When someone asks how your day was, do you say, “it was so satisfying?” Do you exit a roller coaster and exclaim, “That was a very satisfying ride?” When you last dined at a 5-star restaurant, did you tell the server that you just couldn’t wait for a satisfactory meal?
Hopefully, you answered no to all of these questions. Hopefully, your day, your roller coaster ride, and your fine dining experience were wonderful, amazing and, most important, involved the F word — FUN!
For most people, yearning for fun is a basic response to many situations. Shouldn’t this be true in teaching and learning?
The answer seems obvious, but I learned recently that many teachers believe that it’s more important for learning to be satisfying, rather than fun. Witness this Twitter conversation:
I just read a comment on a blog post in which a teacher said that lessons should be “satisfying,” rather than fun.
Can you imagine asking your kids, “How was your school day?” and their answer being, “it was satisfying.”
If “satisfying” is your best, it’s time to re-evaluate.
The article that inspired the Tweet was by a blogger, suggesting that it’s not important for learning to be fun. If you read the comments on the Tweet linked above, you’ll see that some people agree with the blogger, while others believe academics should be both meaningful and fun. Here’s one example from that Twitter conversation:
Why does school have to be “fun”? So many educators sacrifice learning for activities that are “fun” but that don’t support the instructional core. How about school should be meaningful?
Here’s another tweet from the same thread:
I definitely prefer satisfying as it connotes a long term feeling and memory. Fun is just a split second like a laugh after a joke. Satisfying feeds the soul.
I emphasized more than once that there is rarely a time that learning can’t be both meaningful and fun. Granted, it took me a long time as a classroom teacher to understand this.
When I finally learned that making lessons and assignments fun would entice even the most reluctant learner, everything changed in my classroom, and the F word became the standard in my classroom.
Bring on the F word
Mike Roberts, author of Hacking Classroom Management, is a big fan of the F word. Here’s what he writes about it in his book:
At South Bonneville Jr. High in the mid 1980s, Mrs. Rowberry’s room was the place to be! In the mornings, she would open her classroom early so we could hang out. At lunch, after chowing down our food, we would head to her room and draw pictures on her chalkboard. And during class, well, that’s when things really got interesting.
I remember her telling us stories about her childhood. She also gave us a few minutes each week to share the latest (appropriate) joke we had heard. I think of the times she had her husband come to class and play songs for us on his guitar, and us making up geography lyrics based on some of the most popular songs of the time.
Click cover image and look inside now
And more than anything else, I remember wanting to impress her, because I didn’t want to be the reason that the fun would end. So while it was fun that drew me in, it was my respect for her that kept me in check.
Current high school junior Sydney Young understands the connection that Mrs. Rowberry made with her students, and she sees the benefits that come from weaving fun into the daily curriculum. “Fun related to the material, such as watching a video, hearing jokes, or getting on a tangent all feel like off-task fun, but actually lead me to make new connections, enjoy the material, and spend time processing the information.
“The best classes I’ve had blended the curriculum with a perfect combination of fun and mini-celebrations, and it’s that combination that led me to be successful that class,” Young says. She adds that the value that comes from these experiences runs much deeper than simply gaining a better understanding of the content.
“During these activities and celebrations, I connect with students I might not normally speak with, which increases my confidence about participating in discussions or presenting because I feel as though I am amongst a large group of friends.”
Mrs. Rowberry knew how to use the “F” word in her class, and Sydney sees its benefit from the student perspective as well. Are you willing to add the “F” word to your class?
I love connected educators. While I have no hard data to prove this, I believe that educators who tweet, join live Twitter chats, and converse in Facebook, Voxer, and Flipgrid groups are better, in many cases, than teachers and leaders who are not connected.
My experience on all of these platforms is that these connected educators are working very hard to be the best at what they do. They share links to wonderful resources and articles about innovative teaching and learning, and they participate in some inspiring conversations that help me reflect and, in some cases, drive content at Times 10 Books. This is powerful, free professional development.
If you’re not sure of a tweet’s intended meaning, why not simply ask the tweeter what she means?
In spite of all the thought-provoking PD happening on social media, there’s still a problem.
As I observe a mountain of marvelous content on Twitter, I’m also seeing an increase in what looks a lot like subtle bashing of other educators who submit their ideas of “best practice.” I put that phrase in quotation marks, because many EduTweeters can’t agree on what “best practices” are.
This bashing, which some people defend by saying, “I was talking about the idea, not the person” is, surprisingly, prolific, which might make you wonder, How can this happen in the education space? These are adults, after all, who are supposed to model proper behavior for kids.
Someone recently posted the following tweet:
Good teachers will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can improve their lessons next year. That’s just what they do.
The tweet was liked thousands of times and retweeted over 500 times. I have to assume this indicates that thousands of people agree.
One popular connected educator disagreed, though, and replied to the “Good teachers…” tweet with this:
The rest of us crap teachers will use summer to rest and take a break without feeling guilty about not thinking about work. That’s just what we do.
That comment sparked a furious conversation that included tweets about unfollowing the author of the “Good teachers…” tweet. Others said the author should simply be disregarded for various reasons. Soon, more zingers followed in support of the popular dissenter, all seemingly aimed at disparaging the “Good teachers…” author.
One well-known connected educator defended the “Good teachers…” author, expressing shock at what he believed to be a “mob mentality.” This was swiftly met with the “I didn’t do anything wrong/ he didn’t do anything wrong” defense.
As I continued to read and offer a different perspective with a few tweets of my own, I envisioned a similar scenario in a different venue with different participants.
It looked like this:
A young girl at school was sharing a poster she’d created for a class project. A few kids liked it and said it was beautiful. Some asked the teacher to hang it up, so visitors could see it when they entered the room.
A few students, though, didn’t like the poster; they understood it to mean something entirely different from what the girl had intended.
They felt it made a statement about the kind of kids they were and that it smeared them in some way, even though they never asked the girl to clarify the poster’s message.
They said the girl had created content like this before and that she should be ignored. “Let’s not play with her anymore,” one zealot shouted. “Truth!” one of the popular kids yelled.
Soon, a few other students, who didn’t know the girl at all, heard the commotion and stuck their heads in the room.
They noticed the popular student shouting at the girl, so they joined in. It had to be the right thing to do, if the popular kid thought so. None of them, though, bothered to ask what the girl’s creation meant.
The ridicule continued. The people who liked the girl’s work lost interest, while the others became louder. When the teacher said they should stop, they shrugged and replied, “We didn’t do anything. We’re just talking about the message on the poster.”
Meanwhile, the girl, who had drawn a beautiful picture of three children with lightbulbs over their heads, dropped the poster and hurried out of the room.
One of the students who had wandered into the class picked it up and read a quote under the picture. It said:
Good students will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can be better students next year. That’s just what they do.
Thanks for reading and, as always, let’s try to hack learning every day.
Let me begin with full disclosure: Before I learned about Unanswerable Questions in Hacking Mathematics, by Denis Sheeran, I thought just about everything math related was unanswerable. Admittedly, math has always been pretty elusive to me.
After reading about Unanswerable Questions, though, I’m looking at math and pedagogy differently.
Rather than talk around Denis Sheeran’s concept, I thought I’d just share it straight from the mathematician’s mouth–or at least from his book.
School must get all kids to comply. School must organize large quantities of children, manage them, sort them, quiet them and control them. For a lot of kids it may not be a big deal. For some, it’s like stealing their soul. — Anonymous
Some weighed in by raging against the machine:
😢helping my 9 yr old grandson w/ his hw. 2 teachers & a para in the clas. No one checks hw. No feedback. He said “Gram, this is so boring & stupid & no one cares about his!” Last night-synonyms antonyms 10 words. 2018 with 1960’s homework. We need to get back to the future!
One regular commenter in this Facebook group had this initial response:
No, you can’t. You can advocate, you can argue, and you can encourage him in a variety of ways. But you can’t change the school or the teachers–it’s not in your power. You can help him to find satisfaction in other ways/venues and maybe within the school or within certain classes. Teach him to hack his own way, eh?
After all of these incredible comments and suggestions, I kept coming back to the previous quote.
And I wonder, is this right? Is school change out of my control? Is it out of our control?
Or, is it possible that we have all the power, and we only have to choose to exercise it?
At the very least, one expert, New York Times bestselling author Jessica Lahey, believes that we need to keep showing the evidence of what’s best for kids to educators. Here’s what the author of Gift of Failure tweeted:
So sorry, Mark. I left a school yesterday with a teacher SERIOUSLY pissed at me for criticizing “teaching” methods that don’t actually teach. Stick to the evidence and keep speaking up for kids and their learning.
Talk about best practices: Create discussions on social channels and at your school about best practices. Ask, “How can we eliminate old school methods and replace them with progressive pedagogy that inspires student engagement?”
Share stories like this one: Share podcasts, blog posts, and Facebook statuses, in which parents and educators discuss their experiences about kids who hate school and what they’re doing about it.
Encourage participation: If a kid hates school, encourage her to join a club, go out for a sport, or try out for the play. The more kids participate in things related to school, the more likely they are to start enjoying it.
Be present: Talk to teachers, school leaders, and parents in your own school district–especially where you kids attend school–about making learning fun. Don’t let them tell you it’s not about the fun; that’s a load of crap and simply not true.
So, what’s my final take on all of this? I’ll continue to advocate for my son, and I’ll continue pushing his teachers–and all educators–to be the absolute best they can be.
With your help, I believe we can make a difference.