Chapter 7 • Playing

Have you been feeling a bit sluggish?


Maybe what you need is some brain pumping action!



Playing is something that we do just “for the fun of it.” Simply put, “play” is using knowledge, body,
mind and abilities for the pure enjoyment of using them. Imaginative or innovative people play withthings or concepts or processes, they may open doors to new ways of thinking via unexpectedbreakthroughs.
Play by its multimodal, open-ended nature expands the manner in which we deal with concepts and ideas, leading to transformational ways of thinking. Creative people in different disciplines all speak to the value of play. They play with distinctions, boundaries, unassailable truths the limits of utility and it is through this play that they also transform. They transform both themselves and the object of play. We call this deep-play to distinguish it from everyday play, which can often be quite superficial.
Deep play in contrast is creative, seeking to construct new ways of being in the world.

  • Play takes us back to using gut feelings, emotions, intuitions and fun to make us not only players in a discipline, but also makes us inventors (pg.267). Play provides us a risk free environment from being right or being wrong, and allows us to have a fresh prospective. Play also provides understanding and knowledge by allowing learners to create new worlds, personalities, games and rules (pg.268).

Futurama - Leela Driving Fry on Scooter
Futurama - Leela Driving Fry on Scooter

Why should we change teaching to involve play?

  • The power of transformational thinking is that it can reveal meta-patterns connecting music, genes, telegraphy, poetry, and math or any other set of disciplines. [280]

People who have taught us how to play...


Alexander Flemming
Konrad Lorenz
Max Delbruck
Stephen Miller
Richard Feynman
external image SMiller1863.jpg

Inventors and Engineers:

Jerome Lemelson
Lonnie Johnson
Elmer Sperry
Alexender Calder
Buckminster Fuller


Jean Piaget
Roger Penrose
L.S. Penrose


Georgia O'Keefe
M.C. Escher
Kenneth Snelson

Author/ Illustrators:

H.G. Wells
Edward Lear
Charles Dodgson
(Lewis Carroll)
Joost Elffers


Charles Ives
Aleksandr Borodin
Johann Sebastian Bach
Wolfgang Mozart

Talkin' about ... playtime

  • “There are, of course, many rules to this play…but when you have acquired knowledge and experience it is very pleasant to break the rules and to be able to find something nobody had though of.” [247]

J.R.R. Tolkien's ability to "break the rules" and play with language spurred his invention of the Elvish language "Quenya". Many people still learn this language for fun. Here is a video of some Elvish quotes being spoken in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

  • …”principle of limited sloppiness”: be sloppy enough that something unexpected may happen but not so sloppy that you can’t tell what it was. For Fleming, bacterial play was a way of courting serendipity, that uncanny knack of finding valuable things not sought for. [247]
Here are some examples of Alexander Fleming's microbe paintings on agar plates. (Click here to view more microbe painting galleries.)

  • Play is simply for the fun of it, the enjoyment of doing and making without responsibility. There is no success or failure in play, no holding to account, no mandatory achievement. Play breaks the rules of serious activity and establishes its won. Play is frivolous, wandering according to the whims of curiosity and interest. It involves what anthropologist Stephen Miller has called “galumphing” – awkward, exaggerated, even subversive action and the deliberate complication or elaboration of activity for its own sake, whether this involves body movements, hand-held objects, symbolically expressed ideas, golf, or microbes. However to say the play has no inherent goal does not mean that its results cannot afterward be put to good purposes beyond motivating enjoyment. [248]

  • ...practice play can exercise and develop any thinking tool by enhancing skill through practice. [248]

M. C. Escher learned to better recognize by finding images in wallpaper("Practice play" by trying to find the hidden images in the pictures linked here .)

  • play fosters tools such as analogizing, modeling, play-acting, and empathizing by invoking a make-believe world where one thing stand for . [249]
symbolic_play5.jpgsymbolic_play2_CT.jpg symbolic_play4_CT.jpg

  • …game playing teaches the making of rules within externally bounded situations that define how we may behave or think, as well as the breaking of those rules. [249]

It is an essential element for the growth of human learning to begin with small play, to nuture it with added elements, and to challenge the growth of thought using imitation. The concepts of play are akin to the growth of the child.

  • “The sense of play is the essence of inventive activity. Invention begins in the joyful, free association of the mind.” [250]


Example: Alexander Calder's model of a circus

  • The art of invention and the invention of art really do find common ground in playing…[255]

  • Playing with distinctions, boundaries, unassailable truths, and the limits of utility is, in fact, what many of the most innovative people in all disciplines do. When the rules of grammar are systematically broken, logic overturned, or perceptions puzzled, we know that a “game’s afoot” and something interesting will happen. [255]


  • …the dictionary is not the limit of possible words and…existing words need not limit the nature of thought, as Immanuel Kant once suggested. We can think cannot be said, and we can invent new ways of saying previously unsayable things – if we do it as a game. [256]

Plus, if you play your cards right, you can win the Nobel Peace Prize!

Check it out here --> Science Play

  • We have said that Lear’s verbal nonsense, Carroll’s’ conundrums, Escher’s perceptual puzzles, and Penrose’s aperiodic tilings challenge our conceptions of nature and reality. But, as play of the most creative sort, they do more than that. The games they invented have practical applications. [258]

  • The power of play is that it reveals the nature of worlds that might be and sometimes are, testing the limits of conventional practice by inventing alternatives. [260]

Role Playing is another way students learn the content of the lessons.Role playing allows students to put themselves in the shoes of others, or to look at a subject or issue from a different viewpoint. For example, role playing can be used to help teach history by allowing students to play a role or a person or country in a game to help them understand better the situations before and after an important event in history.

  • There is more to the study of piano or violin than just reproducing tones, and more to making music than musical conventions or contemporary taste might suggest. By the same token, there may be more to playing with music than musical play. [261]

  • Apparently, the idea of serious musicians having fun – and helping nonmusicians have fun with music, too – was beyond their [music critics] comprehension. [262]

  • Many of the pattern games that can be played with words and notes can be played with images and structures, too, once again demonstrating that games can reveal general principles applicable to a wide range of creative and natural phenomena. [264]

  • The only difficulty with playing – and it’s a big one – is being able to remain enough of a child to do it. [265]
Willy_Wonka.jpg factory2.jpg
Willy Wonka: [to Charlie] I can't go on forever, and I really don't want to try. So who can I trust to run the factory when I leave and take care of the Oompa Loopa's for me? Not a grown up. A grown up would want to do everything his own way, not mine. So that's why I decided a long time ago that I had to find a child. A very honest, loving child, to whom I could tell all my most precious candy making secrets.

  • The discovery and interpretation of the Laetoli footprints illustrates one of the most important aspects of creative imagination. Leakey and her team played, observed, recognized patterns, and anomalies, engaged in dimensional thinking, imagined body movements, playacted, formed patterns, analogized, and modeled, ultimately transforming the fossil abstractions into kinesthetic, visual, and empathetic images of the hominids who left their footprints at Laetoli. [272-273]

If you would like to play with Lucy at, click here.
Clearly, no single tool for thinking would have sufficed. Creative work in the real world requires the ability to define a problem using one set of tools, to investigate it using others, and to express the solution using yet a third set.

  • We call the serial or simultaneous use of multiple imaginative tools in such a way that one (set of) tools(s) acts upon another (set) transforming or transformational . [273]

  • This thinking tool is really no more sophisticated than any of the others we have discussed. Most of us probably engage in a little transforming every day. If you have ever use a mnemonic device to try to remember something, you’ve engaged in transformation. [277]
If you have ever used "ROY G BIV" to remember the colors of the rainbow, you have participated in transformation.Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

Click here to view some of the top mnemonic devices used in education.

  • “Persons who are imaginative almost invariably think of numerals in some form of visual imagery.” [278]

  • Such transformations can be commutative, too. That is to say, if A can be transformed into B, then B can be transformed back into A. [283]

Here are just a handful of many online challenging games that involve play, creative and transformational thinking:

  • It is impossible to open a newspaper or magazine or watch a news report without being bombarded with transformed data. [283]

  • The transformation of numerical data into information observed aurally produced a significant and useful increase in pattern discrimination. [284]

  • …by transforming genetic sequences into music they can hear similar sequences faster than when they scan for them visually. What’s more, the ears can observe complexity that the eyes cannot. Eyes can follow only a single line, one pattern at a time. When we listen to musical ensemble, however, we hear each individual instrument even as we hear the harmony that results from their interaction. [285]

  • The more unexpected the transformation, the greater the likelihood that a surprising insight will result. [285]
Liz Lerman found a way to transform physics into dance in The Matter of Origins.

  • Music can be heard only unidirectionaly through time, but visual polyphony can be scanned in any direction or combination of directions and at any rate, thereby creating relationships that do not exist in music. [288]

Artists such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky helped us to be able to see music and hear art. They were torn between the visual and auditory and found a way to combine them both that brought about amazing discoveries in both art and music as they made transformations back and forth between the two.

  • Because transformations of emotions, ideas, and data are not absolutely equivalent, the transformational process can yield unexpected discoveries…[288]

  • Because transforming involves any combination of imaginative tools and disciplinary expressions, any exercise that fosters their interaction can be beneficial. [289]

Combining art, , math, language arts, humanities, technology, etc. together to get studentsthinking about topics and content as a whole, teaches them to see the big picture rather than just pieces and parts that they fail to see any relationship between. Transforming is an important thinkingskill for teachers (and their students) in order to make these kinds of combinations possible. One great example to follow that requires this type of holistic thinking comes from the creative educationalprogram Odyssey of the Mind. Click on the link below to view an informative video about this international program.


  • Although many transformational exercises are naturally collaborative, some can be quite personal, relying upon paying attention to one’s synthetic experience of the world. [291]

  • Each representation – verbal, visual, graphic, and matrix – is logically equivalent, but each transformation makes possible a way of solving the problem that is amenable to different tools and different minds. [295]

Optimus prime examples...

  • Play returns us to the presymbolic drives of gut feelings, emotions, intuition, and fun from which creative insights stem, thereby making us inventors. When rule-bound work does not yield the insights or results we want to achieve, when conventional thought, behavior, and disciplinary knowledge become barriers to our goals, play provides a fun and risk-free means of seeing from a fresh perspective, learning without constraint, exploring without fear. Play transforms knowledge and builds understanding as we create our own worlds, personas, games, rules, toys, and puzzles – and through them new sciences and new arts. [268]

As teachers we can learn to "play" with the content we teach in order to create an environment for our students that is not only more fun, but also engaging and meaningful. Our goal is to make the learned material really stick by putting it into a form that students will want to hold on to. Below is an example of how a Language Arts teacher made a lesson in figurative language more playful.

Lesson Plan Example involving Play

  • lemonade_stand_game.JPG"Word games, board games, musical games, visual games, puzzles, toys, and almost any other intellectual amusement imaginable all develop some skill, knowledge, or concept that can be turned into good account...and often in more than one discipline or endeavor." [265] Teaching and learning while playing reduces the pressures to be perfect. Inherently, understanding takes place through enjoyment. Lots of wonderful and useful skills come into play when utilizing this teaching strategy. For example... When teaching students about charts and data, I make use of a virtual reality game on the Internet called the Lemonade Stand Game. It can be found at I have students play the game a couple of times to get comfortable with its purpose and objective to run a good standing business as well as to develop strategies to be successful. The power of play is that it reveals the nature of worlds that might be and sometimes are, testing the limits of conventional practice by inventing alternatives. [260] Then, I have the students pair up with a partner. Between the two students, they are each to play the game and record data (i.e.: Daily purchases of inventory - cups, ice, lemons, and sugar; as well as the selling price, weather conditions, expenses and profit) interchangebly. Since each student plays their own game, they are then both to enter the data into their own separate Excel workbooks. From there, the students create charts by manipulating the data with mathematical equations. After all the instructed charts are created, the partners prepare a presentation in Power Point to reflect their game (business outcome). Charts are used to help explain how and why they spent their money as well as to illustrate any downfalls. The presentation ends with an explanation regarding what they would do if they could play the game a third time. The point here is that different transformations of an idea or a set of data will have different characteristics and uses. [285] Because transformations of emotions, ideas, and data are not absolutely equivalent, the transformational process can yield unexpected discoveries…[288] This employs their cooperation of strategies on what worked and what did not as well as critical thinking.

Skill bill...
A menu of helpful techniques for skill building.

The techniques used in the Lemonade Stand game to build skills include: partnership (cooperation), Internet responsibility (virtual reality game), developing strategies for the success of the game (critical thinking), recording and entering the data (reinforcing math and chart creation), designing charts (transforming information) as well as creativity (Power Point presentation).

And in conclusion, may I say....

Drawing conclusions -- from both sides of the brain, a summary of sorts.

Through the Lemonade Stand game example of playing, students utilize their creativity and discovery skills. It also develops into an example of how students can be critical of their own work. All in all, this activity touches on so many areas of learning that are inherent in the development of strategies, visual aspects and exploration through technology.

Here are some other great thoughts that will make you question why you are not playing more often...from what we have posted here, the worst that could happen is that you expand your understanding and creativity and enjoyment and knowledge and...

Well, just read the quotes already cause playtime awaits!

  • "The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."

Eden Phillpotts

  • "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

Albert Einstein

  • "It is a happy talent to know how to play."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • "There's a good case to be made that having fun is a key evolutionary advantage right next to opposable thumbs in terms of importance. Without that little chemical twist in our brains that makes us enjoy learning new things, we might be more like the sharks and ants of the world."

Ralph Koster

  • "It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them."

Leo F. Buscaglia

  • "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

George Bernard Shaw

  • "My work is a game, a very serious game."

M.C. Escher