The value of play and experiential learning in the classroom

Your students inherently understand play. Engaging in hands-on learning and gamification is a natural way to discover, learn, and retain information for learning, regardless of age. CERTIFIED Ambassador John Beale sees that in his classroom every day.

John began his educational career working in museums including the Spanish Colonial Quarter, the Florida Agriculture Museum, and the Florida Maritime Museum. Working in museums showed John the value of hands-on activities and playful learning experiences. In a recent episode of the CERTIFIED Podcast, John shares why and how he makes play a central focus of his classroom. Read on to understand the value of play and get practical advice for making your classroom more engaging and hands-on.

Why focus on play?

The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “A Pedagogy of Play: Supporting playful learning in classrooms and schools” is a long term, global study about the impact of play in the classroom. In the introduction, the research team writes, “Though the idea that playful learning should have a central role in schools is gaining traction, the reality—apart from early childhood and recess—is that learning through play is not available to most children, particularly in lower-resourced schools.”

For educators working with older students, play may be non-existent. John is determined to bring play back to the learning environment, and has already seen it paying off with his students. “As educators, we want to focus on having experiences that will naturally lead our learners to the information that we want them to find,” says John. “When your students are experimenting and discovering on their own, not only is it more engaging, but it’s also proven to help students recall the information more quickly and effectively later.”

Balancing rigor and engagement

Traditional learning models have shied away from play-based learning, for fear that the content is not rigorous enough. Finding the balance between testing your learners and engaging them with unique experiences can be a challenge. Make sure to put your own creative spin on your students’ assignments and projects. Don’t simply turn a worksheet into a clickable vocab quiz. Find new and different ways to bring the content to life.

For example, take an in-depth game or simulation approach to it. Experiment with gamification or play in the classroom. John gives a great example of a project he did with his students in his interview in the podcast. Take a listen at the nine-minute mark.

Play as a skill-builder

Your students will love new and exciting hands-on learning opportunities. As the educator, it’s important that you focus on the skills you want them to learn from these experiences. As a CTE educator, John’s focus is on helping his students build both hard and soft skills that they’ll need in the workforce.

To help students play together and build needed soft-skills, John often leverages group work. “Group work helps build critical social skills that my students will need when they’re on the job. When I assign group projects, they’re working with students they don’t normally interact with outside of class. Working in these small groups improves their communication, collaboration, and planning skills,” said John.

Want to learn more about practical ways to play in your classroom? John shares it all on the CERTIFIED podcast here.