Playful learning with small data – An interview with Bruno Carlos Barbalho

Bruno is a teacher and pedagogical consultant working in the Future Classroom Lab of the University College Copenhagen. He does activities both for adults and kids, gives guidance for teachers too.

Could you explain some of the playful learning activities you do with students at school?

Project-based learning and tinkering are at the centre of my playful learning activities practice. I do research with students, e.g., what type of tools we should create for a given problem. We work on motivation and wellbeing with a playful twist. It's a very informal way of learning. In a positive sense, it can create confusion in terms of making the difference between "work" and "play". It can challenge students' mindset, which is often necessary to create new concepts and understandings.

For example, we use Micro: Bit kits for measuring sound levels or carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and humidity in the air. Students (3rd grade and up) record carbon dioxide levels and log the data using these kits and they often get critical results about air quality. Other activities include creating a watering system to water basil plants, and a weather station to measure humidity, temperature, and wind.

Do you also do activities that do not require technology or coding to learn about data collection?

If a pinecone is exposed to water/moisture, it will open its scales. Students can get an understanding of how an abstract concept such as air humidity can be visualised. They also use bottles to demonstrate e.g., how much it has rained since yesterday.

Figure 1 - Students can use a pinecone to measure humidity by checking its reaction.

Students also built a home-made solution with water and glass and a small turbine. It can be placed anywhere, and students can check the solution regularly to record the data.

Danish schools tackle wellbeing with students. Could you tell us about some activities about data use that you perform with students related to wellbeing?

In one activity students built their own step counter to measure the number of steps they take per day. They could compare the measurement on their step counter to step counters like activity watches and apps. Although there was a mismatch between what each device measured, they realised that data can differ in accuracy depending on the situation. This activity also made them more aware of their daily physical activity for their wellbeing. We also do activities that help students reflect on their emotions and how they manifest on their body, e.g., what do they observe when they feel angry.

What is your view on the relation between wellbeing and digital screen time?

Ten years ago, Danish schools switched to digital textbooks and resources for learning, but Danish schools are also observing a decline in student wellbeing recently. I think that the impact on wellbeing depends on the format and type of activities rather than screen time per se. There is now a cultural shift in our approach to digital tools and we try to develop students' technological comprehension. Regarding digital assessment, I think that grading relies on numerical data far too often. Digital learning resources adapt their content to the students' input but do not challenge students' way of thinking and do not resonate with the complex cognitive thinking that people are capable of. Test results should be addressed with words, with positive feedback and iteration of parts where one can make changes. Making mistakes is part of learning. Digital tools are useful in education, but we must give space to the students to reevaluate and see if something else went wrong too.

Could you tell us a bit more about what technological comprehension and empowerment are? How are they different than having digital skills? Could you give us a brief example of a classroom activity?

Technological comprehension refers to the ability to understand and integrate technical knowledge with other forms of social and cultural understanding. It enables making informed choices, recognising implementation opportunities, and understanding the use and application of new technologies in different contexts. This concept is often referred to as "technological literacy". It covers understanding technologies, how they function, their limitations, and how they are actually used. This is crucial for comprehending how technology has shaped global changes and how these changes have influenced the development of new technologies.

There is an analytical assignment called TekTjek (TechCheck) for children over 14 years. The purpose of TekTjek is for students to engage with existing technologies and their intentionality. Through a process of questioning across various categories, students explore technology. The idea is to make them more aware of the technologies they interact with and how they impact us. When they gain awareness of technology's intentions and its effects, they can apply that knowledge both to their own interactions with technology and when designing or redesigning technologies themselves. In terms of hands-on activities, for example, students can write a guide on how to use a tool for their classmates, they can make a diary of the kinds of technologies they use in their everyday lives, they can interview other users. They can also role-play a scene as a technology evaluator, which makes the task more playful. You can read more about it here (in Danish):

Figure 2 - A weather system.


Article also avaible in ES and PT.