Monday, July 24th, 2017

How to Play Games Without the Fun

Sad game pieces on a gameboardHow would you finish this sentence?

Students love classroom games because _______.

I’ll make a bold claim: It isn’t because they’re fun.

“Fun” is about lighthearted amusement. Frivolity. Laughter and playfulness.

Some classroom games might have these aspects. In fact, I hope you are enjoying some laughter and playfulness during your classroom games. But I don’t believe this is why students love classroom games.

It’s not because they’re fun, if “fun” is strictly amusement. Instead, students love classroom games because of these three key aspects:

  • Achievement. There are goals and those goals are attainable and satisfying to achieve.
  • Wonder. The game has multiple pathways to achieving the goals.
  • Growth. By playing the game you grow — in understanding of the content, how to work with other people, in some metric, or in a way that’s a side effect of the original goal.

Tag, You’re It

Consider the game of Tag. A global phenomenon, the game of Tag can be found in almost every culture and time period. Avoiding being “It” might be the goal, but to do so you can employ speed, cunning, or some strategy borne of experience. It involves social organization, conflict resolution, cardiorespiratory fitness, hand-eye coordination, spatial recognition, and a host of other areas of positive growth.

But though kids will say they play Tag because it’s “fun”, I believe it’s because they are engaging with their peers, being competitive, and — in a nutshell — doing what their bodies and minds were designed to do. There isn’t any frivolity here; Tag is serious business! There might be laughter, but there is just as much drama and pathos and fear and triumph.

Is Your Classroom Game Fun?

If the primary goal of your classroom game is to have fun, then I think you’re off track. Instead, ask yourself if the game you’re playing gives everyone a chance to achieve something and to figure out their own ways to get there.

Does your game show them how they’ve grown in their ability to play better over time? Try recording times elapsed, or points scored, or any other metric. A good game automatically gives them feedback, like a basketball hoop gives you feedback on whether you scored or not. Find ways to build community through competition.

And when you hear the words, “This is fun!” make sure you immediately respond with, “Why?” Then you’ll get to hear the real reasons why your students love playing classroom games.

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Why Swahili?

Combined flags of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania

The combined flags of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania

I’m not a native speaker of Swahili but I love the language. Grammatically, historically, and phonically it really is one of the most beautiful languages spoken on Earth.

The rules for pronouncing Swahili — which is called Kiswahili — are very clear. There are only 5 vowel sounds (English has 5 vowels but over 25 different ways to say them). Consonants have a singular pronunciation (as opposed to, for example, the confusing letter g in English having a different sound in get, gel, ring, rough, or assuage). The grammar is specific and removes ambiguity.

But most of all, I love the history.

Originally just a language spoken by the coastal Swahili people on the East African coast, Swahili quickly became a lingua franca used by merchants from all over. Kiswahili is filled with Arabic and Persian loanwords, and being part of the Bantu language family means it has similarities to languages from southern Africa too. Over the centuries, it evolved into the beautiful language it is today, synthesizing elements from a wide geographic region but remaining orderly and accessible (as opposed, once again, to English which has more exceptions than rules!).

In this regard, Swahili is much like the language of mathematics. Orderly, yet flexible in how it can expand. Encompassing and uniting many different disciplines — hence why we call it “mathematics” in the plural. And so using the language of mathematics, we delve into finding the beauty and orderliness of the world around us.

Maji usiyoyafika hujui wingi wake. You can’t know how much water is in the pond that you’ve never been in.

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