Last year, I really wanted to students to enjoy being in class. I wanted to provide them with valuable learning experiences that were also engaging – in their words “fun.” I even built an entire project around this concept – the “Fun” project, where students were supposed to make a section of The Odyssey “fun.” Of course, it was an epic failure, and I really didn’t understand why.
Fast forward to this year. As part of our current unit on heroes and the Hero’s Journey, we watched Batman Begins – a wonderful example of the hero archetype and the Hero’s Journey, as well as some positive thematic elements and solid film-making (not to mention the pure entertainment of car chases and fight scenes). Of course, most students now think the movie “sucks” and are not hesitant to point out that “The Dark Knight was better.” During the film, I happened to catch a couple of students playing a game on an ipod Touch rather than watching the film and taking notes on a comparison worksheet. I asked the students if the movie was boring them. One of them said, “Yes.”
That’s when it really hit me: for many students, it is an intellectual impossibility, a paradox, to combine the words “school” and “fun.” Because X is being done at school, that precludes the possibility of it being “fun.” It doesn’t matter that students watch movies all the time at home or at a friend’s house. It doesn’t matter that they enjoy filming themselves and taking pictures of themselves doing goofy things. Those are “fun.” When they’re done at school, they can no longer be fun, even if they’re exactly the same activities.
The implication for my instruction is simple: students will never have fun at school, so I may as well stop trying. My goal should not be to make school “fun,” because that will never happen.
What I should do, however, is provide students with valuable learning experiences. They may not always be “fun,” but they should be engaging and help students develop important skills.
Needless to say this was one of those “duh” moments where I wonder why it never clicked before.