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As week two of the summer vacation kicks in here in Ontario, I’ve been thinking of ways I can enjoy myself, while growing as an educator. I’ve come up with 3 projects I’m going to try before school returns in September. I’m encouraging others to give them a try too (if you’re not doing something like them already!)

1. Play without Purpose

You hear a lot of talk around “gaming” and “play” in schools and while I think it’s great, I also think we’re missing the point. Most often when play or games are used with students or anyone really, there is a “goal”, a reason to play, a purpose. Collect the most points, kill the most zombies, cover the most territory on the board, etc. Through my work with the researchers at EDGE Lab at Ryerson (where my amazing wife works), I’ve come to see the benefits of play with no goal, no purpose, no reason other than because it’s fun. Play for play’s sake.

Think of the kids on the beach messing around with buckets of sand and water. Sure, some are building castles or burying each other. But there’s usually one or two who are just digging a hole, then dumping a bucket of water into it, then digging a trench in the sand to see how far the water will travel, then dumping more water, piling in more sand, and on and on. The end result? Wet sand and not much more. No beautiful sandcastle, no photo of Dad up to his neck in sand. Just a re-arrangement of what was already there: sand and water. Was it play? Definitely. Did it produce an end product or have definable outcomes? Nope. Was there learning involved? You bet there was.

I aim to bring play without purpose into my library this September. In the meantime, I’m planning to play not just when I hit the beach (soon!) but when I’m playing video games too. With no goals and no missions, Minecraft is the ideal place to play for play’s sake. For the last few weeks, playing without purpose has been my goal on the GamingEdus Server. There’s been a lot of experimenting with TNT and lava, as you can imagine. If you’re an educator or just interested, feel free to ask to join our server and play with us.

2. Build Something New or Break Something Old

Like gaming, tinkering and hacking are the hot edupunk buzz words. Compared to standardized tests and worksheets, I think this is a good thing.

When it comes to computers, I’m all about the tinkering and the fixing (and the hacking to a lesser extent.) I taught myself simple HTML back in the 90s because I wanted to make a website. I’ve replaced so many parts on the computer I’m using to type this post that I could say I built it. Building something new is all about learning. And so is taking something apart. Whether it’s an old computer or broken coffee maker, breaking open an old piece of tech to see how it works is always fun for me. It’s also packed with learning.

The planning, strategic and critical thinking, research and more that goes into building something new or breaking something old is a powerful skill set that is hugely transferable. Ideal for the classroom and another element of teaching I’d like to bring into my library this coming fall.

To help make that happen, this summer I’m putting aside the motherboards and heatsinks to build something I’ve never built before: bench and table for our back deck. It’s been a long time since I’ve built anything with wood and haven’t even started the planning stages so I’m nervous even mentioning it. But this project ties directly in with Project #3, Explore and Get Lost, that it’s a perfect fit for this summer. Besides, I just announced it on the interwebs, where it’ll stay forever, so y’know there’s no backing down now.

Will I fail? Probably. Will I succeed? Hopefully. Will I learn, either way? You bet.

I’ll keep you posted.

 3. Explore and Get Lost

Ever since I was kid running around the woods behind my neighbourhood, playing Lord of the Rings with my fellow D&D nerdpack, the summer has been about exploration. And getting lost. I’ve done a fair bit of both in the past, so this summer exploration means exploring something new, venturing into uncharted territory, stepping outside my comfort zone.

For me, that’s putting my face out there – on video. I’ve been writing this blog since 2003, published over 30 books and visited hundreds of schools across Canada, but I still get queasy at the thought of seeing myself on video. It’s that uneasy feeling in my gut that tells me this is an area I need to explore.

In the coming weeks, I plan to explore the world of Youtube videos. As a librarian and tech teacher, this is one area I definitely need to explore. How to make them. How to upload them and how to make them interesting. You know I’ll get lost along the way.  So, stay tuned and I’ll post about my first video, which I have planned and will record and upload in the coming days (I promise.)

If you want to be the first to my pleas for someone to loan me their GPS, subscribe to this blog, or follow me on twitter.

Should be fun.

Have you got something you think educators should try this summer? Are you trying something new? Share your ideas in the comments below.

In addition to writing award-winning kids books, I also teach elementary school and often have Tech Teaching resources and ideas to share with fellow educators and librarians. I deliver these resources and ideas to your inbox in my monthly e-newsletter Reading Change.

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