Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning

If You're Not Having Fun, You're Not Doing it Right! Jennifer Coleman

August 10, 2022 Dr Diane Jackson Schnoor Season 1 Episode 2
Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning
If You're Not Having Fun, You're Not Doing it Right! Jennifer Coleman
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If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right! Meet Jennifer Coleman, whose adventures in learning include teaching 5th  grade, leading informal education programs at a children's museum, and being a college admissions counselor. Through it all, she's brought her spark, joy and laughter to playful learning. I hope you have fun discovering the connections that are possible between play, engaged learning, and children's literature this week! And did I mention, we both have aspirations of adding Disney Princess to our resumes? You'll find out why around 00:41:32.

Episode Highlights:
04:22: We discover that the picture books we loved as children (The Monster at the End of This Book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Peter's Chair, The Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie) reflected our experiences, our personalities, and our worldviews at the time. 

[08:56] Meet Ms. Frizzle! Jen shares the real-life inspiration (her 8th grade science teacher Mrs. Schiavone) who showed her science was magical and fun. 

14:15: Play is at the heart of building strong connections between engaged STEAM learning and children's literature. We explore playful learning through Jen's 5th  grade lessons about the American Revolution (16:19) and my preschool's budding astronauts (22:03). Books we reference:

Note: As an Amazon Associate* I earn from qualifying purchases. 

[25:52] Dr. Diane: "I think all too often in our textbooks there are so many voices that have been silenced, and this is a wonderful opportunity to develop empathy and be able to see things from another perspective as well." As we consider the engaging lessons we are sharing with our students this year, let's not shy away from looking for books that help bring new voices and perspectives to the table.

[29:14] We discuss how playful learning leads to what Steve Spangler calls making it a "best day ever".  We also discuss ways our students learned resilience through the playful attitude of our classes (waterfalls in the ceiling [29:50] or dinosaur digs as a result of basement floods [30:59], anyone?)

[38:10] I highlight a wonderful picture book: 

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*Disclosure: I am a Bookshop.org. affiliate.

Adventures in Learning Podcast: Jen Coleman, Guest

If You’re Not Having Fun, You’re Probably Not Doing It Right 

[00:00] Dr. Diane: Welcome to this episode of adventures in learning. I am so excited to be inviting my friend and my former partner in crime,Jennifer Coleman to today's episode. Jen and I worked together for over 5 years at a children's museum, where we raised all kinds of chaos. as we helped kids build connections through hands-on learning, play, and children's literature, and so please welcome Jen to the show. Hi, how are you? 

Jen: I’m good. How are you?

[00:44] Dr. Diane: It’s so nice to have you here. So i'm gonna start with a question that i'm asking all of my guests: What did you wanna be when you were a kid? 

[00:53] Jen: Oh, my gosh, okay. So so long. story short, my first grade teacher was amazing. She was everything you could imagine a first grade teacher to be.She was fun, joyful, exciting, made all the learning easy. My second grade teacher was absolutely miserable, and it it was drudgery working in her class, like everything was seat work, nothing was fun or joyful. And so I decided by second grade that I wanted to be just like my first grade teacher and replace my second grade teacher.

So I decided very early on that I wanted to be a teacher and so I taught my stuffed animals. I tried to teach the neighborhood children.You know I loved learning, and I loved all the books that you read about teachers, and you know about learning and stuff, even when I was younger. And I, you know, I wound up taking on some of those roles, even like in middle school, where I was a a tutor for some of my peers, and I made the learning fun. I made it, you know we're studying, but it's game show atmosphere, so nobody hated it. 

And I realized that's what I wanted to do as a kid but my my secret passion — and I literally have not told anyone else — is that I also dreamed of being a newscaster, and I have no idea where that came from. You know my family didn't grow up, we didn't grow up watching the news or anything. I always thought it would be very exciting to be like where the news happened, and be holding the microphone and talking to the people at large, and telling them all the important things. And I realized recently that that's pretty much what a teacher does.

[02:38] Dr. Diane: I was going to say, building those connections, that's exactly what you do as a teacher. You are showtime, connected with all that fabulous content. So it sounds like you've been training for this your entire life? 

[02:49] Jen: I have, and if there's any newscasters out there, I apologize. I’d never want to step on your toes. but, like I definitely realized that's probably where some of that skill set might have would have also gone in that direction. But yeah, I I wound up being a teacher for many years, and I feel like as a whole, I am an educator because even though that's not what I currently do, I do feel like I take the opportunity to educate people through my daily life, through my actions, and a little bit through the job that I currently do. 

[03:22] Dr. Diane: That makes total sense to me. I came to teaching late. I actually was past college before I decided that was what I wanted to do. Instead. I was going to be a firefighting ballerina farmer's wife at one point. At another point, I was a director. I spent my entire childhood directing other people.We would play games, and I would be the director. who sort of staged how everybody was doing things, and I was Jo March continuously. 

[03:55] Jen: Who doesn't want to be Jo March? 

[03:58] Dr. Diane: So I did all of those things. But I did come to education. realizing later that was exactly what I wanted to be, and I counted as one of the joys in my life that I got to teach side by side with you for so many years.

[04:08] Jen: Oh, well, thank you, thank you. It was a pleasure teaching with you, too, and it was I mean, I feel like it was one of those symbiotic relationships where we learned from each other. We grew from each other. We strengthened each other as well.

[04:22] Dr. Diane: So I agree. I’m so glad you’re here tonight to help us talk about connections. So we're going to be connecting play, and we're going to be connecting children's literature, and hands-on learning throughout this conversation. So to get there, I want to go way back into your childhood again. What was your favorite picture book when you were a kid? And why? 

[04:44] Jen: Oh, gosh, Okay, So I would have to say there are probably at least two. So my mom read to us from when we were eeensy weensy littles, and I remember you know laying on on bed when my brother was a baby, so he's 2 and a half years younger than I am so I remember him being a baby baby, and me saying “Why are we reading to him? He can't understand.” And my mom said, “No, No, he's hearing the words, and it's important for him to hear these words. So we're gonna read the story together. He can be here, too.” And I was like, okay, fine, but I remember him being really, really little, so I could have only been like 3 or 4, and so we read, I mean she used to read. She loved animals, and so she would read books like Black Beauty and  My Friend Flicka. They’re chapter books, so those were not necessarily picture books. But we also had picture books, and I loved when she would read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and There's a Monster at the End of This Book.

Dr. Diane: I love that book.

Jen: So I think The Monster at the End of This Book was more meant for me because I was more of the nervous child growing up.I was just the one that was no, no no you know we're gonna fall out of this page. No, no, no, we’re gonna hurt ourselves. And my brother, on the other hand, was like full board “Let's do this. Who cares if we get hurt? TURN THE PAGE” So I think that the Grover book was for me, because the monster at the end of the book turns out to be Grover, and I think that the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie book was for my brother because he was also the child who just continuously asked for more, and would just run around in circles, so I think.those became like the epitome of my childhood, so if you, if you wanted a book that would bring me back, it would be one of those. The Monster at the End of This Book is just, it's my favorite, because even after I knew what the ending was, it didn't matter. I loved reading it. I loved the the buildup to the end where “ME, lovable old Grover?” I loved it. That was my favorite book as a kid.

[06:55] Dr. Diane: Oh, you are so bringing me back, and it's funny how our siblings do connect us back to those favorite books because I've realized mine was Peter in The Snowy Day, Peter’s Chair, and Whistle for Willie, and it had everything to do with where I was as a kid at the time, because we lived in Germany in this apartment complex and Peter lived in an apartment complex. My parents decided to bless my life with a sister while I was 4 or 5 —  and I am very grateful for her today — I wasn't so sure then.

[07:28] Jen: You know going from only child to suddenly having siblings is hard, and Peter felt that same way.

[07:30] Dr. Diane: And so I remember that scene where his father helped him paint his chair for his little sister, and and my dad took time out of being in the army to do the same kinds of stuff with me. And you know, he also had a dog named Willie. And I had a dog named Muffins it was the late 70s— don’t judge — but you know it was just one of those things where that book helped me to cope, and sort of gave me the connection, to realize oh, other kids are feeling the same things i'm feeling 

[08:07] Jen: Yeah, and I think, I mean I hadn't necessarily, honestly I didn't realize the connection between this is who I was as a kid and the books until I mentioned it just now. But I I do think that I was the more reserved child, and my brother was not, and I've always realized his connection with the If You Give The Mouse a Cookie book, but I never thought about myself being Grover until just now, and it really does make sense because I was the more nervous child.

[08:47] Dr. Diane: So so it sounds like you've been building connections all your life. How do you remember first learning about science or the world around you?

[08:56] Jen: Oh, gosh! So I guess there are a couple of ways. So my mom was more of a tomboy. And so she really connected with my brother on more science-related things. He was always the scientist. He was always the one observing, and he would, you know, he would break things apart and try to put them back together. He would experiment with things and like before, before we knew that it was experimentation. He would just do it. And my mom fostered that and so she would get him magnifying glasses and little tweezers, and you know droppers. She would encourage him to go out and collect bugs, specimens, and, you know, investigate things.

And so I remember seeing that as a child and it was never like you can't do this, but it was always like that's Shane’s world — and I'm totally cool with that — but I I remember observing, being an observer and watching what was happening. And again I was more of a reserved, nervous child. Shane’s gonna pick up the bug and put it in the container, and I’m gonna watch. But I remember being intrigued by it, and you know surprised by some of the things that he was finding out, and he would put bugs together in little things he called the bug barns.

Jen: But I think probably like the first time I really got a taste of science being more than the thing you have to learn before social studies time — because I really enjoyed social studies time growing up and science was always sort of boring. You read from the textbook and you and you hear about these experiments, but you don't do them. 

The first time I really got jazzed about science was in eighth grade, which is definitely like you're working your way out of childhood. But the science teacher was a woman and she taught middle school science and that was all she taught. And she walked in on the first day with a cape on, and turned the lights out and turned a bunson burner on and threw something at the Bunson burner, and it like sparkled and crackled and glowed. And it was amazing. And she told the story about how science has always been magic, and she just transformed it from being a dull thing in a textbook. And she talked about the the doing the magic of it and the excitement of it and the confusion of it. And how we’ve learned over time that it's not magic, that it always happens this way, that it’s not a surprise we if we do it right. But she made it exciting, so literally that first class that I was hooked. I want to be a scientist when I grow up. And she was like that throughout the year. She would have us do crazy things in ridiculous experiments, and I loved every minute of it. So I think that was probably the first time that I got excited by science, and I wound up my first year teaching only science, and I kept trying to channel her, just channel, Mrs. Schiavone. She was so amazing. I just wanted to be her. and about halfway through the year, like Christmas break, maybe, I stayed up really late one night, and I found her school email and I sent her this really lengthy email about how I was just trying to channel her and she sent me back just like one or 2 lines: “Thank you so much. This means so much to me but you have no idea how much i'm just flying by the seat of my pants.” And I thought, Okay, all right, I can channel that too.

But honestly, that was probably my first real draw in, because, like I said, it was always sort of Shane’s thing. It (science) was always something that I observed and so that that first experience of her making it exciting, dressing up, the making it playful. I mean she came in wearing like the Groucho Marx glasses, and nose and mustache one day, and like it was, it was the best fun we'd ever had and we were eighth graders, so you know like you're getting out of childhood. But we were playing, and it was great.

[13:12] Dr. Diane: And that is an absolutely perfect transition. We're gonna take a break and when we come back we're gonna start diving into play and learning and how those two go together for the best results.

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[14:15] Dr. Diane: So welcome back. Let's go back into exploring play. So, Jen, you brought up play, and that being one of the reasons that Mrs. Schiavone really rocked your world when you were in eighth grade. Knowing the way that you teach, I can absolutely see how you channeled her down the road. Why is play important? 

[14:59] Jen: Oh, gosh! play is so meaningful! I mean you're making memories. If you think about when the memories you have with your family most of the time they’re playful memories, right? I mean maybe it’s on vacation, maybe it's you know, like I know for me I remember my brother and I would reenact the Olympics every year or every year that the Olympics happened we would reenact them in our in our backyard. Those are huge memories that you carry with you. You're not gonna forget those things and so I think that play is such a huge part of learning, because it makes it memorable.It makes it stick and it it connects to things that you already know. and that's such a huge piece. As a teacher, you know that you're supposed to connect the prior knowledge to relate to something that they already know, but I think that if it relates in a way that's fun and joyful as well, if the learning experiences attach to a feeling, I think that they stick a little bit longer. So I think that play and learning should go hand in hand honestly.

[16:12] Dr. Diane: So can you give an example of a time that you built play into a lesson you were teaching?

[16:19] Jen: Well, so one of my favorite lessons that I taught it was this stolen lesson. I stole it from somebody else. I read it in a teacher's manual,  a teacher’s, you know, magazine, about the Revolution. And so you had to pose to the students as if this was really truly happening. And you you had to pose to the students that the the price of of lunches was going up. And so I I drafted this whole letter and had my principal sign it, and everything like that made it look like it was official, and made 20 copies of it, so it could go into their Friday folders and I I came back in for lunch one day, and I was like guys, and I read this I was like, and I, you know, that was a normal habit.I would tell them what was going in their Friday folder when I said, I just think it's going in your Friday folder, but I wanna i'm gonna take a second to talk about it, and we started talking about it. 

I read it off to them. It sounded very official, price of lunch is going up to $10 a day, or something ridiculous like that. and the kids started right away, like you can’t charge that much!. And I said, well let me keep reading. And it says we're gonna pay for the new playground, and they all screamed, "When's the playground going in?” And I said, “Oh, it says next year.” “We're gonna be gone by then, we're gonna be in middle school, we’ll never be able to use the playground.This is terrible,” they said. Well, I I don't know, what do we do, and they immediately jumped into action. Well, we should. We should boycott the cafeteria. Let’s not buy any lunches anymore. A great idea anybody else got ideas? And they start throwing ideas, and I start writing them like, Let’s make a list on the on the board we'll make a list of this stuff. Great good idea. keep coming, and some of these are throwing out, you know, ridiculous ideas. We should egg  the principal Oh, okay we'll put it on the list, and then they're like we don't know about this. Maybe we'll get in trouble if the principal walks in. So I riled them up, and they come up with this amazing list. They're going to go to the school board meeting, and they're going to write a strongly worded letter, and they're going to you know get the newspaper to come and take pictures and they're gonna have protests outside the cafeteria and they're gonna make signs so that the other students decide that they're not, gonna buy lunch you know, and and they get into we're gonna have a giant food fight in the cafeteria. And there are a couple of kids in the back that are like I I don't want to do any of this, I don't wanna, I don’t, I don't even buy lunch. I don't want to do this, and I could see myself in that. So I say, good, you don’t wanna participate in any of that. Guys, any other ideas you got? 

And so at the end, I would reread the letter going home in Friday folders, and it would say, “Dear Colonists, thanks to the war of 1763, the French and Indian war, we're going to have to tax you people starting, you know immediately, and the kids rioted. Oh, my God! they were dead! They were well, first of all, not getting a new playground. No, but that also means we're not going to be food fighting in the cafeteria?. But they felt something. They felt angry. They felt, you know, frustrated, they felt trampled upon, and they they were inspired to to create this list. 

And then we went through the list and I said you know that's a food fight in the cafeteria That's the Boston tea party, and you know that strongly worded letter to the school board, that’s the Declaration of Independence .You guys thought like revolutionaries, and we were just playing around. We were just pretending that we were there but you've just created this amazing list of all things that the revolutionaries did.

And then we talked about the kids who didn't want to participate. There were people who they didn't want to participate, They were Tories. They wanted to stay loyal to the crown or they just didn't care.

And then there were also some bad ideas here. The Boston Tea party got the whole, you know, Boston Harbor shut down. There were good ideas, you know. So we talked about that. And then we talked about like, Okay, Now the official learning starts where we talk about you know this equals this, So your your Boston tea party equals your food fight. And you know we, then we got down to the facts of the matter. They were excited to learn about the facts of the matter. then, because they had, they had investment, and they bought into it. But it was, it was in such a playful manner.

Afterwards. we promised, we pinky swore that we would never tell anyone about this lesson, because if our siblings have the same class some other day, that they would want their siblings to have the same excitement that they had because afterwards I mean they were. they were devastated. They were also really really like they were like, Oh, you've pulled it over on us. That was good. 

[21:17] Dr. Diane: That’s awesome. So you really were able to connect that passion, that emotion, that play to the content.

[21:26] Jen: Yeah. And and so they It was hilarious. My last class of students that I taught graduated just this past year, and I, every time I run into a student who I had their sibling, later on in the year they would, they would stop me and say, have you, have you done the lesson yet, and I would say no, no don't tell them anything. Oh, no, oh, no, I won't tell them anything but I can't wait to hear whether or not they reacted the same way I did, I mean they were super excited about it for their future, you know, future generations of classes.

[22:03] Dr. Diane: Well they had ownership of it, which I think is so huge. You’re talking about fifth graders and I was thinking about when I ran the preschool up in New York, I had four-year-olds and five-year-olds, and we would do similar things in terms of engaging in play. And so we would do a solar system month, where we would talk about space, and we would explore things. They built with me, like it was a kid and adult together project, we would build a spaceship, and we will build it out of like an old refrigerator box. We would look at pictures of the space shuttle, we would look at pictures of the rocket ships. We used foil and paper and things like that, and that box hung out in our dramatic play center. There were clipboards, where they were the NASA scientists, and they were writing stuff down, and you know it was filled with books, like all sorts of non-fiction books. Seymour Simon was fabulous, having just the gorgeous pictures of all the different planets. But we would compare that with fiction, and so I loved matching it with Hedgie Blasts Off by Jan Brett. And we would use that book. Yeah, we would read it aloud, and then they would create their own Mikkop, and they would create their own Hedgie.

And we would do the whole experiment where we were looking at the buildup of pressure and creating that explosion. And so we would do that, and we would actually launch rockets. And so they got to play with some chemical reactions as we looked at, you know, mixing the citric acid with the water, what happens?

So all of this became part of the play and it was all centered around books, and the sense of we're going to be astronauts for a month, and we're going to go explore all of these different planets and there was so much content that we worked in where they could compare and contrast the planets, They knew which planets were hotter, which ones were colder. They could sing the song about the planets, you know all of that. But it all started with the idea of how do we build connections through play?

[24:06] Jen: Yeah. yeah, oh, absolutely. And then for me, I managed to tie in the books with them after the fact, because I wanted to introduce it in that like glamorous, amazing way. But but afterwards we read: I love using picture books, even with my fifth grade students, and so my favorite to tie in with the Revolution besides the Oh, gosh! there has been the whole series and I know you'll know the author. The “If You Live In/If You Lived When” and there were a whole bunch of those and there was one about King George — Won’t You Make Them Behave, George? And so that whole series we had those out in the classroom all the time but my favorite thread allowed to them after they had learned about me some of the individuals that were influential in the Revolution was the book by Lane Smith: John Paul, George, and Ben, because of course it's also a play on the whole Beatles thing, but I loved it. I love tying in books too, with that play because it's it's so much fun to to find ways to in especially if you can throw fiction in with it, make it humorous, and I love historical fiction. But, like Lane Smith managed in the back of the book to talk about some of the things that were fake and some of the things that were real, and that was so much fun for the kids to be like, wait wait for real? Yeah. So I I love I love being able to tie those things in too.

[25:32] Dr. Diane: Steve Sheinkin is another one who is just a master at being able to pull the facts that weren't in your textbook, but were the dirty, interesting, gross things that kids want to know about.

[25:48] Jen: Oh, yeah, and I I feel like why don't we talk more about that?

[25:52] Dr. Diane: And I love the fact that there are so many multicultural picture books and multicultural stories that are available too. I think all too often in our textbooks there are so many voices that have been silenced, and this is a wonderful opportunity to develop empathy and be able to see things from another perspective as well.

[26:10] Jen: Oh, yeah, I taught fifth grade for ten years and they're all about tenish. But I remember the kids always wanting to know about the girls because half of the class is typically female and we learned very about very few females in our history class. And so that was always my encouragement to go research women of history. But I started supplementing the textbook with stories about women. And so sometimes they came from books, chapter books or picture books about women specifically because that was always it. And the other thing that we always wanted to hear about with the kids, their kids, what were kids doing during the Revolution? We only ever hear about the adults and children. I don't know what they were doing. Guys, let's find out. So that was a great opportunity for them to direct the learning as well.

[27:10] Dr. Diane: And when they've got the ownership then they're much more likely to remember as well.

[27:14] Jen: The kids learned that I would throw things out there that weren't on the test. And so when when they would raise their hands, inevitably, some kid would raise their hands — usually the nervous ones like me — would raise their hand and say is this gonna be on the test? And I would say, no it's not going to be. and the rest of the class would go perfect, and you know, lean in a little bit closer and be like okay now you can tell us because they were excited to, you know, hear about this random piece of trivia but they didn't need to know, but they probably were gonna enjoy it. 

[27:45] Dr. Diane: I love it. You use that whole drama and the Miss Frizzle effect to draw them in and get them excited.

[27:54] Jen: Yes, yes!

[27:57] Dr. Diane: You know, I was thinking about we were both at the Children's Museum. One of the things that we both drew on was sort of that Ms. Frizzle attitude towards showtime and towards play, because there, while we had content we were sharing, everything had to be embedded in play.

[28:11] Jen: And the play came first. The fun came first, and I think for me that had always been sort of the thing that I strove to do as a teacher was to make it playful, to make it enjoyable, to make it joyful, but it was it was, you know, there was certain content that needed to be covered, like you said. And what we did as a museum staff was we turned that around. We made the play first and foremost, and the content was secondary, and it I felt like I enjoyed that so much more. And I think it was just it was done differently and there were times where the teachers would look at us and be like, Oh, no, there's there's no way this is gonna work. And then we would knock their socks off because they would not only work, but  their kids would be well behaved. Their students would be engaged and enthusiastic and learning. And then, as we were walking out of the room, they would be talking about what they just learned about to their teacher.

[29:14] Dr. Diane: Okay, you know, and that's something that Steve Spangler calls making it a best day ever, and if you make it to the dinner table. then you've succeeded, and I think that's part of what the goal is. If you can do those hands-on activities and build those connections, create the wow, you've got a shot at being the best day ever in making it to the dinner table.

[29:37] Jen: And then, yeah, you've made it Oh, my gosh I mean I think about the times I've probably made it to the dinner table, and others, You know my students lives I can only imagine what they were discussing.

[29:46] Dr. Diane: But they were discussing it, so that's the good thing, right?

[29:50] Jen: I had concerns that it was going to be something negative, but oh, heaven knows! There was one year that the students definitely referred to me as the Friz, and it was It was one of those years where, if it could go wrong, it did.

And my classroom got a hole in the ceiling right in the middle of a torrential downpour, and the water just started streaming in, and my students knew how to handle whatever. They immediately you know they jumped to the rescue They got a bucket and got some bins. They handled it. They moved the desk. It was great, and all the while I've watched them, and I’m laughing. And one of the kids turns to me and says, “Mrs. Coleman, are you okay?” And I laughed, and I said, “Come on, who else's classroom would have a built in waterfall? Guys, this is amazing, isn't it? And the perspective just changed. What? 100%! You're right, our class is so cool. That was the year that the kids were like, I think she and the Friz might be the same person.

[30:59] Dr. Diane: Well, and I love the resilience that kids can have. There was a year, I wonder if it was the same year for us, we had a flood come through the preschool.We were in the basement of a church up in New York, and we had to move the entire preschool over to the empty vicarage house, and for like 3 months that's where we were. But the kids loved it because it was like our tree house. It was our adventure, and so we wound up doing paleontology for part of that time. And so we had a room that turned into our dinosaur dig pit, and they using their tools, and they were excavating. We were able to lay out — we measured the house and we measured dinosaurs compared to the size of the living room. Well, we would take tape, and we would run it all over the building, so that the kids would lay head to toe, and we'd figure out how big a triceratops was versus a t-rex versus an Apatosaurus, and you know the Apatosaurus went from the back door all the way through into the kitchen. You know, they had these visuals and we're making the space our own. But the kids were so resilient and they went with it. And because we were able to look at it from a playful attitude, and it established that way that this is how we were going to look at the world, they were okay with doing that. 

[32:23] Jen: Yeah, yeah I think i'm thinking very early on, I always tried to establish the idea that we are going to have fun in this room There are times we're going to need to be serious, but we're going to have fun I guarantee you. So if we're in a serious bit right now, just hang on, we'll get there, we're coming back up to the fun. Don't worry. And my students knew that and so they knew that, you know, if it wasn't a funny moment at the time, they knew to look around, read the room. They would look around and go, “Okay, so we're not, we’re not being funny right now. We're not being silly. We're being serious, got it, but it's coming up, and i'm waiting for it, and so they would. They would hang in there until it was time to be funny again. And they knew that was how I ran my entire classroom in that fashion. So they knew there's a time for fun, right now is not it, got it.

[33:15] Dr. Diane: I know, having traveled the country with you, that fun and play is a huge part of how you approach life, and when we come back we're going to explore a little bit about how this sense of play has influenced your adventure in learning 

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[34:05] Dr. Diane: So welcome back. We are here with Jen Coleman, teacher extraordinaire. Jen has taught fifth grade, she's been a museum educator, and she is currently a college admissions counselor. They are so fortunate to have her, and we're fortunate to have her here with us as well. So, Jen, I have a question for you. How does play connect to your own personal learning adventure?

[35:10] Jen: Oh, gosh, that's a really good question. So, my personal learning adventure… I love learning things that make me happy, that make me joyful. I I have learned to love learning things that make me sad, or that make me frustrated, or that make me disappointed or angry. You know, but I generally gravitate toward things that are making me happy. So the things that make me happy involve me exploring new things and trying out new things, and in getting messy, and that's that sounds a little bit like the Friz. The idea that you know it can be something that is not, and that was one of the things that I used to talk about with my students, is that it doesn't have to be from a textbook. It doesn't have to be traditional learning. It could be something totally unrelated. And so the things that bring me joy and learning are the things that involve trying something new. I'm making a mistake but i'm learning something. I wanna know how it's made. I wanna know how it was done. I wanna know how it can be done better.

[36:12] Dr. Diane: So what's something new you've tried in the last 6 months?

[36:27] Jen: Oh, gosh, hmm, I learned how to tile a wall.

[36:30] Dr. Diane: Hey, that is an accomplishment and it's something new.

[36:34] Jen: At Christmas time, we redid our kitchen, and I was inspired to want to tile a back splash in my kitchen, but I wanted to make sure I did it right. So I did a lot of reading and a lot of watching of videos and a lot of reading blog posts, as well as like the official directions, you know. So what have people done, and how their experiences have been? And then I tried it out on my own in our bathroom, in our upstairs bathroom, that you know not too many guests go into, so if it turned out abysmal, it would only be me that would have to look. And so I tried it out there, experimented with, you know, the way it goes on the wall, and the way the spacing goes, and all of the measurements and the cutting, and all of that.

And I made mistakes, and I look at them every morning when I take a shower. But it enabled me to then do a better job when I came to the kitchen, and so the kitchen tile is up now, and I look at it every day when I make my coffee, and I'm very proud of it. And and so you know that's the new thing i've learned. Didn’t come from a textbook.

[37:49] Dr. Diane: And you're still learning and that's an important thing.

[37:51] Jen: Now i'm ready to tile everything so if you need a room tiled in your house, I’m there.

[37:57] Dr. Diane: Excellent i'm sure people are gonna be sending you lots of messages to tile their kitchens. You might have just given yourself a whole new career 

[38:06] Jen: Well, at least we know we’ll have fun doing it.

[38:10] Dr. Diane: So as you were talking about your favorite picture books as a child and being that nervous child who didn’t always want to jump in, I was thinking about a brand new picture book coming out later this month that explores the endless possibilities each child has — and I think it goes for adults too. It’s called Patchwork by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Corinna Luyken. It’s for all those kids — you knew what you wanted to be, but it's for those kids who try a little something here and a little something there, and a little something here. They aren’t spending 18 hours a day playing soccer. They're the patchwork kids and they may try something and fail, and that's okay. That’s part of the learning adventure. That's part of our process, you know, we all get to our destination from a different perspective. I’m so excited for this book.

[39:08] Jen: That sounds like a great book, I think you and i've had that discussion very often that the the path that you take doesn't have to be a direct path, and more than likely it won't be, and if you look around and you talk to people you meet ,you’re gonna find their path wasn't very direct, either.

[39:25] Dr. Diane: And that's why it's an ongoing adventure in learning. I love the notion that we're always learning and we’re always building these connections, and no experience is wasted. 

Jen: Yes, you know, it all comes back and serves in some other way at some point.

Dr. Diane: Oh, yeah, and I think that makes a huge difference. So what's something that currently brings you joy?

[39:49] Jen: Oh, gosh, So I I find joy in lots of little things. When it's quiet time at my house, my husband got to sleep first, and I often take longer to fall asleep, so I have found myself either playing games on my phone. I like to, and they're usually brain games which makes me feel like I might be, you know, at least preserving some of those brain cells. But I like puzzles, sudoko, or to do word searches. I also like to read comics, and again, that brings it back to me being a kid, but I, you know, just taking that time to and being purposeful about it, like I am taking this time to enjoy the time by myself.I'm not just killing time. I'm not just wasting time. I am choosing to do this, you know, find some joy. 

Also I've been trying to get outside a little bit more, and because my current job has me kind of attached to a desk a little bit more than I have done previously. I try to get outside throughout the day and mornings I have been going for walks sometimes with friends. sometimes solo. I've been enjoying walking with you. But I also you know, I I enjoy the solo ,the quiet time, too, with myself, and you know sometimes it's with my thoughts, but I find it like meditative just being out in nature, and spending some time, you know, outside and doing the breeze, and during the bird song. And and you know, watching nature happen so that's that's those things are bringing me joy. Is that purposeful play, the purposeful time, and you know the time being out in Nature and finding a little time to play there.

[41:32] Dr. Diane: And that really is purposeful play. I was thinking that's one of the things I'm grateful for that came out of the pandemic over the last couple of years is I slowed down and started paying attention to things I hadn't noticed before — the way the robins come out ,the seeds that are coming out on the trees, watching the frogs in their cycles in the pond that's nearby, getting to know all of the muskrats who live in the pond, things I never paid attention to. And I find that when you do slow down you pay attention to those things, they do bring joy.

[42:07] Jen: Are you kidding? I felt like a Cinderella Princess today, because I was. you know, at the sink doing dishes you know, getting prep for dinner and whatnot, and i'm looking now out the window, and I have noticed I have a bunny rabbit who lives in my yard. I have a groundhog who lives in my yard, and I have several squirrel families live in my yard, and a bunch of birds, and they were all out in the yard, and they were all like running around playing with each other. I was just like, oh my gosh, look at all my animals.

[42:37] Dr. Diane: You could put Disney princess on your resume. 

[42:42] Jen: I could. have definitely taken the time to observe those animals.  I didn't know that — before the pandemic — I did not know if animals lived in my yard or not. I've learned you know that I I enjoyed that connection. I enjoyed feeding the birds, and I enjoy watching them with the squirrels run around and and climb the trees. And it's it's really rewarding oddly to watch the animals.

[43:14] Dr. Diane: So, since you're putting play into your life on a personal level, and you've certainly got a lifetime of experience bringing it into the classroom, what would be like 2 or 3 takeaways you would want people to remember about how to incorporate play for meaningful learning?

[43:32] Jen: Oh, okay, well, if you're not having fun you're probably not doing it right?

So there's the first part: if you're not having fun, you’re probably not doing right. And sometimes I actually have to tell myself that, like you know, and even sort of the mundane tasks, you know, if you're ironing a shirt and you're not having fun, I mean it's hard to have fun while ironing shirts, but if you put on some music and you start dancing around while you're ironing that shirt, you're suddenly having fun, and if you're using the iron as a microphone, you're having fun, and it suddenly becomes a more joyful task, and if you can start associating those fun moments with that, even the mundane drudgery tasks, it becomes fun.

So you're adding play to that and that's sort of like an everyday thing, and I honestly I think if you could just put a soundtrack to everyday life, I mean we watch movies we hear the soundtrack. Those are like montage scenes where they're all doing something fun, and they have some great music in the background. And you see all the fun things. You know they have to like stop and go to the bathroom at some point, that there are boring moments. We don't see those because there's a soundtrack to it.

Oftentimes in my classroom I would play music and The Piano Guys are fabulous. And they play contemporary music, but there's no words. So your students know the songs they're like, hey? This song is, I don't know the words to it though, but they'll enjoy the task more f you put on some music. So even when we were doing things that were, you know, tasks where they need to be focused on something else, whether it was cleaning up, whether it was you know doing the science experiment, whether it was writing, I would put on some music, and my students would enjoy the music, and you'd see them while they're writing or at their desk, or silent, they’re not talking, or looking around, but their little shoulders are be bopping up and down because they're tgetting into the music, but they're doing their thing and it you know multi sensory and you know you’re helping this kid who has ADHD or who maybe is multi sensory so that they can focus.

But at the same time, it’s joyful it's just fun it's playful. And so you know, incorporating music.

So if you're not having fun you're not doing it right. Get some music in there.

Explore like there aren't any rules,  you know, experiment like there aren't any rules. So be like a baby, but in that way that you're curious about everything, and then everything becomes an experiment.Everything becomes playful. So I think that those are my pieces of advice on how to experience the world and make it more playful.

[46:26] Dr. Diane: Well, thank you for joining us today, Jen. We've had Jen Coleman with us today, and i'm feeling like we need an offshoot podcast now called “If you're not having fun, you’re probably not doing it right, So you might want to look for that next year.

[46:41] Jen: I'll be happy to help you host that one.

[46:43] Dr. Diane: I’m kind of thinking we need to co-host that one.

[46:46] Jen: It would be great I would enjoy that. Well, thank you so much for having me it has been a pleasure, and I am, i'm glad to talk about play, learning or books, or anything else with you.

[46:57] Dr. Diane: Thank you again for helping us connect play with STEAM learning and children’s books. Check the show notes for links to the books we’ve discussed today. I look forward to taking another adventure in learning with you soon.

I decided by second grade that I wanted to be just like my first grade teacher and replace my second grade teacher.
Childhood connections to becoming a teacher
There's a Monster At the End of This Book (and other influences)
Enter the REAL Ms. Frizzle (and science becomes a passion)
The importance of play and learning
Connecting play to the American Revolution -- fifth graders rebel
Blast Off -- connecting play to space discovery in preschool
Connecting play, learning, and books
Using play to create "best day ever" experiences that make it to the dinner table (thank you, Steve Spangler)
Using play to foster resilience (classroom waterfalls and dinosaur digs, oh my!)
Play and the ongoing learning adventure
Purposeful play, joy, and adding Disney Princess to the resume
If you're not having fun, you're probably not doing it right...
Live life like you have the best soundtrack
Closing thoughts