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Post-playshop Dialog

V. Post-dinner Meeting

1. Future Playshops: Length and Time Frame
2. A Role in Public Education?
3. What and How?
4. Musings on Museums
5. Tools and Schools

V. Post-dinner Meeting
November 29, 1999, 21:30

What I am proposing, or what I am practicing for myself, is a body of work that is in constant motion. Never "final," never "finished." --Keith Haring

The participants were divided into two groups: Group 1 (Group!) (Ruth, Jogi, Hillel, Takeo, Yoshiro, Yukio, and Satoko) and Group 2 (Group?) (Milton, Edith, Nobuyuki, Kazuyoshi, Miya, Koby, Tomohiro, and Sakura). Miya asked the groups to discuss how they might design Playshop II and what research method they would use.

1. Future Playshops: Length and Time Frame

Jogi: I think Playshop should be three days because I like the concept of threeness.

Takeo: I think two days are good.

Ruth: Yes, I favor two-day Playshops.

Hillel: How about holding future follow-up Playshops one day a month for one year? The group involved in one Playshop could help plan for the next group. But, one year could be a big commitment without a certificate or degree and then there is the question of how to train the trainers. I also think we should move away from the model of perfection. Instead, Playshop could be thought of as an expanding platform centered around CRN.

Ruth: First of all, who is the target audience? Is it the general population or parents and children? Who is the most important right now? Who should have these skills?

Hillel: I wonder if it is necessary to rely on expertise.

Ruth: It is useful to have a teacher come to give some techniques and this provides the freedom to work within the technique.

Jogi: University students could become trainers who prepare the fields to sow seeds within a time frame of three years.

Takeo: I have doubts about that model.

Ruth: Did people pay a fee to participate in Playshop?

Hillel: No, participation was free. But, people in the U.S. tend to value an experience more if they are charged.

Yukio: The number of participants was dictated by the space, but no one was turned away. Originally, Benesse planned for 100 people, but 180 people actually showed up. Participants came from Benesse's mailing list, neighborhood children, and direct mail. Would it be possible to expand Playshop in Tokyo, throughout Japan, to the U.S., and then internationally?

Takeo: That depends on the definition of success, that is, whether success should be defined in terms of content or commercial results.

Yukio: Benesse spent 20,000,000 yen to put on this Playshop, so we would have to think about success in commercial terms if we were going to expand.

Ruth: Playshop will have to have some long-range impact if Benesse is ready to spend that amount on a one-day event.

Hillel: It is better to think local first rather than about worldwide applications.

Takeo: TV coverage could be a possibility.

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2. A Role in Public Education?

Ruth: Yukio, where do you see the value of Playshop in Japanese society?

Yukio: Benesse first thought of Playshop as a program for adults, and second, as potential content for a new class called integrative studies in public schools that will be added to the elementary and junior high school curriculum. The content of this class time will not be dictated by the Ministry of Education, but will be left to the discretion of each school. We feel that Playshop could be conducted during this class time. Is anything like this taking place in the United States?

Ruth: Milton mentioned the idea of project-based learning from preschool to high school in the arts and sciences, but parental involvement is unusual after elementary school.

Jogi: There is an impulse to reinvent the community, to take ownership back, to improve values and reclaim the community.

Yukio: Our efforts would focus on teachers and children and how to integrate schools, parents, teachers, and children, bringing them together to make a better educational system.

Ruth: This integrative idea is already in evidence in the workplace in the United States because schools can be very isolated in the community. An example of this is "Bring your Daughter to Work Day."

Yukio: Could Playshops be held in the U.S.?

Ruth: It could easily travel. It would require a visual artist, someone like Takeo, and a nice van to go from town to town, school to school.

Takeo: A mobile Playshop could be viable.

Yukio: The Ministry of Education would like to bring schools and the community together and introduce outside professionals, like Takeo, and also work with corporations to revitalize the community and educational system.

Ruth: This idea of integrative studies is used in arts education in the United States.

Jogi: It is important to remember that art schools tend to have interesting educational ideas, but often these ideas are only meant for art students and rarely affect other subjects, but everybody needs to be reawakened, not just art students. Students in the arts department are often allowed to do what they want while other students have to study under the conventional curriculum. But, Playshop should be for everyone.

Hillel: How can we make the visual artist central but not central in a dominating way?

Ruth: In the United States, some schools have an Artist-in-Residence program. This person is a poet, visual or movement artist who is on the school staff.

Yukio: There are three possibilities for continuing such workshops in the future. Workshops could be handled by (1) schools, (2) educational committees and the local board of education in the community, or (3) private companies like Benesse that would charge a fee.

Takeo: Prep schools might be another possibility as well as camps.

Ruth: Why does Benesse want to spend money on Playshops?

Yukio: For research and development. Playshop is an investment for Benesse and playful learning is part of Benesse's corporate mission because Japanese education is so unplayful.

Ruth: Playshop could grow out of a collective of the three organizations mentioned above. If the facilitators (university students) have access to the Internet, one possibility is posting a monthly menu of Playshop ideas on the Internet. A group of ten to fifteen parents might be necessary. The question is how to keep the parents interested? There could be an inspiration page on the Internet.

Yukio: Actually, we were thinking of McDonald's as a kind of model. In other words, would it be possible to start up Playshops all over Japan?

Ruth: I think it is possible.

Hillel: Starbucks was another model.

Jogi: You could build up CRN as a brand.

Ruth: I liked the fact that Playshop was free of popular culture. I'd like to know the purpose of popularizing Playshop.

Yukio: There were about 100 participants at this Playshop. The ultimate goal is to change the educational system of Japan and so it would be necessary to influence more people.

Ruth: The Internet would be a valuable tool.

Yukio: Do you think the Playshop idea can be universal? Could it be transplanted in China, the U.S., and India?

Ruth: Museums in the United States offer similar one-day workshops.

Yukio: Are they commercially successful?

Ruth: Yes, and spiritually successful, too, but museums are not trying to change the educational system. Yukio seems to have a larger goal in mind.

Hillel: Yukio, are you referring to changing Japanese culture on a deep level or just changing it superficially?

Yukio: I'm not really sure about that.

Ruth: What is the integrative studies class?

Yukio: It is a class that is scheduled to begin as part of the public school curriculum in 2002. Now students have every other Saturday off, but in the future, students will have all Saturdays off. Some people think this will lead to a decline in scholastic ability.

Ruth: Are teachers trained to do integrative studies?

Yukio: Some are and some aren't.

Hillel: Teachers are hungry to be told what to do and it is important to follow the interest of the children. In integrative studies, the classes should cater to the interest of children and the theme or content of the class will be flexible and open to suggestion.

Ruth: Then this could provide Benesse with a clear window into the system.

Jogi: To me, it would be possible to teach anything as long as it is done playfully, in other words, the class is defined by the method rather than the content. The content is theme-based and the school can choose the actual content; it is not dictated by the Ministry.

Yukio: But, teachers are not accustomed to teaching in this manner, that is, choosing their own content.

Ruth: Then it would be good to do a Playshop with the teachers.

Hillel: Initially, teachers were the target audience, but they did not seem to understand the importance of Playshop. Also, teachers are not paid to take part in workshops on their day off.

Yukio: This might change in the future.

Jogi: Rather than a single approach, it would be good to rely on communication between people or facilitators.

Yukio: There would be variations of Playshop as it expands, but I would like to come up with something like an operating system for it since the basic system is important, but this should be based on a playful approach. Do you think Playshop II should have a different activity or offer pantomime as a constant feature?

Takeo: There are different types of mime. The Kanjiyama troupe talks a lot, but most mimes are not good at dealing with audiences.

Ruth: There would be many resources in art education.

Jogi: I would be interested in Mudpie's input.

Ruth: It would also be good to consider a permanent space or design, like a discovery museum or museum that could be an act in progress.

Jogi: Teachers could be facilitators and distribute Playshop ideas in school. Several people said they would go home and play with their friends. This reminds me that IBM has a counting museum with artifacts and items related to counting. Companies like IBM use these museums to enhance their own value. Benesse could use playful learning to position itself as a brand name.

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3. What and How?

Miya: Our goal is to have another Playshop and I would like to discuss the next step in that direction. How would you design the activities of the next Playshop? The relationship between play and learning is important for each individual on a personal level and for others because it contains the power to change society through the educational system. Important elements in a playshop are place, format, audience and purpose. An another question is how should improvisation be guided?

Milton: Having another Playshop would be the most effective step although it is the most obvious and easiest, but I wonder if it would have the most impact. What about making a book or website on play and imagination to let know people know the importance of play, its link to learning, and its transformative power? Education is so bound by tradition, but now it is at a turning point. What effect can Playshop have?

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4. Musings on Museums

Satoko: Where would Playshop II be held? Would the same people be invited back or would new people be asked to participate? What season would be best?

Nobuyuki: I would like to develop guided improvisation for Playshop II. Are there any concrete ideas on how to implement guided improvisation?

Edith: I am puzzled about the connection between play and learning. For the time being, I'd like to use the phrase "activities design" instead of "Playshop" to consider whether the powerful techniques of Playshop can be applied in other domains such as environmental and scientific inquiry. For example, this could involve children engaged in examining certain issues in a non-canonical manner through enactments and service-oriented projects with sets of mindful activities. We should broaden the discussion from Playshop II and think about activities that try to make sharper connections between learning and playful. I am involved in a project called "Children in Time and Space" in Europe. It creates environments using new technologies in which children can learn about navigation in space, representation of space, how to plot graphs, etc. Milton mentioned the examples of the Exploratorium and the Boston Museum of Science. I'd like to think about how Playshop is different from hands-on activity. Perhaps the notion of guided improvisation becomes useful. It provides a way of bringing together hands-on activities, guided rituals, and contemplation in ways that are slightly different from the typical science museum. How about taking a theme that is the successful in the science museum context and addressing it with the techniques that were in play in Playshop?

Milton: There is the activity of building a bridge with blocks and toothpicks. This requires math and science, and children quickly begin discussing physics and scientific questions in a playful manner. To any activity, there must be a challenge.

Satoko: Hands-on projects are found in art museums but in my understanding, Playshop was different so I am a little confused. What is the difference between Playshop and museum programs? Playshop had a combination of activities, not one activity.

Edith: The activity of bridge-building might be too specific. City building would be more poetic. It would allow more open-endedness. It could hold both scientific and imaginative elements.

Sakura: Playshop is asking "what is playful?" Playful is not specific and does not have an objective. Bridge-building is clear-cut and hands-on activities have specific objectives. Playfulness can be applied to anything.

Koby: Teaching activities in Japan do not incorporate the concept of playfulness. We need Playshops for each subject.

Milton: Yes, playfulness is an attitude.

Miya: Do you want to see how Playshop can be applied in real life to the classroom or school curriculum or do you want to find a new or a different way to encourage playfulness in the classroom?

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5. Tools and Schools

Satoko: I'd like to ask Milton about the video, "Learn and Live." Was the purpose to change public education or was it for museums?

Milton: The foundation believes that schools need to change and it is interested in unconventional schools. For example, at the Zoo School in Minnesota, students do not sit in classrooms, but work at the zoo with botanists and scientists. Learning is project-based. They do research as young apprentice scientists. "Charter schools" are a new movement in the U.S.

Koby: When did the Zoo School start? A program for an integrated studies class will be instituted in Japanese schools in the future.

Milton: The Zoo School is in its third year. There is another school in North Carolina that is attached to a museum. We need new models of schooling.

Nobuyuki: School is an invention of the last 100 years, but contemporary needs are different.

Milton: Public education is only 50 to 70 years old.

Nobuyuki: During the Edo period in Japan, we had terakoya schools or temple schools. These schools were learning-centered or learning-oriented and students developed their own curriculum. Older students taught the younger ones. Terakoya schools had few lectures. Students did different things and worked on appropriating what they learned. Students could call on the master teacher for help when necessary. After the Edo period, Western style schooling or instructionism was introduced. This relied on structuring, design, and transmission of knowledge by a teacher. For the 21st century, we should integrate the terakoya style learning and Western-style learning. We don't want to go back to the Edo period when knowledge was limited and there were only textbooks. There was no information from the Internet or from outside.

Edith: People tend to think that knowledge is information and this is a gross mistake so it is good to take the opposite extreme when there is such a sheer abundance of knowledge. The terakoya model can be one way of going back to shared knowledge. In-depth investigation, using one's own experience, to understand complex problems at a mind-size level is more important, and if one can do this at the micro level, one hopes it can also be achieved at a larger level. Justifying models on the basis of sheer volume of information nowadays is nonsense because the human mind simply cannot digest it all. How about reinventing the terakoya, not going back to it?

Koby: Japan is an exception in that it is the only non-Western country to catch up with Western technology. When the Meiji Emperor introduced Western education into Japan, it was introduced on top the existing infrastructure of the terakoya school.

Edith: I had a colleague who had studied karate under a Japanese master. He felt that the way he had learned karate was much more effective than the athletic approach in Canada. We studied tapes of karate classes and collaborated on a paper. It is interesting the people in the West are becoming interested in the richness of this style of learning. I hope that Japanese people will use the models they already have in the way that the terakoya enabled Japanese to assimilate Western learning. Teachers in teacher training are told not to try to gain time, but to lose it. This is the most important thing in education and the key to playfulness. The point is to put your mind to something and allow yourself to get absorbed without being conscious of the time. This approach is used in the arts. Slow down the process!

Nobuyuki: There is too much to memorize in school. Children have no time to appropriate.

Milton: Yes, this is called the "remembering curriculum." The Playshop created a flow situation and gave participants time to reflect. People got involved, they entered the flow, and then they reflected.

Edith: There are now CD virtual museums, but they do not allow one to create a narrative or tell a story of their experience. After we have been to a museum, we go to the museum shop and buy postcards. This is a way of telling yourself a narrative of the experience and remembering it. The CD-ROMs do not have a place to allow users to pick out and rearrange the instances of their experience. There is no assimilation if there is not a productive process. In this sense, the issue is not simply of one reflection. In the same way, reading is not the same mental activity as writing. This means that slowing down should not be indiscriminate. Nowadays, children do not engage in symbolic activities because it takes too much time.

It was a long day and after a few hours of interesting ideas and thoughts being tossed back and forth, we decided to call it a day and turned in for the evening.

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