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At Vorbasse Skole in Denmark, playful-learning coaches have been working with teachers closely to help them assess their lessons and infuse more play wherever possible. In middle school math classes, for instance, a geometry unit was transformed when teachers started offering students materials like sticks and clay to build three-dimensional shapes with their hands, letting them work out problems by drawing on plexiglass desk surfaces, and building in space for productive struggle through estimation and iteration. The students worked in teams to come up with measurements and solutions. “They [became] very creative—using extra sticks to connect everything and being almost like small architects, trying to make things really last, instead of just falling down,” says Danish teacher Lea Kirkegaard. Research supports this approach: Hands-on math lessons give students a chance to grapple with complex concepts more deeply—and can result in deeper understanding.
To learn more about the research behind the practices seen in the video, check out the resources below.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics’ report on how play enhances development in young children (2018)
- Kayleigh Skene, Christine M. O’Farrelly, Elizabeth M. Byrne, Natalie Kirby, Eloise C. Stevens, and Paul G. Ramchandani’s meta-analysis and review on whether guidance during play can enhance children’s learning and development in educational contexts (2022)
- Rachel Parker, Bo Stjerne Thomsen, and Amy Berry’s article on learning through play at school (2022)
- H. M. Thuneberg, H. S. Salmi, F. X. Bogner’s research on the link between cognitive learning and hands-on inquiry in math (2018)
- Deborah Stipek’s article on playful math instruction in the context of standards and accountability (2017)
- Ingunn Størksen, Mari Rege, Ingeborg Foldøy Solli, Dieuwer ten Braak, Ragnhild Lenes, and G. John Geldhof’s study showing the significant effects of an early childhood playful learning curriculum on math skills (2023)
- Tanmay Sinha and Manu Kapur’s work on problem-solving and productive struggle (2021)