Kids of all ages and personalities naturally gravitate to playing games. Whether it is creating obstacle courses on the playground or building a magical fort in the living room, creativity and playfulness is something that we are born with. It is a way for kids to connect with each other, work collaboratively, create friendships, and have fun! Today, we call this social emotional learning (SEL).
What is SEL?
SEL is the ability for kids to manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, and create strong relationships.
Why has SEL become such a hot topic?
Setting students up for success in their life and career is the #1 priority for educators, so it's easy to lose sight of the importance of just letting kids be kids.
Educators have a limited amount of time in the school day to cover their curriculum and need to meet state standards and testing goals. While students are focused on individual projects and assignments, it doesn't leave a lot of time for play. A 2011 study done by CASEL called "Ready to Learn" suggests that students who receive quality SEL instruction have higher achievement scores than students who did not receive SEL instruction.
It might sound silly, but play is serious business! Being able to work in teams and communicate effectively is a key part of being a productive adult. This has led to a focus on how to incorporate social emotional learning (SEL) into school.
In an effort to incorporate SEL practices in the classroom, some schools are adopting SEL frameworks and introducing curriculum focused on helping kids manage their emotions and build relationships. One of the more common frameworks we’ve seen is the CASEL five, a comprehensive approach that identifies specific core competencies, namely self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
While there are many different approaches to incorporating SEL in the classroom, one of the more popular approaches is integrating it with existing curriculum and culture in the classroom. One way to do this is by encouraging kids to work collaboratively in groups and having group discussions. The thought is that, by working in small groups, students will naturally learn to work as a team, manage their emotions, and come up with creative solutions. Regardless of what approach you decide to take, the goal is the same - to teach students to work together, learn empathy, and approach problem solving with confidence.
At Unruly Studios, we combine active play with coding through our programmable, stomp-able floor buttons called Unruly Splats. Students code the rules that tell Splats when to light up and make sounds when they are stomped on to create their own active, recess-style games like whack-a-mole, relay races, and tag.
Splats encourage cooperative learning and SEL skills by getting students to code and play games in small groups. When students take on different roles in groups, they feel a sense of ownership and build resilience, problem solving skills, and relationship skills. Crystal Jordan, a PE teacher from Virginia uses Splats in her PE class and says it has built up her students confidence and taught them how to work together as a team.
“The Splats offer an inclusive feeling to my class. I feel like no matter your athletic skill, you can try your best with Splats and it makes it fun as well.”
In the video below, her PE class helps a student find where the "mole" is in the game whack-a-mole.
Our teacher-tested lesson plans walk through how to manage a classroom for learning and fun with Splats. For example, in the Splats Memory Challenge lesson, students work in groups to create a classic game with a creative twist as they explore the use of functions, variables and conditional statements.
After coding the games in groups, students get to play the games they made as a class. This is not something that students often get to do during school time, and it gives them a chance to work together and enjoy the game they worked hard to build! Some teachers even have a showcase at the end of a unit where students show their parents the games they build and invite their parents play them. When building a game for others in the class or parents, students are encouraged to use empathy as they consider what others will like. Michael Fricano, a K-6 computer science teacher says it gives his students a sense of empowerment to have other people play the games they built.
“It’s great to see the ownership and the pride that students have in their work. Especially since they have the opportunity to show it to their parents and get their parents moving around. Kids have a lot of fun watching their parents play, knowing that it’s something they created.”
Splats are uniquely designed to create a playful, inclusive learning environment to fit multiple learning styles. To understand more about our approach to learning, here are two webinars featuring classroom experts using Splats.