interest for math in our students, so they develop their skills by solving real problems. It doesn't mean we make science easier. It means we challenge students to design and perform real experiments, rather than simply memorize facts.

For me, there are a couple of questions: How can we teach our students the most profound lesson of all -- to be responsible for their own knowledge? How can we teach them to have an awareness of and curiosity about the world around them? We need to evoke the scientist, the writer, the solver of mathematical conundrums, the historian, the musician, the dancer, and the athlete that resides within each student. Our students are waiting to be challenged by their own curiosity, by their own creativity, and by the thrill that comes from expressing their own unique humanity. My mission as a teacher is to get them to that point, not just to prepare them for a test.

Please share your thoughts.

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  • Brain-Based Learning
  • Creativity
  • Student Engagement
  • K-2 Primary

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