Lifelong Kindergarten: PLAY!


Playing with Lego Mindstorms

Playing with Lego Mindstorms


This is week 5 of the 6 week MOOC course by MIT’s Media Lab called “Learning Creative Learning“.  We have been covering the 4 Ps of Creative Learning:  Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play.  This week we are covering the last “P” which is “Play”.

Play is validated

I must confess that I found it a delightful surprise to hear and learn from all these brainiacs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the topic of Play: @mres, @nrusk1, @schmidtphi  Honestly, my perception of MIT, before, was this brainy institute full of people with MENSA levels of IQ developing rocket science technologies.  I would have thought encouraging “Playing” was the furthest thing from their minds.  So, this was a good week breaking all the stereotypes of not only scholars and professors from MIT, but also those of the value of “play and tinkerability”.

My delight this week was to have the idea of “Play” legitimized by scholars in the field of education in higher learning institutes.  I’m quite sure I didn’t hear anything like that during my undergrad university studies.

“Success in the future will depend not on what you know, or how much you know, but on your ability to think and act creatively—on your ability to come up with innovative solutions to unexpected situations and unanticipated problems.” (Designing for Tinkerability, Resnick & Rosenbaum)

To develop these sorts of abilities, we need to spend time playing and “tinkering” in our learning.  This is the mission of the Lifelong Kindergarten movement at MIT.

Judgement paralyzes play, tinkering, and creativity

The course video this past week talked about the importance of experimenting without fear of judgement.  This can happen if we’re not inhibited by fears of being letter-graded for what we do.

I’ve received a few blog comments this past week from students asking for solutions to the puzzles because they are going to be letter-graded for them. :0  (One was a complaint that my blogposts weren’t helpful at all, since they didn’t provide solutions to all the puzzles.) I’ve been receiving almost a thousand hits a week on my website this past month or so, since I’ve blogged about the different stages of  I know the traffic is going to these blogposts because I hid them for a week to see what would happen; my traffic was cut in half that week.

My intention was to provide lesson note materials for teachers and not to be a resource so students could “game” their learning (get their answers off of me).  This means I won’t be putting up more solutions, even if students email me.  It never occurred to me that students would be searching the Internet for solutions, desperately afraid that they’re going to get a failing grade…because, these learning puzzles and games are supposed to be PLAYFUL learning and fun—- while learning how to Code.

(Aside: Most of my blog visits are from the USA, with a few from the U.K. once in awhile. Does this say anything about the pressures that students are suffering from under the testing culture currently happening the the USA? puzzles are being worked on by the entire world.  I wonder.)


(Second Aside:  If you’re a student looking for help, here is what I can suggest: 1. Keep on trying.  There were many solutions that I stumbled upon just by sheer tenacity and trying this or that—- over and over.  2.  Read the lesson notes.  Even if they were written for teachers, the teachers are learning too. So, the notes should help you, also.  3. Try something simpler than you thought  4. If the Functions are given to you, it’s unlikely you’ll need to change the Functions.  You just need to tell the computer which Functions to use and how.  You might not need to use all of the possible Functions.  5. Work with your classmates and friends  6. Form an online study group with other teens working on this.  The world, through the Internet, can be your classmate now.  7.  There are many possible solutions.  8.  Tell your teacher you’ve tried your best and ask him/her to do it with you.  9. Update May 5, 2014:  I’ve expanded on this paragraph a bit more here.)

I’m very unhappy to discover that teachers are turning what was supposed to be playful learning and experimenting into just another school assignment with a letter-grade hanging over the students’ heads.  The letter grade effectively stops students from experimenting, tinkering, and coming up with multiple solutions.  Computer programming doesn’t always have a single best solution.  Many times, there are multiple solutions.  Assigning these puzzles as homework with letter-grades as a consequence is just going to make the students speed along to a single answer (and google it if possible because there’s a deadline hanging over them too!).  We’re thwarting our goals of developing Computational Thinking, Divergent Thinking, Creative Thinking, Out of the Box Thinking etc. etc. in our students as a result.

If we’re hoping to encourage and inspire more students to learn Coding and to consider Computer Sciences as a possible career, stuffing this “new thing” into an old paradigm of teaching, testing and forced-learning is going to do the opposite…  Don’t take out the fun and play of these Learn to Code programs 🙁  . Coding is currently the “icing” on the cake, if the cake is curriculum.  It’s an “extra”.  Don’t take away the treat by taking away the sweetness…

Back to the statement in the video that “play, tinkering, and experimenting” only happen when we aren’t afraid of judgement.  Grades are exactly that— judgement.

I am happy that the teachers, professors of MIT’s Learning Creative Learning are legitimizing the idea of play and tinkering in education (see this great research paper of theirs and this article that points out that Project-based Learning leads to deeper thinking and understanding) but I can see that it is a UP hill battle!

I’ve said a few things about what is happening the USA.  Here’s a snippet from my home in Canada:

What Kindergarten skills might those be, pray tell?!

What Kindergarten skills might those be, pray tell?!

I play with Lego Mindstorms

So, this week our assignment is to tinker with something.  I am starting an after school coding club soon which will form part of my Final Graduation Project for Coetail. I hope to spend time playing with Lego Mindstorms in the club.  Lego Mindstorms combines Coding with Lego Blocks to make Robotics.  Lego Mindstorms was developed with help from MIT,  who is also the developer of Scratch Programming Language for children.

“Mindstorms” was named after Seymour Papert’s seminal book, “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas”.  In the 1960s, he pioneered the idea that Technology should be used to enhance children’s learning.  He created the LOGO programming language which I played with as a child (Draw a square with the turtle!  Who didn’t do this in school?!)  I then studied LOGO, again, in my Teacher Education studies while in university.  We’ve come a long way since those days.

Last year, I bought Lego Mindstorms for one of my son’s 12th birthday.  I confess I have done nothing with it while my children played with it this past year. ;p

This week, I decided to finally sit down and PLAY with them with Lego Mindstorms.  I will need to learn a little about it before I take to the Coding Club, anyways.

Wow.  I had such fun.  It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and played with toys with my boys.  My boys enjoyed showing off their Coding prowess to me, too. 🙂

In the spirit of Tinkering, I wanted to try to make a vehicle without looking at the instruction manual.  I had in mind a vision of building a flatbed truck with Lego Mini-Figurines riding on top, coloured fabric, coloured tissue-paper, pipe-cleaners going everything—like a parade float.  I looked at the Lego Mindstorm puzzles pieces and that idea went out the window.  I had NO idea what to do with these unusual pieces that look nothing like the familiar Lego blocks that I grew up with.   So, I had to rely on the manual to help me.  It was a lot of work to build the vehicle.   I had to do it over three separate sittings as I found it tedious.  I found it more fun to program the movements, though the software is more complicated than or Scratch blocks.   I had to ask my boys for help to program the vehicle.  In the area of Coding, my kids reign!

I ran my vehicle.  It’s supposed to drive and when it senses the colour red, it’s supposed to turn around!  It took a couple of tries but when the vehicle finally did it, I was SO thrilled; it felt fun!  —-a strange but vaguely familiar feeling… (Fun isn’t an emotion a Mom of 4 experiences, often. Trust me 😉 ) Please take a look at a short video clip of it.  (If you look closely, you’ll see  Lego Mini-figs. of my son and I hanging onto the vehicle, for dear life!)


After that success, I had more fun watching my 10 year old son invent his own original alligator and make it work. The mouth opens and shuts and it talks!  I marvelled how he could come up with his own idea and make it work.  He’s had lots of experience tinkering with Lego, Bionicles, Scratch, Minecraft and Lego Mindstorms.  He has experiences to fall back on, that help him transform his ideas into a reality.


Playing & Tinkering

I don’t think adults have much experience of playing or tinkering to fall back on, as we’ve forgotten our play experiences as children!  This might explain our propensity to turn “fun” into a task.  We feel guilty if it’s too “fun” so we make it a task with a list of objectives attached to it.  That way, we can assess the task because we think the act of assessing it legitimizes the time we’ve spent on it. Yes, there are times we need to assign and assess things that students “don’t enjoy” because it’s “good for them”.  Since we’ve survived for many millennia without the need for Coding as a subject, I think it’s OK to let go and to let them have fun with it.  🙂  If not, our desire to grow a generation of students interested in Coding and creating with Coding is going to be sorely disappointed.   I don’t want to see Coding go the way of “maths” and become another strand of Maths or a Second Language subject and become another dreaded subject.

In conclusion, the Learning Creative Learning course talks about how we need “head, heart, and hand” as this translates to “knowledge, feeling, and action“.  Play engages the entire spirit.  It does the hard-lifting of Learning, without feeling hard at all.

 The light is finally starting to dawn and I am understanding what MIT means by “Lifelong Kindergarten”.

P.S. Mitch is the fun Uncle we wished we all had growing up.  Natalie is the Aunt. Philip is the big brother! 😉

Spot the Music, Art, Technology, and Inquiry!

This is me. Spot the Music, Art, Technology, and Inquiry!

When was the last time that you played? What did you play?


About Vivian

Vivian @ChezVivian is a Canadian-born Chinese, currently living in Switzerland. She has also lived in Hong Kong and Indonesia. She holds a M.S. (focus: Educational Technology Integration), B.Ed and a B.A. and graduate studies in Kodály and Orff music pedagogy. She is an elementary school classroom generalist, but has also taught as a music specialist, ESL/EAL and also in Learning Support. Most of her teaching career was in International Schools in Hong Kong. She is excited about the IBPYP and the possibilities of using technology to Inquire. Recently, she has been looking at the opportunities that computer programming gives to put #TECHXture back into the hands of children. In other words, technology need not be just about looking at screens. It can be about building things with our hands; and computer programming levels-up what children can do with the things they build---encouraging higher thinking skills. She is a Coetail Post-graduate Certificate grad ('13-'14), a former Coetail Coach and one of the co-founders of #CoetailChat. Her blog home curates her assignments for Coetail and her M.S. graduate studies about Educational Technology integration and anything else educationally-related that she feels inspired to write about. Her twitter tagline sums it up: "Mom to 4, Mentor, Educator, Musician (in that order)".
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4 Responses to Lifelong Kindergarten: PLAY!

  1. Thanks Vivian, I have been reading a bit about your MIT MOOC. They have the right ideas. I am also happy to see the affirmation of play. It was central to my MA dissertation in TESOL, and has always been part of my teaching approach. I was aware of the Lego Mindstorms MIT connection – they made the program for it, and Scratch coding, free from MIT resembles the Mindstorm programming language. I set up an after school club this year linking these two. As to play, I came across some affirmation in my Course 4 readings, and as a result picked up the “National Bestseller” Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and invigorates the soul by Stuart Brown, M.D. – a psychiatrist who has spent his career studying play. He comments that JPL had some trouble hiring successful engineers – the brightest from the best universities were not good enough. What the old guys who did the job well up to 2000 had was a childhood of tinkering – taking clocks and engines apart. JPL began to hire with this criteria in mind and regained the skills they needed to conquer space!

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Kevin! @kevin

      Thanks for taking time to comment!

      Thanks for passing on that title of that book. I’ve put in on my Wish List on Amazon. I will certainly take a look. 🙂

      Maybe you can blog a bit about your TESOL dissertation that focussed on Play? It sounds very fascinating.

      Yes, I’m planning to link Scratch with Lego Mindstorms in my club too. We’ll start with a bit of and then start on Scratch. Then we’ll go and back and forth between the two, as the students desire. Near the end of the term, we’ll take a look at Lego Mindstorms. I found a big jump in expectations in terms of Coding ability asked for, between Scratch and the Mindstorms. So, I think it’s best left to the end of term, after they’ve had lots of experience with the blocks in and Scratch.

      It would be great to hear what’s been happening in your club.

      I confess it’s easy to talk about “play and fun” in the context of a school club. Clubs are SUPPOSED to be fun. It gets a bit tricky to justify “play” during classroom time (from both my perspective as a teacher and as a parent). As I mentioned in my blog, school has lots of tasks for children that they “have” to do, whether it is fun or not. Coding is something new and the icing on the cake, in terms of curriculum. Let’s not suck all the play & fun out of it, just because we think it needs to have a place in formal curriculum now.

      The UK has made Coding a mandatory part of their national curriculum starting this Autumn (including elementary school). I will be very interested in seeing how things unfold over there.

      Thanks for sharing that last point about successful engineers. It helps us to reframe the value of “Play” in children’s learning. If you look at the “Designing for Tinkerability” research paper, that I’ve linked to in my blogpost and also here: ,—-the paper sets out suggestions on how to incorporate “tinker-ability” in activities. Tinker-ability has great overlap into the Inquiry-Learning of the PYP, too.


      PS. Nice maple leaf pic on your blog! Here’s the link to Kevin’s blog:

  2. Great post Vivan,
    We have been going through a lot of changes at my school. We are trying to get a
    writer readers workshop program to work with a play based curriculum in our ec program . It has not been easy and still needs a lot of work. I have always believed ec needs a great deal more play than many schools give. I was also very happy to find the brainiacs support more play in out courses. I teach grade 4 and I often forget my kids need more play or tinkering time than I give them. Thanks for reminding me.

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Dwayne

      When you mention Writer’s Workshop linked in with play, I imagine students having a role play corner or spending “free” time in drama… and then running off to scribe down the stories and plays they’ve created. Or, writing stories (their own stories) and then getting a chance to act them out.

      Is this what you mean by play in Writer’s Workshop?

      To me, reading has always been linked in with play as it was probably the happiest way I “played” growing up.

      Thanks for the encouragement and for dropping by to comment.