Years ago I was sitting the the front of church and via a fluke of acoustics I heard a little girl in the back of the church tell someone “Stop laughing! It’s Sunday!” Apparently she thought that because Sunday, especially at church, was serious business it should not be fun or happy. Not quite my view of things but common enough. It seems to be even more common with education though. Recently on the CSTA blog Pat Philips wrote a post titled Video Games where she says “administrators and colleagues […] sometimes think that if you are teaching something that much fun, it can't be truly educational.” I on the other hand wonder how much learning can go on if education is not fun.
I used to tell my students the first day of class that one of my goals was for us to have fun. Ideally they would have fun and so would I. And they’d learn a lot. I’d like to think that worked out pretty well most of the time. After all the teachers I learned the most from and who I remember the most were the ones who made things fun. I still remember demos and discussions from my freshmen (in high school) materials science class where I had one of the most entertaining (and a bit weird) teachers of my academic career. I learned a lot and I retained a lot. Why? I think it was in part because he made every class interesting and fun.
Projects don’t have to be boring. They can be about things students actually care about. Games smart phones, you name it. The tendency if for teachers to come up with projects that interest them (I know that is how my mind works) but that isn’t always enough. Also straight “sage on the stage” lectures are easiest to prepared and deliver. But they are not fun for anyone – not the audience and not the presenter. How much learning goes on when students are expending all their energy just trying to stay awake? And of by the way we know that laughter actually stimulates oxygen flow to the brain. That has to be good doesn’t it?
We need to embrace learning tools, projects, presentation styles and other things that make learning fun. Not to the exclusion of learning or rigor. We can have it both ways and I argue that we need to have it both ways. Make learning fun and students will usually work harder longer, smarter and they will retain more. Better yet they will share fun learning with their peers which makes for much deeper understanding in the long run.
Interestingly enough I wrote a similar post about two years ago - The Intersection of Education and Entertainment Maybe I’ve run out of new things to say. Or maybe some things need reminders now and again. Your call.