For many generations, people have assumed that children learn only when they are quiet and serious. In some schools, teachers are chastised for an uproarious classroom, filled with activity and laughter. They might even be warned by their fellow teachers that they are disrupting the hallway with their joyous noises. Some parents might argue that allowing children to enjoy their education does not prepare them for the “real world” which rewards serious, thoughtful effort. What a pity we all can’t enjoy ourselves while earning money to support the family! When did fun suddenly become the bad player in an office? In the classroom? On the playing field? Even at home?
Let’s look at the research. In chapter 3 of Judy Willis’s book, Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher (ASCD 2006), she notes that emotional well-being positively influences learning. Willis writes, the truth is that when the joy and comfort are scrubbed from the classroom and replaced with homogeneity, and when spontaneity is replaced with conformity, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage. In other words, when children are happy and spontaneous, they learn more quickly. Conversely, when children fear the outcome of their behavior or grades, they learn less quickly, perhaps not at all. When did educational framework stray from fun to dull, from play to work, and from active to quiet? Or did it really ever stray? Maybe today’s teachers need to learn how to invent the joyful classroom to facilitate learning.
Eric Jensen wrote Teaching with the Brain in Mind (ASCD 2005). He links engagement in learning with a release of dopamine from the brain. Dopamine is responsible for reward-driven learning. Therefore, if you increase the dopamine rushing through children’s bodies, by stressing intrinsic rewards, children not only learn more easily, but they also feel better about themselves as individuals. According to Jensen, the task has to be behaviorally relevant to the learner, which is why the brain will not adapt to senseless tasks. Senseless tasks: worksheets, rote, and sleep-inducing videos. Behaviorally relevant tasks: Games, activities, projects, and group interaction. Intrinsic reward: Performing for the sheer fun of engagement!
In Kinetic Classroom: Activities that Move Students to Learn, Entelechy Education co-founder Renee Heiss presents many ways teachers can incorporate fun and active learning into any regular curriculum content. Turn math facts into a race. Turn geography lessons into a treasure hunt. And turn book reports into a mini-wax museum. Get those children moving and you get the oxygen flowing through their brains. Engage their interest because they find the activity fun and you release dopamine into their bloodstreams. When those two events occur simultaneously – increased oxygen and flow of dopamine – teachers may find fewer discipline problems and higher test scores. And isn’t that the FUNdamental goal of education? To prepare our children for a world filled with new experiences that they are not afraid to investigate.
The Entelechy Education, LLC program provides elementary teachers an holistic approach to increasing that oxygen and dopamine in children. Without character education, children fall short in their ability to learn technical topics. For example, without courage, the child would be unable to take the leap to investigate a new topic. Without cooperation, the child would be unable to work with other students toward a common goal. Without independence, the child would be unable to form unique ideas. And certainly, without creativity, no child would be able to conceptualize innovations The EnteleTrons™ series of books to begin a FUNdamental investigation into STEM topics while exploring character education issues in the language arts curriculum. Wow! Three or more lessons in one plan based on Core Content Standards!
So what are you waiting for? Get those kids moving! Engage them in meaningful education! Bring The EnteleTrons™ series of books into your classroom, electrify student learning using the tips in The Kinetic Classroom, and watch your classroom come alive with learning. And then try to convince your administration that your children are actually learning more in your classroom than the one next door where the students are lined up in quiet rows of desks. You’ll need a strong dose of creativity and determination to accomplish that task! Help the administrators in your district to understand the power of engaging student learners in the FUN of their FUNdamental Education.