What if …?
by Darri Stephens View Bio
Darri Stephens is passionate about creative curriculum development that will push the boundaries of current pedagogy, especially considering the influx of today's technologies. As Senior Director of Education Content at Common Sense, Darri has helped build Common Sense Education's K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum, which is used in over 100,000 schools worldwide. From designing lesson plans, to producing videos, to developing award-winning interactive games, she's an authority on what kids, parents, and educators need to know to be safe, responsible, and respectful online. Heralding all educators can do with thoughtful edtech integration, Darri’s team publishes top-rated reviews of tools for 21st Century teaching and learning. A published author, Darri melds her love of instructional design, writing, and the ever-changing edtech world daily. Inspired by her teaching in Los Angeles and NYC public schools for over ten years, she has earned Master's degrees in Education from both Harvard University and Stanford University. Darri started her career as a Teach for America corps member. She lives in San Francisco and is based out of Common Sense headquarters in SOMA.
- Find a digital medium that helps engage children.
- Let kids get frustrated! This will help teach them perseverance and will make getting to the next level of that game more enjoyable.
- Seek out media and products that promote critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
- Encourage ‘What If…’ situations. This means your child is being challenged and using their curiosity and imagination.
What if … To me, those two words are the beginning to the most powerful of questions. When I would ask my students, regardless of grade, to encapsulate their imaginative musings in question form, I was always astounded at what those two words would lead to. As the great Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Imagination expands and exalts us.” Poignant words to live by when it comes to play.
What if you think back to your early days ... you may have fond memories of constructing skyscrapers with blocks, making pies out of mud, leading symphonies in thin air, and drawing masterpieces with pudding. If you constructed blanket forts, you probably remember spending hours at “work,” watching the blankets tumble into each other, resurrecting and re-imagining your tent strategy. What many don’t realize is that you inherently were embracing the notion of “failing forward” -- you were building to learn, and iterating and improving as you went. The best kinds of play allow for and encourage that try, try again mindset.
“…The best kinds of play allow for and encourage that try, try again mindset.”
Play encourages kids of any age to take control of their surroundings. They get to initiate, make decisions, interpret, form connections, negotiate, practice, socialize, express themselves -- the list goes on. Think of toddlers’ days -- they are filled with failed attempts of grabbing, standing, coordination, and communicating. But each attempt builds on the last, ultimately leading to more and more success. For some reason, this sense of curiosity and exploration is schooled out of many of us.
I know many parents and educators who question the role of digital media and products in play and in learning (and questioning is always good!), but don’t underestimate the well-designed tools. At Common Sense Education, we rate and review digital products for learning potential, a large part of which is based on the potential for engagement.
As a parent, here are a few tips to keep in mind when looking at digital media and playthings to benefit your children the most!
- Discover media and products that give your child a sense of agency. Play encourages kids of any age to take control of their surroundings. They get to initiate, make decisions, interpret, form connections, negotiate, practice, socialize, express themselves -- the list goes on.
- Encourage kids’ active participation, not just passive activity. As a former researcher at Dora the Explorer, I always grinned inwardly when kids would jump and point and shout at the TV.
- Recognize the good learning principles found in gaming. James Paul Gee, a Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes that games should be “pleasantly frustrating” and ought to reward perseverance. He challenges, “How do you get someone to learn something long, hard, and complex and yet enjoy it?”
- Avoid “packaged play.” Games and toys should inspire imaginations, acting as the tool or the prop for self-expression; it is why a toy car or a cardboard box can be equally as effective when it comes to reenacting the Grand Prix.
- Seek out those media and products that promote P21’s “super skills” known as the 4C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Don’t just automatically discount the blinks, beeps, and buzzes, but do think about their intention and purpose.
In the end, whatever the tool, the toy, the task, what if we made sure it prompted curiosity, imagination, and challenge? What if …?