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Post-playshop Dialog

VI. Post-breakfast Meeting

1. Expressing Ourselves
2. The Teaching and Learning Infinitude
3. Back to the Future: Lessons from Traditional Japanese Culture and History
4. Situated Learning Goes Design: The Possibilities of "Situated Design"
5. Reflections and Insights into the Playful Century

VI. Post-breakfast Meeting
November 30, 1999; 9:30

Good morning! Breakfast in the dining hall proved to be interesting as some people encouraged our foreign guests to try various traditional foods which were new to their palates. There was a sort of sadness in the air as it dawned on us that we would only have several more hours together. We tried to transform this idea into a playful one and began to talk about visiting each other again in the future. After a hearty breakfast and checking out of our rooms, we gathered in "our room" for the last time. There were remnants of the meeting the night before, and it seemed to give us a perspective on how the same thing looked when it was dark outside and now when the sun was pouring into the room. Scattered about, were little treasures of the clay sculptures that people had made the day before and the room was beginning to look like a mini museum.

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1. Expressing Ourselves

Group 1 (?) and Group 2 (!) met with their respective members after breakfast for to summarize their discussion the night before and prepare their thoughts for presentation.

Jogi: The discussion the previous night had been about the politics of learning in Japan. The Playshops provide a methodology of learning that is a playtology. I'd like to make two points that were not explicitly said. First, the previous day's discussion seemed to indicate that the Playshop content was a little too packed and one day was not enough. Second, I liked Sakura's comment that each child has a nature of his or her own. This means that there should be a choice of media to open each child's nature. Playshop II should be flexible in this respect and have performances in smaller groups. When considering what the group desires, it is useful to think of the metaphor of food and ask what the group's appetite is. This is the process of need assessment. Their needs may not be the same as what they explicit state because they may not know their true appetite.

Ruth: Playshop needed more time for silence and reflection to see what one wants. It should be less chaotic with more non-verbal communication like drawing. I also liked the idea of having different "stations" at Playshop.

Yukio: It would be possible to have a series of 12 Playshops with different themes.

Ruth: A one-year commitment is possible, if a master facilitator or master teacher is in charge. It might be possible to certify people as Playshop facilitators and have them carry out their own Playshops.

Hillel: Benesse seems to be interested in education outside school and offering content for the integrative studies class to be offered in the future.

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2. The Teaching and Learning Infinitude

Group 1 began its presentation at 10:15.

Ruth: We'd like to address the questions: who, how long, and what and where the next Playshop should be held. How long should the next Playshop be? Possibilities we considered were one day, two days, or three days.

Hillel: The Playshop could extend over a period of a year. Playshop was a playful beginning so it was now necessary to connect the first and second Playshops.

Jogi: As one images for Playshop II, a core group of trainers could come from teachers or students. I don't know which group would be better, but the point is to think in terms of planting seeds. These people would be potential trainers who give Playshops in the future, not just recipients of training, but also givers. CRN and Mudpie can provide a constant supportive platform. This spiraling, expanding image illustrates my concept. The support could be physical or virtual, using new technologies.

Yoshiro: This expansion can then happen at many levels, for example, the student helpers can then go out, design their own workshops, and come back the following year.

Hillel: Student staff is really essential for the next step. These university students are already working with "master teachers" such as Yoshiro, Nobuyuki, Tsunaga Sensei, etc.

Takeo: Rather than asking the facilitators and students what they thought of Playshop, we should ask them how they would design the activities differently next time.

Ruth: We suggest a library space or a clearinghouse, a resource with an expanding database of images and exercises to provide support for facilitators and develop ideas.

Takeo: This information on Playshop can also be provided on the website.

Jogi: Playshop is not content-driven, but it is about methodology and tools of learning. It is not in conflict with what the state wants to teach; it is about creating an environment of playful learning and presenting an alternative that is more playful.

Ruth: The window of opportunity for introducing this type of process-based learning experience would be the introduction of integrative studies class in 2002 and when school on Saturday is abolished. We considered a collaborative effort between schools, local boards of education, and corporation to envision the politics of education in a new way in order to handle integrative studies and give Saturday back to the students. The free time will exist and the question is what to do with that time.

Milton: I would like to add that in the U.S., this model is called the "training of trainers" or "diffusion of innovation" model and it involves spreading a core idea. But, I have to caution that the network could fall apart without sufficient support. Trainers need a method of constant communication, someone to call, information on the web, etc.

Hillel: There is a media lab project in Costa Rica that relies on what Milton called a "buddy system" and everyone has partners.

Jogi: Yes, the project needs a nurturing environment.

Takeo: And a process whereby people advance as they gain expertise.

Nobuyuki: There are life-long learning centers in the Kansai area that are modeled after small restaurants.

Hillel: I suggest a decentralized model with many little museums and sites.

Ruth: And using the web and hiring performing artists who will help facilitators such as the artists-in-residence program in schools.

Milton: Could community centers or public libraries be used for Playshops in Japan?

Nobuyuki: Perhaps they could be transformed into playful bars.

Ruth: Now, let's return to the question: What should Playshop II be? Our major points were: (1) Playshop I was too packed and future Playshop activities should take place over a number of days; (2) there should be choices of modes or stations for learning so participants can choose the one that suit them; (3) there should be more time for silence and internal expression such as writing and drawing.

Milton: Could it be done in the summer as summer camps? In the United States, summer is not used in a valuable way.

Hillel: Playshop could be held in Naoshima and each pao could offer a different activity.

Nobuyuki: There is a conference in Amsterdam that starts off with small-scale satellite events in different places and then culminates in a large gathering.

Jogi: Playshop could be mobile in this way and part of the platform each year could be a reflection of programs held elsewhere.

Hillel: We should keep in mind the expanding model because playfulness is always in progress.

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3. Back to the Future: Lessons from Traditional Japanese Culture and History

Group 2 (?) then presented a summary of their discussion the night before. Their summary was entitled "Back to the Future: Redefining Learning and School."

Nobuyuki: Our model was the "terakoya" or temple school that was common in the Edo period that lasted 300 years from 1600. The terakoya was learning-based, collaborative, and relied on apprenticeship, mentoring and feedback. There were master teachers and students taught one another. Senior students taught junior students, and students were clustered in different groups. The site itself was mobile and classes freely moved to areas where they felt more comfortable. There was perhaps one book, but no technological learning tools, and the ideas that were generated from reading were applied in living and learning. After this time, about 100 years ago, schools underwent a change to an instruction model. In contrast to the learning-based collaborative terakoya, schools instituted a pipeline structure based on teaching and instruction in which the teacher rearranges and transmit knowledge. However, we would like to go back to the terakoya to redefine and reinvent learning in the future.

Milton: The Zoo School, a high school in Minnesota, is one example of an attempt to redefine learning. Students go to the zoo every day where they work in cubicles on projects with botanists, zoologists, and scientists. There is no difference between school and work or career. It is a school-to career-model and project-based. These students work directly with masters, i.e., scientists. The teacher is an organizer and communicator and the instruction comes out of the material and the projects. This may be similar to a terakoya.

Edith: Nowadays, schools are like industrial conduits. There is increasing pressure on teachers to teach more and more. Students need time to digest, but the only way to do this is to create something. They need another mental space in which they are not consuming something. In the United States, there are cutting-edge projects that use new technology to rethink craft, to return to craft, and to engage children in crafts. In Boulder, Colorado, students learn how to build patterns for origami on the computer. Professor Hatano Giyoo from Japan gave a talk at a conference he attended in Canada one year ago in which he used Noh Theater as a metaphor for collaborative learning and apprenticeship. Everybody prepares for one aspect of the performance and there is no rehearsal. This model comes out of a performing arts context and it can be a better model for collaborative learning than those that emerge from a school context. In that latter context, hands-on and collaboration are touted as important concepts, but they are not grounded in concrete models.

Miya: The pace of life during the Edo period was much slower. With the industrial and technological revolutions, the pace of life has become faster. Japan's educational infrastructure has not changed or evolved with its rising international and economic status. The infrastructure must be reevaluated. The role of the private sector is to aid the government in incorporating change. The point is not to go back to the terakoya, but to incorporate elements of mentoring, collaboration, and apprenticeship in today's learning and to give children a choice.

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4. Situated Learning Goes Design: The Possibilities of "Situated Design"

Edith: This fast pace of living and learning requires a new definition of learning that is an ecological one: finding or inventing for oneself a niche in which it is worthwhile to live. This means collaborating with others to build a niche that is partly natural and mostly artificial. It entails rethinking learning in ecological terms, that is, rethinking what it means to be adapted to one's environment.

Jean Piaget defines intelligence as adaptation, and this is a balance between assimilation or the ability to open up to novelty and incorporate the unfamiliar, and accommodation which is maintaining the maximum of the acquired, i.e., maintaining belief systems that have been viable over time. Maintaining an internal equilibrium and regulating the level of openness becomes a part of the definition of intelligence and this is also going on a cultural level. There are two types of people: (1) assimilators, i.e., people who are open to novelty and incorporate the unfamiliar, (2) accommodators, i.e., people who maintain the maximum of the required, and do not abandon what has worked for them. It is a question of negotiating how much openness you want to change and a balance between tradition and innovation. In assimilation, people incorporate the new in terms of what they know. Things that are odd are rejected and then reassessed. Current experience is not isolated knowledge, but is self-organized as a belief system to form stability. The unfamiliar does not shatter the current belief, but may question parts of it. However, there is a self-organizing principle that restores stability. These two poles of the assimilative and the accommodative can be seen in the way people classify. If they are required to classify insects, for example, people who are more assimilative create order and impose it on the world. They come up with a consistent pattern and rearrange if it does not fit. Accommodative people transform the problem in relation to their own learning style. It becomes an obligation to put the unfamiliar into a category. Balance between the two poles is necessary.

Intelligence is the ability to balance tradition and innovation by stopping and recomposing. At an MIT conference on narrative intelligence with Henry Jenkins, there were historians who were not nostalgic. They went back to forgotten corners of history to envision the future, and the terakoya example can be used in this way.

Sakura: Adding to Miya's comments on appetite, I'd like to say that children use time differently. When they are absorbed in something, one day may feel like an hour. It is important to slow down to digest information, and to slow for something that is important.

Edith: There are a lot of corporate training programs with "tacky talk" about setting boundaries and managing time. Consultants hold boring workshops in which they try to make people aware of stress, tell people to slow down with Zen techniques, and foster dependence on others. In contrast, it is ironic that school continues to use an industrial model.

Nobuyuki: Playshop tries to balance all these elements in an ecological learning model.

Jogi: We should remember that children do not live in isolation. They are prepared for the larger society, and children have a two-way role as "outreach worker" and "inreach agent." They go into schools where they are prepared for society and then come out into society. Schools train children and thereby reformulate society. This two-way role is exemplified in the way immigrant children initiate their parents into society. If, for instance, the body is becoming less animated, this can be linked to the disappearance of certain kinds of toys. If toys are disappearing, the body becomes rigid. Because the body has become rigid, it does not know how to play with toys and fewer toys are made. This vicious cycle is also taking place in schools. We should be more demanding of what we want schools to be since they define us.

Milton: Schools are mirrors of society, but they are run by adults. As a representative of a foundation concerned with education, I'd like to give students more authority and decision-making to shape their schools. In some instances, architects are now incorporating children's design and children are designing their own playgrounds. Involvement of children should be an important ingredient in the future Playshop design. The questions are "what do you want to learn?" And "what is your favorite thing?"

Edith: Yes, children are our clients and we should worry when they become complete refusers.

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5. Reflections and Insights into the Playful Century

Nobuyuki: Now, I'd like to ask the Guest Commentators for their reflections on Playshop.

Milton: I was interested in the reactions of children. Children very quickly got involved and led adults into activities. I learned a lot about structuring groups. It was the first time for me to see children engaged with adults who were not their parents. Interaction with other adults sometimes occurs in kindergarten, but not thereafter. I drop my daughter off at school, but that is the extent of my involvement with her school. It is necessary to bring adults into the classroom so the teacher is not the only adult. In the school-to-career model, adults share their professional expertise and experience in class. There was still not enough playfulness and emphases on the performing arts in the U.S. curriculum. Curriculum is usually narrowly defined as math and science, reading and writing. Creative expression and dance are often left out because people do not see the interconnection between these fields. There should be more of a relationship between these fields. As one example, the visual effects of George Lucas rely on both technology and art and requires knowledge of math and science. A digital artist using motion capture, for instance, must know the physics of motion and draw on art, technology, math and science. I would like to see schools preparing children for these new jobs that did not exist five years ago.

Jogi: At first I was worried that Playshop might be too directed because I see play taking place in between the programmed spaces. Children usually play between programs, in so-called "in-between spaces." But, since the programming of Playshop was minimal, this was not a problem. I felt that 160 people were large. Children and adults participated together in groups and the boundary was the other group. Working in groups was good because people did not feel naked or isolated, but this may require some cultural preparation. The facilitator acted as a trickster to link the audience and play in a precise manner. If this had been a teacher, the role might not have been so successful. I felt that more time was necessary to give people time to cross a threshold. It is possible for participants to extend the threshold when they have been prepared. Participants can cross and then look back to reflect. This is why I favor three days, with each day marked by a certain type of activity depending on what happens to the body. As Sakura mentioned earlier, each child has a nature of his or her own and it is necessary to find the actual elements to which they respond. Day #1 can be used to find these elements and tune them in. There should be a choice. For example, one particular child might not like the male voice. Participants should be given choices so they can explore the methods to which their body awakens. The Playshop designer is a trickster and the trickster is a designer.

I like the word "playful," but "Playshop" would not be a good word in India because it suggests market principles. It would be criticized for reducing intention into a commodity. In India, it would be better to call it "Playspace," that is, an autonomous space that is dictated by its own internal rules. As for evaluations, I favor formative evaluation.

Ruth: Playshop was an affective or emotional experience. My interest is how to awaken the heart and how to create a joyful experience. It seemed that working with hands in some ways opened up the heart. The experience was similar to Village Theater in its ritualized practice. Taking off the shoes was a rite of passage, the crossing of a threshold that signaled to people that something was going to happen. It created intimacy, but also disconcerted some people. Making costumes was also similar to Village Theater. Dividing into small groups put facilitators or guides in the center of each tribe. This quickly decentralized structure. Transformation from nervous to joyful was most important for me. The game, "what are you doing?" was especially effective in opening up the men, in particular. This created a more kinetic, affective reality. I had never experienced an event of this scale, range and gender participation before.

I think Benesse probably has enough data because Playshop was so well recorded. I was surprised the cameras were not upsetting to the participants. There was a seamless quality between media and the self. The participants did not seem self-conscious and the media did not interrupt them. This would not have been the case in the United States where it is necessary to get written and oral permission from each person who is being filmed. People did not mind and it did not interrupt the flow.

We should look at the performance itself. It was a performance, a village theater performance, and a flower that bloomed one day and it cannot be cloned. Playshop itself also seemed to be a rite of passage. Rites of passage are divided into three phases of descent (guided moment), sacrifice (autonomy), and return (normal consciousness). I witnessed this movement in Playshop. It was an escape from consciousness, a large virtual experience, and an experience of common humanity in which all cultural and gender stereotypes fell away.

Edith: We should look into the idea of play and learning when asking ourselves why playfulness and Playshops are necessary. I am interested in the link between play and learning. The importance of play in learning is that play offers transitional spaces, elaboration spaces, spaces between hallucination and reality, oneself and the world. It is a space that allows people to stretch their boundaries. To do this, people need safe places such as a theater. Such a place is a make-believe terrain, a playpen or playscape that signals rites of passage and that the terrain is different from the real world. In virtual spaces, one is supposedly allowed to be vulnerable, but nothing tells one that it is a safe space. I like to think of learning in terms of design, rather than as a hands-on endeavor. Children are designers of their cognitive tools. They build their own tools and props. They are designers of their world. They stage the world around them. The concept of "what if?" is central to design and theater. It is also the seed of logical inquiry. Even when scientists use hypothetical or deductive reasoning, they are really playing a game of "what if?" The concepts of "what is" and "what could be" are always at play in science. What are ingredients of reverie? Scaling down and scaling up, role playing, looking at the world in different perspectives are allowed in the imagination. They are the ingredients of poetic expression, but they are not given enough understanding in complex phenomena. However, the role of reverie should be an object of inquiry so we can rethink how it can be useful in scientific inquiry. Professor Yutaka Saeki (The University of Tokyo) has written a paper entitled "Towards an Anthropological Epistemology." When we try to understand complex phenomena, we use something that he calls kobito (small people) that we project into the world as avatars or prostheses of ourselves. To me, it is not by chance that this idea that comes from Japan. He has taken the idea of personification seriously as a model for more than just an early stage of development.

This concluded the post-breakfast meeting and the Post-Playshop meeting, and the participants adjourned for lunch. Lunch was rather rushed as some of us needed to catch planes back to our countries that day. The rushed spirit, however, seemed to make our farewells a bit easier and we were able to say our good-byes and "see you soons" in a very playful spirit. This was not the end, but merely a beginning of our Dancing Dialogue!

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