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From Failure to Flow: Collaborative Knowledge Networks in Children's Play and Making With Squishy Circuits

Sat, April 9, 12:25 to 1:55pm, Marriott Marquis, Floor: Level Four, Liberty Salon P


Background: This presentation extends the rich research base on play-based learning approaches in early childhood education (Roskos & Christie, 2000; Brooker, 2014), building on a recent strand on young children’s play and design that suggests that play-based and collaborative approaches to learning are effective and equitable (Adair & Doucet, 2014 , Genishi & Dyson, 2013). Such approaches provide diverse learners with expanded resources and varied pathways to mediate advanced concepts and skills in new technologies (Marsh, 2010; Author 4, 2013).

Purpose: The purpose of this presentation is to critically examine the concept of “failure” within moments of collaborative and exploratory play and design, using video analysis to examine preschool children’s design interactions with craft and electronics materials.
· How does an individualistic and linear construct of achievement as success or failure compare to a collaborative and fluid construct of achievement as flow and networks?
· How does each construct interpret and shape children’s learning interactions and equitable participation during collaborative play and design in maker activities?

Framework: Drawing on mediated discourse theory (Scollon, 2001; Author 4, 2007, 2014), we examine play and design as exploratory production, learning as collaborative and co-constructed, and discourse as practiced (Scollon & Scollon, 2003, 2004) and materialized in multimodal interactions (Norris, 2004) among bodies, environments, and artifacts. Multimodality enables reconceptualizing success from an individual child’s completion of a single task to the flow of knowledge production among networks. This perspective recognizes play and design as social practices for an assemblage of meanings, modes, and materials, which produce artifacts, shared knowledge, and identity performances that can expand or limit equitable participation.

Methods: Excerpted from a 4-year study on play-based learning, the subset of video data in this paper documents 7 making sessions with Squishy Circuits playdough electronics kits (Johnson & Thomas, 2010) in three preschool classrooms with 60 3- to 5-year-old children in a US university childcare. After coding and locating episodes of failed circuits within a focal child’s activity, multimodal microanalysis identified collaborative action in the same episodes across the small group, tracking materialized knowledge production through children’s gaze and proximity to one another (e.g., as they bent over a playdough snake to decide next steps).

Findings: Analysis of the same episodes showed dramatic differences when achievement was construed as independent circuit completion versus collaborative knowledge production. The focal case showed numerous instances of failed artifacts, interrupted or abandoned when she left to help others problem-solve their projects. When analyzing these episodes for collaborative knowledge production, we saw she interacted with nearly all projects at the table, extending the range of the group’s circuitry exploration as she tackled other children’s problems. Mapping these points across time and space revealed networks of learning, as children further passed on new knowledge through playful cooperation, previously masked by a narrow focus on successful task completion and solo work.

Significance: Reconceptualizing success beyond individual production and skill demonstration enables recognition of achievement as a collective flow and shows the promise of expanded and fluid theoretical constructs for researching children’s learning processes.