Play is Fun and Powerful

The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and the Toy Association  collaborated to host a Genius of Play event at the Smithsonian on April 25th. I had the distinct joy of being asked to be one of the panelists! Of course, I accepted.

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The panelists included:

Vikas Gupta — Co-founder and CEO of Wonder Workshop, and maker of the award-winning Dash, Dot and Cue robots. James McLurkin —  Inventor and Senior Hardware Engineer at Google. Jeri Robinson — Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives at the Boston Children’s Museum. And, Me, Molly James — Creativity Researcher, and Kindergarten Teacher at Kent Place School.

Our conversation on the panel centered on play and its place in learning and schools, creativity, and innovation.

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Have you ever considered how you would define play?

I am always thinking about play and creativity, but for the weeks preceding the panel, I did so with increased attention. I observed my students, and noticed all the remarkable insights, skills, discoveries, and joys they experienced as they played. I read articles, thought, and chatted with fellow creatives.

At times, as if it were to keep my head from exploding, I would have to write. I would write streams of consciousness, questions, wonderings, ideas, and things to look up. With those thoughts safely recorded in my notebook, my brain seemed free for new ideas and questions. This continued for many cycles.. Then, on the train to DC, and at breakfast the morning of the event, several things became crystal clear.

As I rode the train, I wondered how I would succinctly express my ideas. I could talk about play and creativity forever, but how could I do it as part of a panel, in a few sound bites? I decided to see what the dictionary had to say about  play.

I was shocked. I hadn’t read the definitions previously because I didn’t want to risk plagiarizing any of their ideas. I wanted my definition to be my own — from my own experience and research as an educator, and a person who plays. After reading the definitions, I realized there was no chance I’d be stealing their words.

The definitions I found were remarkably different from mine. They made play sound frivolous, purposeless, and unimportant. Nothing was further from what I believe to be the truth.

With these definitions as the way play is explained and understood, it’s no wonder it’s sometimes difficult to convince others of the significance of play in life, learning, creativity, and innovation. I would LOVE the dictionaries to have a definition of play that more correctly explains its essence, and highlights its importance. I wonder how one goes about getting a definition in the dictionary changed?

While perhaps not short enough for an entry in Merriam Webster, or dictionary.com, here is what I consider a much more accurate and appropriate definition of play.

Play is a fun and powerful way of interacting with the world — with people, things, thoughts, and ideas. The fun of play is a large part of its power. When we play we laugh, we let go of worry, we fret less, and we breathe more.  This helps our brains — regardless of our ages or tasks — be more open and able to explore possibilities, entertain new ideas, and learn. When we play we are so much more willing to take risks — and even when we fail, we discover that failure isn’t the end, instead it’s the opportunity to begin the game again — stronger and smarter!

I was not alone in that understanding. All the panelists shared experiences and beliefs in the importance and power of play for all ages — at home, work, and school. It was great to hear such a unified message from a panel of people with very different backgrounds and occupations.

There were so many other great thoughts and ideas presented and discussed about the importance of play. When the video is posted on the Smithsonian page I will blog again and link to it.

The whole event  — arriving early and chatting with Jeri; meeting Monica, James, and Vikas; laughing and sharing our hopes to “not sound like idiots”; the receptions; and the panel itself — was spectacular. There was a ton of brilliance, thinking, collaboration, humility, awesomeness, laughter, honesty, passion, and playfulness on that stage.

Being part of this panel for the  Innovative Lives Series helped me to more fully embrace my expertise and fantabulousness! I presented with the big boys and girls, and in the process, I discovered, I am one of them!

 




Post script:

May 2014 I earned my MA Creative Thinking. A little over a year later, I had this blog, and a published paper. Four years later, an invitation to the Smithsonian.

Wow!

Gotta give a huge shout out to Karl K. Jeffries and his program at UCLan!  You, Karl, are a spectacular mentor, and creative thinker. And, a huge thank you to the many others who walk this creative, playful, fantabulous journey with me. I’m incredibly grateful!

 

 

 

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Replace Negativity with Creativity!

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What a great thought! Replace negativity with creativity.

I found this gem while reading Beautiful Faces by Jane Davenport. (Which by the way, is an awesome book. The link is her website.)

When I first read it “replace negativity with creativity,” I laughed out loud. Not because it was funny, but because it was remarkably good. It is such a brilliant, simple visual that holds profoundness beyond its uncomplicated beauty. I adore artistic creativity and engage in it often. But, when I read Jane’s words I immediately thought of creative thinking.

“YES!” I thought. “Let’s replace negativity with creativity. Let’s replace negative thinking with creative thinking!”

Unlike negativity, creative thinking “bridges the gap between what is dreamt and what is desired; it knows no bounds and is not restricted by possibilities.” How fantabulous is that?!!

I recently returned from my yearly appointment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I gotta say, those doctors, nurses, and researchers are some seriously brainy men and women! They are constantly engaging cancer, and all its destructive negativity, with their brilliance and creative thinking.

This visit, my oncologist and I talked about a drug they are creating specifically for Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. He shared a myriad of thoughts, ideas and wonderings that they are encountering in their work. He was apologetic as he told me they hadn’t yet completed the drug.

I chuckled inwardly and said, “Oh my! I’m not surprised at all that it’s super difficult and entails a boat load of hard work. It is one crazy, fabulous, brilliantly-complicated piece of creative thinking and doing!”

Like me, and all creatives, my doctor and his team employ many processes and strategies as we work to replace negativity with creativity. Here are a few I regularly employ.

  • Possibility thinking
    • Being open to the notion that there are many possibilities. Possibilities not yet conceived, as well as those imagined but not yet realized.
  • Lateral thinking
    • Looking at the problem/issue from all different angles, even those that might seem a bit ridiculous, implausible or less than useful.
  • Divergent thinking
    • Generating all sorts of ideas — ones that are outside, as well as inside, the box.
  • Making connections
    • Many times these connections are between seemingly unrelated things.
  • Conversation
  • Silence
  • Fermentation
    • LOL! I’m not sure anyone else refers to it as fermenting, but I enjoy the image. This is when I stop deliberate consideration of the problem or any possible solutions. Much like actual fermentation it mught look like nothing is happening. But, nothing could be farther from the truth. My unconcious mind is working to make sense of my ideas, and at some point, clarity and/or new ideas blubble up to my conscious mind, bursting forth as flashes of insight or revised ideas.
  • Questioning
    • I’m like a 5 year old! I ask lots of questions – especially, but not limited to, “How might we?” “What if?” “How come?” “How do you know?” and “Why not?”
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
    • My MA tutor Karl K. Jeffries — also quite a brainy dude — suggested a walk, whenever I was being overcome by “existential angst” thinking my research and effort was meaningless, and would never amount to anything. The stepping away and moving — especially walking outside — was always valuable.
  • Deep sighs of relief
    • Uri Alon — yet another brainy guy in my universe — talks about deep sighs of relief in his systems biology lectures. In a relaxed state he says “we tend to be more curious, playful … it’s good for learning.” Uri states there is actually a feedback loop between the relaxed state and breathing. We breathe more deeply when we are relaxed, and we can induce that more relaxed state by breathing deeply  — by taking, as he explains “deep sighs of relief.” Try it, it actually works! I use deep sighs of relief regularly with myself and my Kindergarten students. Depending on the vigor of your exhale, it can be very funny!
  • Looking deeply
    • This deep looking sometimes involves research, but often is simply prolonged purposeful staring at my ideas and thoughts.
  • Openness to the new, surprising, and unexpected.
  • Risk taking
    • Sometimes all of the above is the risk taking endeavor, sometimes the risk is about the action, sometimes about the product.
  • Critical Thinking and evaluation
    • Having done all these things and more, I then need to think critically and see if my ideas, products or processes are actually useful.
  • Perseverance
    • It’s super important to continue — even when it is tough, frustrating, and we’re deep in the cloud. Rethinking, starting the process all over again, remaining open, hopeful and determined are essential if we are to replace negativity with creativity.

I’m going to keep at it in my life and my work. I have no doubt the Dana-Farber people will too. My fingers are crossed they will succeed in creating a drug for WM treatment sooner rather than later — successfully erasing a bit more negativity in the world.

How about you?

What will you do?

I hope you’ll give it a go.

Replace negativity with creativity!

I believe in you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

I’m in the second week of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC. I’ve been thinking about George Couros’s Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator(Chapter 2, pages 39-41). They are fantastic!

I love the first question!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

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This question implies a deep sense of respect for our students. We are treating them as ourselves. We are acknowledging and treating them as:

  • people who can learn.
  • people who love to learn.
  • people who, when given the chance, will choose to learn.
  • accomplished learners.
  • people who know things.
  • people whose ideas are valuable.
  • people whose needs and wants are respected and considered.
  • people with interests and passions.
  • people who are good at some things, but not so good at others.
  • people who deserve, and are given,  reasonable freedom, choice and agency.
  • people who are teachers as well as learners.
  • people who inspire others.

What a fantastic way to approach our students and inform our practice!

I ask myself three additional questions when I reflect on my practice.

Will this increase my students’ love of learning? 

Will this empower my students to achieve their academic and creative potential? 

Will this position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future? 

My goal is to be able to answer, “Yes!” to each of these questions. Most of the times I can. Sometimes, though, I have to say “Hmmm … not so much.”

But, since I’m asking the questions, the answer “Hmmm … not so much.” isn’t so bad. In fact, maybe it’s actually good!

Now I have the opportunity to think, learn, ideate, iterate, and come up with new ideas. Ideas that will make me want to be  a learner in my class, and that will increase my student’s love of learning, will empower them to achieve their potential, and will position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future!

 

 

 

The Crayon Initiative

Have you ever heard of The Crayon Initiative?  Me neither! Until today.

The Crayon Initiative recycles “unwanted crayons into unlimited possibilities for children.”

How cool is that?

I’m sure there are lots of people/organizations who are doing creative repurposing with crayons, but for now, I’m liking and blogging about this one! 🙂 (No disrespect to any of the others.)

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I like the process they talk about as they tell their story …

  • twirling a crayon – deep in thought
  • wondering out loud
  • asking questions
  • discovering a problem
  • being confident in their ability to discover a new way to address the problem
  • accepting the challenge to make a positive change
  • thinking
  • ideating (having ideas! Awesome word, isn’t it? Around since the 1800’s I believe)
  • bringing one of those ideas to life to “recirculate the endless supply of free materials and bring the Arts to children everywhere.

There’s a lot to love about this! The process, the creativity, the crayons (I happen to love crayons, lol.) the openness to possibility, the thought, the action, and the benefit to children and the environment.

Rock on Crayon Initiative!

Let’s follow their lead. Let’s wonder, question, think, ideate, believe, and make positive innovations!