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Why Should Learning Is Fun
Learning can and should be fun. This is not just a moral position, but a scientific one too.
When you learn a new thing, or get a surprise, there is a shot of a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine is famous among neuroscientists for its involvement in the reward and motivation systems of the brain.
Learning something new triggers a chemical release of the same kind as cocaine, albeit in a much more subtle manner. As methods of getting your kicks you can perhaps compare it to the difference between walking up a hill yourself or being strapped to a rocket and blasted up - slower, harder work, but a lot more sustainable and you’re in a better state to enjoy the view when you get there.
One of the many negative things about the misconception that education is about transmitting content is the idea that any fun you have is taking time away from proper learning, and that ‘proper learning’ shouldn’t be fun.
Rather than fun being a relief from learning, or a distraction from it, for most of our history, before school, learning had to be its own motivation. Brains that learnt well had more offspring, and so learning evolved to be rewarding.
In lots of teaching situations we focus on the right and wrong answers to things, which is a venerable paradigm for learning, but not the only one. There is a less structured, curiosity-driven, paradigm which focuses not on what is absolutely right or wrong, but instead on what is surprising. A problem with rights and wrongs is that, for some people, the pressure of being correct gets in the way of experiencing what actually is.
You can try this for yourself, either in any teaching you do, or any learning. Often we will get blocked at a particular stage in our learning. A normal response is to try harder, and to focus more on what we’re doing right, and what we’re doing wrong. Sometimes this helps, but sometimes it just digs us further into our rut. The way out of the rut is to re-focus on experiencing again.
I’ll give you an example from one of the two things I know best about teaching - aikido, the Japanese martial art. Aikido involves some quite intricate throws and grappling moves. Often a student is so intent on getting through the move, and on trying hard to get it right, that they become completely stuck, repeatedly doing something that doesn’t work, and usually too fast. Even if you say or show explicitly the correct movement, they can’t seem to get it. In this situation, one teaching technique that we can use is to tell the student to stop trying to do the move correctly, and instead do it deliberately wrong. “Try pushing over this way to the left”, I’ll say, “Now try the opposite over to the right. Now try high, or low. Which is easiest?” By removing the obligation to get the move correct I hope to give permission to the student to just experience the effect they are having on their partner’s balance. Once they can tune into this they can figure out for themselves what the right thing to do is, without me having to tell them.
However you do it, if you can get out of the rut of right and wrong you free up a natural capacity for experience-led, curiosity-driven learning. Soon you’ll be flying along again, experiencing the learning equivalent of the jogger’s high, and all thanks to that chemical messenger dopamine and a brain that’s evolved to find things out for itself, and feel good while doing it.
Ways to Make Learning Fun for Different Age Levels
Early Childhood Education:
Young children learn best when they are having a good time in a safe environment. Play-based learning is crucial at a young age. Learning through games allows young children to build critical skills in areas such as math and reading while not even realizing they are actively learning. Even so, learning through fun activities, active play, and games breeds positive attitudes towards learning and school.
In addition to learning basic academic skills, young children will also develop social and emotional skills through sharing and cooperating with other children during these activities. Some activities that you can incorporate into learning include rhyming games, singing songs, alphabet blocks or magnets, drawing/painting/play dough/colouring, counting games, math manipulative, sorting objects, etc.
There are lots of opportunities to make learning fun in the elementary classroom - for all subject areas. With the advancement of classroom technology, there are tons of resources to help get students actively participating and enjoying learning. By including hands-on activities in formats such as learning stations, cooperative learning groups, centres’, and think-pair-share, students can actively participate in groups to learn, solve problems, and have fun.
Incorporating technology into the classroom also provides a myriad of ways to make learning fun for students. Using iPads, computers, or SMART Boards allows for learning to become hands-on and game-like. Virtual field trips, classroom apps, and technology to motivate reading and learning games are all great ways for students to actively learn while having fun.
High School Students:
Learning at this age can quickly become difficult, boring, and tedious if not enough effort is put into making learning active, engaging, and fun. There is no reason that more difficult material can’t be taught in fun ways. It just takes a little bit more creativity.
Teenagers still enjoy a good game, group project, or problem-based learning activity that allows them to participate actively and changes up the lecture-based learning atmosphere. For instance, you can make test review fun by utilizing games like jeopardy, trivial pursuit, sink or swim, or head of the class. Teenagers love competition, and this is an excellent way to get students excited about reviewing valuable content.
The science classroom offers lots of great hands-on learning opportunities to engage older students. Exciting experiments can be done everywhere from inside the school lab to outside on the school grounds keeps learning fun. Math can be made more enjoyable by having students actively solve problems by creating real-life learning situations, or by having students solve equations of everyday objects or situations.
English and Social Studies
English and social studies courses can incorporate technology, group projects, role-playing, guest speakers, presentations, etc. For instance, have students conduct a Shakespeare play, re-enact historical events, or have students research and prepare for a debate.
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