Thursday, 2 February 2012

Oh Playdough (Social Studies 9-12)

Over the past few years I have integrated the use of play dough into all my courses (grades 9 - 12)  and other than the odd kid who "doesn't like how play dough feels" it has been an overwhelming success.  When one class gets wind that another class got to use play dough there is significant complaining that they should use it too.

I like to use play dough before I begin a new unit or introduce a topic (tell me what you know or what do you think this term / topic mean?) as well as for review.   As the students are developing their creation I engage them in a quick conversation asking them what they are doing, why they choose a term / topic (I often give the students a number of key terms / topics to select from) and how are they developing the sculpture / image.

Once they have completed their creation they have to explain to me the term and I ask a few questions about the term as it relates to the bigger picture - have them making connections that go beyond the obvious. 

Past experience suggests to limit the number of key terms / topics they have to create to three.  This number seems to get the best quality and conversation.  Any more and they fatigue. 

In the past following the "play time" I have had students write a paragraph, essay and other responses.  For the most part the written outcome has been over better quality compared to giving them a topic and having them write. 

This student had no clue what an actual plough looked like. He did use his iPhone to look up what one looked like but found it too complicated to create. I was not concerned about the final product, but rather that he could articulate the purposes of the plough and its impact on farming and society.
A student example of crop rotation. They explained how each colour represented a different crop.

I wish I had kept more examples of their work as some kids get into amazing detail.

I think play dough is received so well because the kids get to have fun.  By playing and creating they don't realize they are still learning and expressing their knowledge - it is almost tricking them into it.  They are not afraid to make a mistake and most often are willing to try to express themselves creatively. 

This post is by Russ Reid

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