On Leading a Playful Life: An Interview with Bernie De Koven, Part 2 of 2

Child-1Recently, on the occasion of Bernie De Koven publishing A Playful Path (a book about, in part, how we can bring out the play throughout all aspects of our life) I contacted Bernie to talk about play and museums and, well, all sorts of stuff. (This is the second half of the interview; the first can be read here).

At a certain point towards the end of your book you talk about learning by playing with something, which I think of as play as pedagogy. You know, we use play all the time in our type of work with young people, as an icebreaker to get them to know each other, to get warmed up and adjust from going from sitting in a classroom to getting to be in a more informal learning environment. We also use games, which might offer a playful way to connect with content. But neither is play as pedagogy, which in your book I read as learning by playing with something, and what play affords for learning.

So when you talk about our use of Minecraft to teach science I think what you are noticing is precisely that. We are trying to bring playfulness into the learning experience because of how it can connect youth with each other, with us adults in the room, and with what’s inherently exciting and interesting about the science content we are trying to introduce to them.

Every area of inquiry that we engage in comes from the fact that we enjoy playing with that particular thing. Why do people become paleontologists? Because of the puzzle of it, and the reasoning that goes on. It’s just so much fun for them. As an educator, it’s not like you are trying to make paleontology fun, it’s that you are trying to bring the fun to the surface so it’s more perceptible.

When I wrote The Well-Played Game, the idea was that even in the most competitive games there are, in the most professional games that you can imagine, there is such a thing that transcends the score of the game: the quality of the game. Bill Russell, the Captain of the Boston Celtics, wrote a book called Second Wind, Memories of an Opinionated Man. In the book he talks about that experience. They were playing another team and it was for the trophy (that’s what you play for in basketball, a trophy, right? or some kind of big thing that everybody wants to have but only you can have it if you are good enough? And they were playing one of those games).

His team was just playing brilliantly but they were up by like 30 points, and right in the middle of that he felt, like, “Wow, I wish those other guys were playing better, because it’s just not fun. It’s not a good game. I know we are playing well, but we are not really playing well together.  We are getting sloppy. When we really are playing well, man, we would become like supernatural beings. Not only are we playing well when the other team is playing well, but even the fans can feel it.  We are all at a different level of consciousness, because we are playing so well together.” The reason why I wrote The Well-Played Game is because we tend to believe that only the best players can every experience that kind of thing.

Well, the fact is anybody can experience it if they are able to adjust the game to the level of their skill, rather than to try to adjust their skill to the level of the game, which they can’t because they haven’t devoted 40 years of doing nothing but playing that game professionally. But they can make it easier. They can make it more doable. They can find a way to play it, so it’s fun. And that’s the point of The Well-Played Game and that’s the same point here in The Playful Path: if you are focusing on creating something where you can play, it gives you access to the fun that’s inherent in being alive, in having a mind and being with other people, and that becomes a path into the very core of what makes you alive, of what makes you human, of joy.

That’s what I wrote about that book for.

What does a Playful Path look like in a museum?

Continue reading

Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment

Kind of (not) a Paleo Class: Interview with youth co-developers of Pterosaurs The Card Game

Ricardo Mutuberria, from the Museum’s Global Business Development, sat down during the press briefing for our current special exhibit – Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs – with a few of the #scienceFTW youth participants to learn a bit about their experience in the program developing Pterosaurs: The Card Game. It went a little something like this:

What is your name and age?

Katie: Hey, I’m Katie and I am 14 years old.

David: I’m David. I’m 16 years old.

John: I’m John and I’m also 16 years old.

How did you hear about the program, #scienceFTW?

Katie: Generally I got involved in the museum because…it’s kind of unavoidable when you live on the upper west side. And I’ve been involved in the museum since I was a little kid and so I was on the email list when I got an email for something called “science for the win”, and I thought, “The name of the class is a hashtag. I gotta just give it a chance.”

John: When we were young, really children, like three years old, we got accepted into the Science and Nature Program for the museum, which allows younger children to get involved in science. And from there, because the museum really is very helpful to younger children and getting involved, we started to look around into more of the programs.

How did you learn how to make a card game of your own?

Katie: The way it started was, it was just a class where we would play games about science, with scientists. And then we would critique the game–we would critique the content to see if it was fun. We played some really bad games at first, and then they got slowly better. They were all just games that our teachers found for us. In the first couple of classes, those were just playing science card games with scientists, which I thought was very cool. And then halfway through we stopped critiquing games and instead used what we had learned about what makes a good science game and turned it into…this: Pterosaurs: The Card Game.

What was one of the best things you learned in this program?

Continue reading

Posted in From My Work, Interviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

On Leading a Playful Life: An Interview with Bernie De Koven, Part 1 of 2

Bernie De Koven changed my life, before I even knew his name. Growing up with earth balls, and parachute games, and other awesome camp and gym activities were all an outgrowth of his impact through the 1970′s New Games Movement. In the ’90s their two classic books (New Games & More New Games) became a go-to bible for youth development professionals seeking ice breakers and warm-up activities. Jane McGonigal, in her book Reality is Broken, called the New Games movement a game revolution, and cited Bernie’s essay’s in the first book as her favorite. In the introduction to the recent reprint of his 1978 The Well-Played Game, indie game designer and game guru Eric Zimmerman has called Bernie “the closest thing we have to a shaman of play,” and alluded to the impact his work has had on a generation of game designers. 

Recently, on the occasion of Bernie publishing A Playful Path (a book about, in part, how we can bring out the play throughout all aspects of our life) I contacted him about doing an interview. Situated in his comfortable chair, in a room of cloud-painted walls, we had some fun. This is the first part of this two-part interview, and I will sprinkle it throughout with video clips so you can see and hear Bernie in all his glory.

Bernie: You like my clouds, in my background?

Barry: I love it.  Tell me more about your clouds.

We decided to paint the walls, and Rocky said, “Oh, let’s make a cloud” and that’s where I do all my readings for my blog from my book A Playful Path. So – hey - A Playful Path… I have so far sold 174 copies and I have had 30,000 downloads.

Wow. So, it’s available for free? That’s what you are telling me?


Is there an option for those who download it to make contributions?

No. No, it’s just, just there. I mean, it’s very pretty – I like the paperback version, that’s really beautiful – but me, you know, I just wanted those ideas in people’s hands. That’s all I really cared about, that was the whole purpose of this.

I was thinking about legacy, you know? That happens when you reach about 72 and a half.

Before we talk more about the book and we jump into it, I thought maybe we could play a game?

A game.

There are some wonderful games you talk about in your book, A Playful Path, that are word games.

Well as a matter of fact I do talk about word games in the book, yes. Give me a moment while I refresh my mind.

Whatever you would like.

Well, well. Listen. Since it’s you and me doing this, I would like to do the Out Blessing Game.


Because of our shared ethnic predilection [AKA, we’re both Jewish], we understand about blessings. You remember how to play the Out Blessing Game?

For the benefit of those who have not yet read it…

Oh, I am so sorry for them. They can download it for free now – just go to aplayfulpath.com.

So can you remind us how to play?

Yes. It’s a competitive game and I will start by blessing you with something. You might say something like, “May the fruits of your labor never spoil.”

That is a lovely thought; that’s like a blessing. And then I might respond by saying, “And may they all be delicious.”

And then you might respond by saying, “And may they always be ripe.”

And then I might say, “Yes, and may they be available in your local supermarkets.”

And then you respond by saying, “On sale!”

You see, each blessing being more out blessing until you feel so blessed you are speechless with gratitude and blessingnesshood. (Actually, I am now calling this the Endless Blessings game. More poetic and soulful, don’t you think? Making it more in line with the gentler kind of connection that I want people to experience.)

Sounds good. So who begins? You or me?

Well, I would suggest that you begin.

Well, since this is the beginning of an interview with you, Bernie, about your books and your ideas, and you started by speaking to me about legacies, let me begin by saying: Bernie, may all of your passionate dreams about people living playful lives be introduced to many through this interview.

And I might say response: Barry, may not only my dreams be introduced but may your dreams be carried forward further into the institutions of learning throughout the world.

And I will out bless you by responding: And may this playful dialogue touch people.

Oh yeah, yeah. And may they continue it with other people and embrace each other in deeper and more pervasive playfulness.

And in doing so may they come to believe this originated from themselves and they take full ownership over it.

You did it! I am totally out blessed.

So, with that, let’s -

I am never going to play with you again.

Continue reading

Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment

Youth-proof Your Program at ASTC14! Get vetted by a teen critique panel

So you think you know how to design innovative youth-programs incorporating digital media? Then step up and prove it! Present your existing program (or one in development) to a panel of youth from museum education programs around the country and the ASTC audience for feedback.

This October, Raleigh, North Carolina will be the site of ASTC14 (the annual conference of The Association of Science-Technology Centers). On Saturday, Oct 18th, from 4:30pm-5:45pm, Rik Panganiban of the California Academy of Science, Matthew L. Faerber of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, and I will support a half dozen teens from our respective institutions to offer something unlike anything ever seen before at ASTC.

Digital media has emerged as a powerful force transforming the context in which visitors experience museums. Educational programs within science centers and natural history museums are often on the forefront experimenting with different ways to leverage the unique affordances of different tools for informal science learning. The three of us could have proposed a standard session allowing educators to describe their innovations with games, tools of digital fabrication, and more but, instead, we decided it was time to up the ante.

It’s time for a reality check.

Please consider this your formal invitation to register in advance for a slot to present your program (space is limited, so act now!), not through a traditional presentation but in a critique session. Critique sessions allow thoughtful but difficult questions to be asked and addressed. For example, it is not good enough just to say you made a science-learning game. Was the game actually fun? Did youth actually play it, and, if they did, how do you know they learned anything? Okay, so you offered a program that used 3D printers. Was the cost of time and resources for using the printers worth the benefits it brought to the learners? The critique session will be exciting for the audience to watch and provide a model for how to deepen the development process when using digital media for informal science learning amongst youth.

And to raise the stakes even further, rather than be judged by a community of your peers, you will be presenting to an all-youth panel, high school students who actively participate in educational programs at science museums and natural history museums from around the country. These will be youth selected based on their experience within museums, their passion for science, their knowledge of digital media, and their ability to think critically about combining the three in new and exciting ways. Youth will also be selected based on their ability to express themselves, have strong opinions, and offer thoughtful critiques.

Are you up to the challenge? If so, sign-up now using the following form. SIGN UP HERE.

If you have any questions or comments, please use the “Comment” box below. This post will be updated over time with the final selection and schedule of “contestants”.

Posted in Conferences | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Youth Critique of the Louvre’s new Audio Guide on Nintendo 3DS

Katie takes part in many education programs here at the Museum. Due to a scheduling conflict, she couldn’t attend the last class of MicroMuseum (Paris called!). To make it up, she decided on her own to wrote up this “extra credit” critique of the Louvre’s new Audio Guide on Nintendo 3DS ™ XL. With her permission, I am delighted to share it with you here:

I’m sitting in the Parisian airport about to go home now. Since I did miss class, I did some extra credit. I went to the Louvre yesterday, and they have a pretty intriguing audio guide. It’s actually a Nintendo 3DS!

imageIt comes, with headphones, for 3€. It’s a pretty fascinating tool. The audio information was well produced, you could examine famous sculptures up close (utilizing the device’s 3D tool, which was nice when there were big crowds) and the occasional video was cool, although I don’t know why you’d want to watch a video instead of looking at the art.

What makes it unique is that it has a GPS. The days of getting lost in museums, particularly massive ones like the Louvre and AMNH, will soon be over! With two taps of the screen, it tells you which hall you’re in, with a Birdseye view. Two more taps, and you get directions to restaurants, bathrooms, or particular rooms or works. You could also look up audio guides by call number, and find things to see by medium.

image2There were a couple flaws. One was that the visuals were pretty shoddy. The virtual sculptures would have been way cooler if they didn’t look like something out of Nintendogs.

image3Also, only some major works had information available about them away from the exhibit itself. Other halls could be tapped on in the main map screen, but only showed photos of the hall and the room title. And sometimes, audio would be triggered just by stepping into a hall, which was cool at first, except I paused it to share a fact with my mom, and I looked back and it had disappeared :(

However in general it was a pretty handy device. I was able to plan a route to what we wanted to see during lunch, and once we got there I had a vague idea of what to expect. It  made the labyrinth of the Louvre much less intimidating for a first time visitor. Also, it was waaaaaaaaaaaaay better than the audio guides at the other museums we visited.

Ok that’s my report!

Posted in Critiques | Tagged | 2 Comments

Interview with the original BadgeMom: on Museums, the BadgeAlliance, and More

Erin Knight

Do you think you can pass the supreme BadgeGeek test? If so, good luck. Your challenge – make it through this interview. To appease my inner BadgeGeek I reached out to Erin Knight, the Executive Director of the Badge Alliance, and her fellow Badgemom-in-arms, Carla Casilli, the B.A.’s Director of Design and Practice. To conclude my four-part DMLcentral series on badges, I needed their help. I wanted to gain a better understanding into their fascinating new organization but, more importantly, how they might just have solved a major program with badge design I explored

Carla Casilli

in my previous post: the conflict between local versus network-wide badges.

PART 1: Getting To Know You

Thank you so much for joining us today.  Erin, please tell us about your history with badges and about your recent move from the Mozilla Foundation to the Badge Alliance.

Erin:  Sure. I’m Erin Knight and I’m the Executive Director of the Badge Alliance. I was involved with the early days of thought experiments around badging that began as early as fall of 2010. A lot of forces were colliding at the same time – Peer 2 Peer University, Mozilla, the DML community – all really looking at how we can recognize certain skills, certain out-of-school learning, and actually connect that to more opportunities for youth.

So we hosted a BadgeLab at the Mozilla Festival in November 2010 and that really kind of kicked off a bunch of discussion and work. Following that conference, I was hired by Mozilla to write an initial white paper to explore digital badging and an open badging ecosystem. And then I turned to building the Mozilla contribution to this movement.

Moving to the Badge Alliance was a natural evolution, both for me and the work. Mozilla built the foundations for the work, including the initial technical and social infrastructure. But its always been bigger than any one organization and that was even more the case as this has continued to grow. It requires collaboration across many types of organizations. It requires an ecosystem.  And that level of work is definitely where my heart is. So, it really felt like the right time in all of this work to really kind of double down on how we grow this beyond ourselves.

Once upon a time, when email Listservs first became popular, the person managing one and nurturing its community, were often called Listmoms. So are you sort of like the original BadgeMom?

Erin:  I am. I’m the first BadgeMom. There are lots of BadgeMoms now but, yes, I guess I was the initial one.

Continue reading

Posted in Interviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

Great New Video of Games For Change Family Day

The Institute of Play produced this awesome new video from the Games For Change Public Arcade at the Tribeca Family Fair. AMNH had a great time participating (check our our post here) and we’re honored to have such a prominent place within this great video. Please watch it and pass it on!

2014 G4C Family Day from Institute of Play on Vimeo.

Posted in Conferences | Tagged | Leave a comment