How to make learning engaging for kids

The function of the child is to live his own life – not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots. – A.S. Neill

Public education has become indoctrination and distraction

(fast forward to 3:57)

Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself – John Dewey

I have been working in a project where we have been looking at ways to make learning fun and interesting for kids. Our focus has been on incorporating games or gaming aspects in to the learning process and our efforts have not been to design a game but in rethinking the learning process itself.

Our case study’s learning process features among others:

  • rote-learning, the motivation for learning something is in order to be able to repeat it from memory, rather than in order to understand it.
  • monologue, similar to watching tv, where the teacher talks and kids have to listen without having to participate actively
  • tuning down of hyper activeness, the characteristic that is innate to kids and adults alike and should be embraced as a means of making learning fun
  • dictate and test
For kids as well as for adults, intrinsic motivation and autonomy play an important role in learning.   These two enable participants to explore possibilities, identify their interests and pursue them in a way that is engaging for them.
The Demand/Control model by Karasek & Theorell points out that productivity is enhanced by worker’s autonomy of how to carry out their tasks and support that is afforded to them at the work place. And the more autonomy and support they have the more they are able to cope with challenging tasks. The same applies to learning as well.

In order for learning to take place effectively, it is crucial to ensure that students are able to explore different possibilities, identify their interests and get support in pursuing them.

Give me a baby and I can Make any kind of man – John B Watson.

Competition as a means of assessment both for students and teachers has its own shortcomings as it undermines the interests of individuals as well as diminishing creativity and the willingness to take challenges as is explained in the human resources video [min 52:45 - 59:00]. You may watch the entire video to understand the underlying context and discussion.

And therefore there is the question of whether teaching is meant to make kids mere workers and better consumers or to empower them to change things for the better and have fulfilling lives.

Below is an inspirational video about how the learning process can be made engaging for kids via empowerment:

How distributed cognition, team work, role play and other factors can be used to enhance learning.

Distributed cognition? Because without images, thinking is impossible – Aristotle.

In order to find out what makes games or playing fun, we did a simple test where we asked a class of grown ups to write down the aspects that made games and playing fun during their childhood.

The data we collected can be seen in the tag cloud below.

Aspects that make play fun

Aspects that make play fun

The raw data may not make much sense, below is an attempt to arrange it in a way that patterns can be observed:

  • Explore the world (2) – “exploring the world” (forest, nearby neighbourhoods, supermarkets..), exploring the world
  • Learning (1) – where playfulness and knowledge was related,
  • Surprises (1) – games with surprises,
  • Escaping reality (2) – everything that was forbidden, escaping,
  • Adventures,
  • Playing outdoors (3) – outdoors, outdoor games, outside group games
  • Physicality (3) – moving around is fun > jumping, running and hiding, sport games (physical activity,), motor motion games,
  • Role playing (3) – responsibilities (role play), imitation the real world and adults, Monopoly (simulation)
  • Competition (3) – competition, playful competition, challenge vs. success (it is only fun if you stand a chance),
  • Autonomy (3) – no teachers, without parents, without teachers or parents,
  • Togetherness (8) – with a lot of friends, excitement optimization with friends, where sense of togetherness was born, social and interactive, where children & grown-ups could play together, more people more fun, games that created connections, with friends (pairs or small group)
  • Creativity (8) – creativity, creations, the special aspect of the favourite board game was building beautiful houses that looked real (hotel-game), visuality of board games was most inspiring aspect, creativity & expression, hiding, making secrets, secret threshers in the grounds made by ourselves,

In order to make learning fun and interesting, 2 possibilities emerged following the simple test; 1. Incorporating the gaming aspects into learning, 2. Incorporating learning into games with the main difference between two being that in the later playing is more emphasized than learning is but a layer added onto a game while in the former, learning is more emphasized with the inclusion of gaming aspects.

Can gamification result to engaging learning?

Gamification may not enhance learning as it nurtures the same environment as competition where taking action is motivated by the points, marks, badges etc to be earned rather than in the understanding a topic. Intrinsic motivators create greatness, while extrinsic motivators are nothing more than pellets dropped for rats in a cage,” “creating virtual food pellets for you to eat“. 

In fact, gamification may only serve to accelerate the current systems of grading and judgement of teacher and student performance which will instill in them, the need for high grades, lots of badges, stars etc rather than ensuring that their efforts go into understanding the phenomena of study and methods for problem solving.  Competition naturally stemming from gamification may not only undermine intrinsic motivation but also minimize elements of togetherness, collaboration, sharing and cooperation among others.

Similarly, the role of technology in learning has to be carefully thought out if it is to enhance the process and enable students to assume ownership of understanding phenomena, challenges and efforts for making things better.

It is also interesting to note that some gaming aspects are also what employers seek out for in potential employees such as creativity and teamwork, while other aspects may contribute to individual’s and societal’s well being.

Formative testing – using role play in the learning process

We conducted a test on role play as a means of teaching particular themes and one of the most eye opening observation was that even kids who were generally quiet in class were very engaged in the game – their level of participation and interaction surpassed its counterpart in the normal classroom setting.

This might have been contributed to by the free interactive play by the kids in an informal setting and by de-emphasizing the teacher’s role from an instructor and authority to that of a facilitator.

Also see:

Ed tech to amplify children’s curiosity

Sir Ken Robinson: Does school kill creativity

It turns out that breaking paradigms is really hard, even to people in the know. When you see something you know is right, you still go on doing the wrong thing out of habit.

About these ads

2 thoughts on “How to make learning engaging for kids

  1. Excellent blog – hope you don’t mind if we re-blog it at some point. Particularly liked –
    “The Demand/Control model by Karasek points out that productivity is enhanced by worker’s autonomy, control of how to carry out their tasks and support that is afforded to them at the work place. And the more autonomy, control and support they have the more they are able to cope with challenging tasks. The same applies to learning as well.
    In order for learning to take place effectively, it is crucial to ensure that students are able to explore different possibilities, identify their interests and get support in pursuing them.
    Competition as a means of assessment both for students and teachers has its own shortcomings as it undermines the interests of individuals as well as diminishing creativity . . . . .
    Very well said.

  2. Pingback: Let the Gamification Begin! | ResearchNetwork.Pearson.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s