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The Connection Between Play, Neuroscience, and Meaningful Learning

A graduate school presentation linking the value of play as a form of learning to the way in which the brain functions as it learns. Keywords: brain, learning, education, play, neuroscience, neurons

Amy Leigh Zschaber

on 6 December 2016

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Transcript of The Connection Between Play, Neuroscience, and Meaningful Learning

Let's play
a game!
What is this?
What does it do?
Children ask: What is this?
What CAN it do?
When adults query as children, we play.
When we play, learning and creativity
know no bounds.
Ask yourself:
Why is there no
Da Vinci?
Playful learning engages all four major areas of the brain’s neocortex. This means, from a basic, simple, scientific perspective, play is one of the most meaningful learning experiences a human can have.
Play is one of the profound learning experiences of humans, and in fact, all mammals engage in play as a learning activity (Warner, 2008).

“We need to recognize the need for play does not end with elementary grades. Teens are in desperate need of creative play; they are not smaller adults (Warner, 2008, p. 6).
"His knowledge of physics was superficial, yet he managed to design an experimental helicopter. He had read less than a first year medical student about physiology, yet he discovered arteriosclerosis. . . What is it that makes a person so creative?" (Mutanen, 2008, p. 3).
"In play, a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself" (Vygotsky 1967, p. 14).
"The contention that higher academic achievement can be attained through more examinations, longer school days, additional homework and a narrowed curriculum has little empirical support" (Baines & Slutsky, 2009, p. 99).
Did you know?

"70% of American adolescents claim they are bored every day at school. And, of those students who drop out, over one half claim it is due to boredom" (Yazzie-Mintz 2006, p. 5).
"Learning should feel good and students should become aware of those feelings. As part of the teacher's art, we must find ways to make learning intrinsically rewarding" (Zull 2004, p. 70).
In short, learning should be fun.
"Based on the variety and range of current creativity, we have no idea of what is going to happen in terms of the future. We have a huge vested interest in education because that is what is meant to take us into this future we can't grasp" (Robinson 2006, para. 6).
“Play, the frivolous, unimportant, behavior with no apparent purpose has earned new respect as biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and other see that play is serious business, and is perhaps equally important as other basic drives of sleep, rest, and food” (Frost, 1998, p. 1).
It is said that an inventor played with roll-on deodorant, and that this resulted in the rollerball mouse.
Today, major corporations such as Google, IDEO, and Coca-Cola recognize the value of play for company ingenuity and overall productivity.

"Creativity, which used to be an intellectual interest for some thoughtful executives, has now become an urgent concern for many" (Amabile 2008, p. 40).
Ultimately, “there isn’t anything to be lost in education by playing. There is more to be lost if we don’t engage in play” (Bergen, 2009, p. 428).
Play and Self-Efficacy in Middle School Educational Settings
Amy Leigh Zschaber Kennesaw State University 2013
Play is driven by the connection between emotion and experience, and the development of self-efficacy relies upon a positive emotional attachment to experience, interests, and functions (Bandura, 1986; Vygotsky, 1967).

Therefore, it can be theorized that play could be a successful, brain-based, tool by which self-efficacy could be developed.
The purpose of this research study is to examine the value of play as it relates to self-efficacy entirely within the educational setting of middle school students.
Significance of the study:

While contemporary and historical educational research acknowledges the high value of play, it is mostly disregarded within the learning environments of middle and high school students. Since 1999, only three research studies have been published examining the link between play and self-efficacy (Blanco-Ray, 2011; Fall, Balvanz, Johnson, & Nelson, 1999; Moorefield-Lang, 2010).
This study proposes to examine the following questions:

1. How is play related to student self-efficacy within the middle school educational setting?
2. Does time for play in educational settings increase student self-efficacy; if so, how?
3. Does play aid students in enlisting social resources, and if so, how?
4. Does engaging in play change student perceptions of personal academic achievement; if so, how?
5. Does engaging in play change middle school students’ attitudes about self-regulated learning; if so, how?
6. Does engaging in play change middle school students’ perceptions of self-efficacy in social situations; if so, how?
7. Does engaging in play change middle school students’ attitudes about self-assertion; if so, how?
8. Does engaging in play change middle school students’ attitudes about enlisting familial and community support; if so, how?
definition of terms
Play: a self-selected, self-directed, self or group-motivated activity in which a student engages for the purposes of interest, curiosity, creativity, engagement, recreation, pleasure, and/or socialization without judgment, disagreement, or denial from monitoring adults. (Fall, Balvanz, Johnson & Nelson, 1999).
Self-Efficacy: “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations” (Bandura, 1986, p. 55).
Research Design
“Adults are uncomfortable with and anxious about play,” and as such create demarcations between their world and the world of children (Bettelheim, 1972, p. 1).
A 2008 study of convicted murders found 90% demonstrated an absence of play or an abnormal process of play such an animal cruelty (Frost, 2008).
Another study, this time of convicted drunk drivers who had either killed themselves or others while driving, found that 75% of those studied demonstrated play abnormalities (Frost, 2008).

1, Title I, southern state middle school

6-35 middle school students

1 certified, trained, teacher-leader

1.5 hours after-school play session x 8

45 min. focus group discussions x 1
Data Collection:

Bandura's Children's Self Efficacy Scale

Recordings of Play Sessions

Recordings of Focus Group Discussions

Reflective Journal
Data Analysis:

Read, re-read notes in reflective journal for commonalities and themes

View, re-view recordings from play sessions and focus group discussions for commonalities and themes.

Examine all collected data through NVivo to identify commonalities and themes
Play is a vital, fun, engaging, and gratifying practice in which all mammals participate; our relationship to play is positive (Frost 1998; Russ, 2003; Vygotsky, 1967; Warner, 2008).
Engagement in play is empowering in a way that could lead to self-efficacy.
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