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Early Research about the Role of Play in Learning
Written by Bernie Zubrowski
This development effort was more than just a materials-design test. Concurrent with this practical work I had been delving into research literature in wide-ranging fields such as the role of play in learning, the relationship between art and science, and the role of metaphor and analogy in scientific thinking. For a long time I had been interested in what researchers had discovered about the role of exploration and play in learning and child development. During the late '60s and early '70s, some attention was given to these behaviors by field biologists, child development psychologists, and anthropologists, including the work of cultural anthropologist Brian Sutton-Smith, which I found interesting and relevant. Curiously, most of this work focused on preschoolers or on animals. Very little work had been done with elementary age children except for some research on socio-dramatic play. Nevertheless, there were some findings that I felt could be applied to the way science education could be conducted.
The beauty of the museum at this time is that it was an environment where experimentation and in-depth exploration of topics and methods was not only possible, but actively encouraged. And the results were broad, beyond my own personal and professional fulfillment: children were well served by museum programs, a rich mixture of creativity, research, and time-tested pedagogy. These museum-based experiences were further disseminated in science education courses I later taught at Lesley College and Boston University. (I have written about these applications in the 2009 book Exploration and Meaning Making in the Learning of Science.)
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