(This article was originally taken from the 'Design(ology)' page on Facebook by Irfan Darian)
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My fundamental premise in using Playdoh comes from the basic idea of introductory mathematics, that numbers should be introduced to our early learners through the process of C-P-A, or Concrete, Pictorial,and finally followed by Abstract.
The idea came about as I realise that most students in secondary school do find it hard to firstly, conceptualise an idea, and secondly to sketch them out decently on a piece of paper. This is further compounded by the 'fear' of doing something wrong, or of sketching something ugly, especially in an environment where peer pressure and conformity to an 'acceptable' standards within the classroom is predominant, whether overtly or otherwise.
The use of Playdoh as a malleable, reusable, green and a media that offers 'depth' is something that is not really new, but I do find it refreshing to be using it in a secondary school classroom. I guess the greatest irony is that I am using a toy that is low-tech, and perhaps something that is more of a toy for the younger children, to teach them about higher-level concepts to a more mature group of students!
The use of Playdoh also had its added benefits, such as offering that degree of comfort to its users, especially in the lessons that I am conducting. Ideation in itself is sometimes rather hard to quantify, and even teach, properly. Yes, what a teacher can do is to teach about the tools and methodologies that can be used for ideation, but how then can we leave the students to 'quantify and qualify'...for lack of a better term, their ideas? Isn't this self-guided learning and assessment? This is where Playdoh fulfills that missing 'gap' that I thought is missing in a normal atypical way of applying what have been taught about ideation.
Playdoh also offers that ability to make students see and 'realise' their ideas beyond just the 2 dimensions. That added depth gives students that added need to consider even more when they come out with their designs, and these were very apparent when I conducted such lessons. I do find them working in greater details on their designs, as opposed to lessons in which only pencil and paper were involved. I guess that added depth that Playdoh offers do add that level of criticality in their thinking, which sometimes, is missing from their paper-based sketches, or worse still, missing from their thinking entirely!
I presume there would be more observations and findings that I would need to uncover in my research. But in as much as I am excited about using Playdoh, I also realise some of its limitations too. Needing some degree of scaffolding and logistics, the generation of additional noises, the management of the classroom, especially when you have more mischievious boys...all this are potential and real situations that do and did crop up while I was conducting such a lesson, regardless of whether it was done in a good, or a neighbourhood school. I guess some things just never change! :D
Nonetheless, I do find it refreshing and indeed from the anecdotal feedback, and based on the quality of the works and the reactions elicited from the students, I do think that the students had really a good time during the Playdoh-based lessons. And more importantly, they had managed to apply a certain degree of criticality in their thinking, as well as work a little more towards improving their sketchworks.