Engineering flow with play

I’m recently designed a workshop for facilitators in order to facilitate them gaining more confidence with letting go of the whiteboard, embracing process over product and feeling more comfortable playing with new tools together. This blog unpacks the thinking behind the learning outcomes and my considerations as I wrote the lean plan.

First thoughts

Originally I looked at the learning outcome ‘increase confidence with discovery learning as a process’ and put a learner agency lens on it. This meant that I needed to offer choice of tool, choice of content and choice of timeframe in an ideal world. Initially I chose sculpt gl (a digital clay sculpting site), flipgrid (a tool with which the attendees were already familiar, gamefroot (for an interactive mihi coding experience) and adobe spark as several tools to be running at the same time. I had to rethink this though as in order to focus on flow (vygotsky’s ZPD) and the idea that the “ahas” can build around the room, the attendees needed to be playing with the same product at the same time – and ideally with little prior knowledge.

I used a minimal introduction and then allowed the facilitators to learn from each other and have fun for the majority of the allocated time. Importantly, I also chose a tool that I was not an expert in so that I could model learning alongside the learners. So for the plan: sculpt gl and for the modelling outcome: anything they liked in order to be agentic. I suggested their favourite animal if they were stuck and emphasised that the purpose of the session was the process and not the product. This meant that there was still an element of agency as they could even change their minds during the lesson if they so wished.

Intro: learning outcome

Description: process over product

Tool: website and invitation to share “aha” moments

Capture: sharing potential at end using padlet

Research first

I have been reading up on Vygotsky, Bruner and Piaget lately and these were the theorists who informed my design of this play-based experience for educators. It was tempting to share the readings first and to provide the readings as flipped content, but I was aiming for less conscious discovery and more of a ‘becoming open to discovery’ learning outcome. This was due to this concept of teaching or facilitation in this way being entirely new to the educators in front of me. Whether I provide the readings first or last always depends on the audience. Do we need to read about it first, or is it more meaningful if we experience it first?

Pre-testing phase

Before I open a new tool up for discovery with any audience, I do need to discover it myself first. My gamefroot experience I intended to offer as an option is a product of playing with my 9 year old son. We had limited success and he grew frustrated quickly because of the different interface and lack of ready to play coded games. That’s ok, now I know I will need to set aside more time for my own discovery later before I offer this as an option in the future. With sculpt gl, there are a couple of things that make the initial play stages hilarious which I knew of from.prior testing, so in this way it is a good fit. Starting with something humorous is a good way to remove barriers. I stayed with sculpt gl because flipgrid had too much prior learning attached to it and the opportunity for play could have been bypassed by people finding resources to make their own mixtapes thus making the discovery experience defunct. A further play option I explored in my testing phase was chrome music Lab. This is really fun to play with, but the sharing of compositions is less instant (you need to listen in real time) so this musical play needed to be saved for another day. The test phase is important because I needed to offer a tool for discovery that was not going to be too hard and that the audience would feel comfortable playing with. Testing prior to teaching for this is invaluable so that you can predict barriers to the process of play. The experience needs to be designed to fit the learning outcomes and the specific audience.

Sharing options

Getting adults to feel comfortable with play as a teaching abd learning tool is not easy. How can students ask questions? How can ‘aha’ discoveries be shared? How can frustrations be overcome? My solution was to play the role of ‘wandering co-pilot’ assisting the learning to be shared. I made a padlet and wrote what people were discovering on the board and said it out loud too. I could have shared this on a screen at the front to help inform the discussion about process and play – but I chose for it to be shared and revisited in the post-play discussion. Padlet was a good option because I could also share readings, quotes and wonderings as ‘class scribe’ to assist their first experience.

Great takeaways

After the brief introduction and 30 minutes uninterrupted play it was interesting to gather some student voice. We shared our screens and looked at each other’s creations marvelling at different effects and laughing at different outcomes. The removal of the outcome as a focus removed the desire to have a finished ‘best’ product. We then discussed the experience as an experience of discovery, sharing learning and not having a teacher tell them what to do.

“I found it really frustrating so I just played with the clay to see what it could do instead of trying to make something.” This comment prompted a great discussion about digital fluency, bravery to try new things and how to teach resilience by offering low-stakes opportunities to ‘fail fast and learn faster’.

“I didn’t hear anyone’s aha’s because I was so tuned in to my own project.” This was a great real life example of flow in action. The aha’s were shared on the padlet to be referred to later so this learner could add more techniques later in his own time.

“I had fun figuring out what it could do.” This comment highlighted how discovery learning can be fun!

“I liked having time to discover the tool but I dont see how this sculpting tool is relevant to science.” This allowed me to discuss how problem solving, critical thinking and trial and error are life skills that are applicable to any area. The digital fluency and resilience and increased ability to do more with a range of tools due to more exposure to different tools is invaluable for all subjects. Further, the creative potential of blending digital sculpture with modelling projects in science is potentially a very exciting future discovery.

Engineering Discovery

Some falsely think that discovery learning is hands off and free for students to explore on their own. On the contrary, discovery learning can be engineered to fit the learning outcome, meet the needs of the students in front of you and ignite exciting discussions about the potential of process over product as a focus for meaningful learning design.


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