This morning I attended a meeting at the School District of Philadelphia. The presenter included in his remarks references to “making learning fun.” I wondered how he might respond if I asked him to tell me more about what he means by “fun.” For students to have fun, does that imply entertainment? Does it imply games or video games or other media that we think will capture their attention? Do we connect games to fun? Might something be fun if we’re feeling successful at doing it? If we “get” something and we’re smiling and talking and engaged, does that show that we’re having fun? Can we be having fun if we look serious? How do we define “fun” and, in particular, how do we define “fun” in an educational setting?

I find myself thinking of math software that is designed for students to answer a certain number of questions and then they are rewarded with a short time of some sort of “fun” game. I wonder if they think the fun part rests the student’s mind or is such a reward that the student will work hard to be able to have fun. I also wonder at what point the student is more engaged — the question/answer part or the fun game part.

I’ve known teachers who feel that if only they could entertain their students (like someone who’ve they’ve watched at a conference or, perhaps, a colleague at their school) then learning would be fun and their students would do well.

I have developed a different idea of what “fun” is in a classroom. For me learning is fun when students are given access to the subject. Students who are able to make sense of what they’re being asked to do, make it be their own learning, have facilitators to help them engage, are encouraged to persist and re-engage — I’ve seen those students have smiles on their faces and excitement as they learn. There is a lot of fun to be had when a student feels they’re in control of their own learning.

I would claim that Max and Steve are having fun here even though they’re not smiling!

What is “fun” in your classroom?