“Playing will make children engaged in the activity and feel that the learning process is meaningful to them. Then, their perception will easily merge with the knowledge that the teacher is trying to deliver,” said Sagunee Bunyabancha or teacher Jiew, a director at Roong Aroon school.
Children need to learn through their own experiences. A class for children is therefore needed to encourage students to experiment with their five senses to feel different kinds of stimuli. At Kindergarten, children are encouraged to play but when they enter elementary school. They have to face the learning approach that focuses on memorization, which is an abrupt change in learning style compared to how they used to learn in kindergarten. Thus, it is a pity if children do not enjoy learning to the fullest. Importantly, learning through doing and being in that environment will make them be familiar with that matter, understand that matter well and have solid foundation for further learning later on.
The project of Professional Learning Community (PLC) is established with the aim to solve the problem of learning without experiences in Thailand’s education. In this project, teachers are not only instructors but also change agents to create learning processes or activities for students. Unlike learning with memorization, learning through activities will help creating knowledge that students can apply in any situation and creating a foundation for further knowledge at a deeper level.
Playing is a basis for learning
This project mainly circles around the belief that ‘the best way to learn is to do’. Thus, the teachers in this project always develop creative, fun activities for learning that allow students to experience what they are learning every semester.
Nittha Mingmongkonmee or teacher Kea, a teacher at Roong Aroon school was one of the participants of this PLC project and was the co-creator of a learning unit, ‘Play in Nature’, in the integrated project class for grade 1 students with support from teacher Jiew, Sakunee Boonbuncha, the director of Rung Arun School.
‘Play in Nature’ is an activity that allows students to understand the rules of changes through observation, learning and creating pieces of work with materials from nature around them. Throughout 13 weeks of learning of the integrated project class, students get to observe changes of seasons of a year. They will understand how nature changes in each season by seeing how differences in humidity and drought affect trees and animals. They will learn about how much these changes affect them by actually getting in touch with nature and creating toys out of these natural materials.
Teacher Kea told us more about the unit Play in Nature.
“Children will learn that their handmade toy can bring them fun although it’s not as strong as the toy they buy from a store. While playing, their creativity skill will increase through the process of designing their own new toys. What’s important is that they will be proud of their self-made toys. And throughout 13 weeks of learning through playing, they get to be in contact with nature, which will allow them to understand and realize that everything changes all the time. So, we need to learn to adapt to changes in order to live happily.”
‘Play’ to ‘see’ the changes in nature
‘Play in Nature’ consists of 6 processes:
1.Teachers take students to explore the environment.
2.Teachers note down students’ observations.
3.Teachers ask students to collect materials in nature to make toys.
4.Students put their collected materials in the Maker Space.
5.Students make toys from natural materials.
6.Students go out to play with their handmade toys before joining in a student assessment session.
In every class, the teachers mainly adopt these processes. Teacher Jiew divide 13 weeks of this class into two parts according to seasons so that the students can see the differences between the two seasons clearly.
At the beginning of ‘A Journey in The Rain’, the children get to observe school surroundings in the rainy season. Then join activities like building a clay city with a reservoir. The journey starts with the students exploring different kinds of trees and soils in the school. The students will get to see the difference between various soils and see if which kind can hold water. After that, the teachers let students build a clay town together under the teachers’ supervision. When the clay town is finished, the students will get to observe their own work and see if the clay town can actually hold water. Then, they will be asked to evaluate themselves to think about how much they have learned from this activity.
Another fun and popular activity of ‘A Journey in The Rain’ for children is making toys from natural materials. They will create their own toys with green, fresh sticks and feel the moisture in the rainy season and have all fun.
The second part of the activity is ‘The Winter has arrived’. In this activity, children will get to see the nature slowly change as they are collecting natural materials to make toys. They will see that the colors of sticks become lighter. The environment changes. The moisture is gone. The sky is clear and sunny. The dry soil cracks. The wind feels chilling and the temperature is lower. Eventually, the students will understand that seasons are important factors for changes in nature.
“In the beginning, the teachers need to design a set of questions as a model for surveying, which starts from the students’ interests. The activity includes playing that is suitable for children in the first grade. They will get to take pictures of the surroundings to compare with pictures from another season to see the differences. The teachers then will observe how the students answer. For example, in making a pond to store water in the rainy season, they will understand that sand can’t hold water. So, they have to find muddy soil that can hold water to build the pond instead. And when the winter arrives, they will see that the soil turns dry, cracked and hard, which can’t be used in making a pond.”
“Or when they make a toy from the same natural materials, they will see that the branches and leaves are fragile. They have to change their toy design and making method, which they have to understand and be able to choose the right materials for making it. And they can also explain the making of their toy.”
Experience is a basis for learning
Phenomenon Based Learning style by teacher Kea creates opportunities for students to share their knowledge with friends to increase social and communication skills. The teachers help to improve students’ problem-solving skills by asking stimulating questions to stimulate students to think and find solutions successfully. And the most important thing that students will get from playing in nature is self-esteem which results from the fact that they can create their work successfully.
In terms of student assessment, teacher Kea explained that teachers can observe students during all activities. The assessment is divided into three parts: during collecting materials in nature, during making a toy and during play time. The students will be assessed from how much effort they put into their work, how persistent they are while solving problems, how students fix problems occurring while they are playing and in what way they have changed during the processes
“We will know that the students put their experiences into practice. With their previous experiences in making toys in two seasons, they will realize that what works in the rainy season won’t work in winter. The branches in the rainy season are much more fragile or the soil in winter cracks because there is no moisture from water. The teachers have to observe how the students solve the problems and help them to understand the causes of the differences,” said teacher Kea.
Teacher Kea’s grade 1 students become students with more life skills, happiness and learning development. They will understand nature and notice changes quickly. When they understand all these changes, they will be resilient developers and cope well with any situation.
Vision towards learning for experiences
TTeacher Jiew, Sakunee Boonbuncha, the director of Rung Arun School, who is behind the development of Phenomenon Based Learning activities explained the design of the processes in the integrated project class that a learning unit ‘Play in Nature’ was developed from a collaboration of all teachers in the team. The processes design was based on how to help children reach important learning objectives which are good experiences and practical knowledge.
“First of all, the teachers need to deeply understand their teaching materials. Then, they have to think about how to help students to understand and which methods to use. Then, the teachers can think about ‘what is the most obvious thing that children will notice’. And they can design the processes step by step from the first perception to the conclusion.’
“The problem we discussed at first was how is it possible for grade 1 children to gain direct experiences from nature? Therefore, we look at what children always do, they ‘play’. This will lead to learning and understanding of all. Playing will make children engaged in the activity and feel that the learning process is meaningful to them. Then, their perception will easily merge with the knowledge that the teacher is trying to deliver,” said teacher Jiew.”
As for the vision of the learning unit, ‘Play in Nature’, teacher Jiew saw an opportunity to extend the same processes into the classrooms of student in higher grade with deeper content. ‘Play in Nature’ will be a model for other schools to adopt in their students’ learning development. Moreover, families and communities can also use the six processes of ‘Play in Nature’ to increase skills for children without relying on only classrooms.