Kids doing math at school

When Did We Decide That School Shouldn’t Be Fun?

I used to teach high school math which can be deadly dry and dull. I didn’t grow up with the deep desire to be a math teacher. I actually ended up there by default, because my parents wouldn’t pay for college for what I really wanted to be – an actress or a pilot!

So here I was at 22 years old with a degree in secondary mathematics, a new husband who was just beginning college after a stint in the military. I was the primary breadwinner so it was up to me to bring home the paycheck. Math might not have been my passion but it was up to me to make it work.

Somehow I sought ways of making class fun. I collected rebuses which I used as bonuses. I found a math game called Krypto which I modified to use for the entire class. The kids liked it so much that they became Kryptmaniacs! I even turned factoring – a process in Algebra – into a bingo game. Students did more math problems in one game than they ever would have done as homework. Because it was fun, they eagerly did the work and improved in the skill dramatically.

I used humor wherever possible. Anything to make the kids enjoy being in the class. As I told them early in the year, “You might not like math, but I’m hoping you enjoy the class. We’re on the same journey for the next 180 days, so we might as well enjoy the ride.”

I know this worked because to this day, I still hear from former students who tell me how much they learned in my class and how much they enjoyed it. I got to enjoy it too which certainly made a very challenging job even more rewarding.

Why shouldn’t school be fun? In our society, we seek out the activities and hobbies that are the most fun. In fact we celebrate people who entertain us – paying them the highest salaries, giving them the most attention. Most of what teens see as icons are actors, singers/musicians and athletes.

Everywhere we turn, we are being courted to be entertained by the latest media gadget – IPod, IPhone, Play Station, TiVo, HDTV, My space….and the list goes on. We as teachers have all that and more to compete with. If we want to connect with kids and hold their attention, we must find a way to make school fun.

Just this week, the results came in for the businesses that were the best to work for. Who ranked number one? Google… because of the casual atmosphere, the fun environment and the focus on creativity. Who else is consistently in the Top 10? Southwest Airlines who have realized that the best way to hold customers is to making flying fun. Who else starts off a flight referring to the oxygen masks as margarine cups? Or says that anyone who wants to smoke can step outside? Who else has a contest where they award flying vouchers to whoever has the ugliest license picture or the biggest hole in their sock?

I believe that if we live in a world that honors and celebrates fun, we must incorporate that mindset into our classrooms or we just create another reason for kids to disconnect.

Elementary and middle school teachers are probably more comfortable adding an element of fun to their lessons but I think it’s just as important for high school teachers to do so. Teens are still kids inside and respond very positively to whatever levity, humor or fun we can add to our very important lessons.