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Learning Through Play: Bring Serious Fun to Your STEM Education

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Learning Through Play Fuels Healthy Brain Development

When you look back at your childhood, what are some of your fondest early memories? You may remember playing hide and seek in the backyard with your neighbor or relay races with friends from school. These are the moments where kids have complete freedom to use their imagination and creativity. Whether that is saving the world from a fire breathing dragon or escaping an enchanted forest so they can be home in time for Mom’s special spaghetti and meatballs.

As adults, we intuitively know that play is an important element of a child’s learning experience, but did you know that play stimulates healthy brain development? The Genius of Play, a special report by the Lemelson Center, illustrates how important play is for sparking creativity and innovative thinking. Play offers kids the freedom to come up with their own ideas without worrying about rules that might otherwise inhibit their creativity. 

children playing on a tree

“Play can be fun, but play can also be serious. We talk often about [learning through play], because there is learning in play.”- Jeri Robinson, the Vice President of Early Childhood Times Initiatives at the Boston Children’s Museum

Quick Tips to Mix STEM Education and Play

We’re excited to share our quick tips to encourage learning through play in the classroom through coding and STEAM education!

1.     Combine Play with Coding Through Games

Games offer up a playful way to introduce coding concepts to students. During recess, students are quick to create their own games on school playgrounds. Creating and understanding game rules is really the first step in computational thinking. Taking those rules and translating them to code is the next step. With tools that offer free block coding, like the Unruly Block coding app or a block language like Scratch, it’s easy to offer up coding games in class.

coding for Splats app
Above is an example of a red light, green light game that's coded through the Unruly Splats block coding app. If you read through the code blocks, you can see the rules for the code are the rules for the game.

2.     Keep Learning Open-Ended

Open-ended learning is a great opportunity for students to showcase their mastery of a subject and take control of their STEM education through trial and error. In practice, this approach could be a learning prompt to create a new game that involves jumping and keeping score. Students can work in small groups to brainstorm ideas, develop solutions, and present their game. At the end of class, there might be several new games for students to share out and showcase a variety of solutions to the same problem. 

students collaborating with Unruly Splats
Get students working in small groups to encourage collaboration and open-ended learning

3.     Take on a Coaching Role

Integrating STEM education in the classroom also presents an opportunity for teachers to take on a coaching role. Teachers may not have all the answers, and don’t need to when coaching a class through questions and discussions. Have students come up with answers and take a more active role. Coding can be tricky, but by directing students to the right resources and encouraging them to problem-solve on their own they tend to retain and learn more.

4.     Encourage Collaboration & Competition

Imagine a classroom where students are broken up into small groups to work on a class-wide competition like who can get the highest score, write the most code, or who jumps the most in one day. In this example, student collaboration is at an all time high as teams work together to solve the problem and win. In a week-long experience called the Splat Olympics, 5 schools across the U.S. played a series of games designed to get students learning through play. Students worked together and gained STEM skills in a super fun and challenging experience with their peers. 

students playing whack-a-mole with Unruly Splats
One way to mix STEM education and play is to turn something into a competition or challenge. In this image, students are playing whack-a-mole with Unruly Splats to see who can get the high score! 

Mix Up STEM & Play to Boost Learning  

We surveyed 139 elementary and middle school principals in the US and 89% of them said that STEM education was one of their top priorities. Although most principals in the survey agreed that STEAM is a priority, the challenge many cited is how​ and​ when​ they can fit STEAM lessons into the already busy school day.

To fit STEM into the day in creative ways, Unruly Studios creates learning products that mix play with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Our popular STEM education tool, Unruly Splats, are programmable floor buttons that students program using an iPad or Chromebook to build their own recess-style games. Students code the rules that tell Splats when to light up and make sounds when they are stomped on to create games like red light green light, four corners, and obstacle courses. This allows students to learn through play!

Splats unique approach ensures that kids everywhere are learning through play and building their collaboration and communication skills with STEM education. Creativity reigns by giving kids the freedom to develop their own ideas into fun, active games. 

We invite you to learn more about our solutions for bringing STEM education and active play to your classroom today!


coding lesson plans for kids

Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

Learn more about Unruly Splats: https://www.unrulysplats.com/
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