It’s not hard to figure out why this statement is true. When things are taught in a fun way, your whole being is stimulated: your emotions are happy and excited; your mind is alert and receptive; your will is compliant and eager; and physically, you are awake and energised. Dr. Seuss once said, “I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.” If something is fun, our minds are fresh and open to receive new information. Fun gets the brain primed and ready to learn.
On the contrary, our brains turn off to things that are dull. “We don’t pay attention to boring things … We remember learning that is fun, novel, different.” (Toney, 2011) When something is taught in a boring way, there’s nothing to energise or capture your attention. If you do manage to stay focused, it’s by sheer determination of will, perhaps because there is some external motivation such as an exam, demanding that you pay attention and absorb the information. And even then, at some point, you find your attention wandering off somewhere … oops, oh dear, what did I miss?
I wanted to demonstrate this contrast with a group of music teachers by teaching them something in two different ways. So I decided to help them learn the first twelve elements of the periodic table of elements in Chemistry (i.e. Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium…). First, I taught them in a very logical, rather boring way, using mnemonics. I structured it the same way that we teach the notes to music beginners, as if the elements were ordered on lines and spaces, with one mnemonic for the odd numbered elements, and one for the even numbered ones. It was interesting watching them as they laboured under this strategy. They were all very serious, there were many frowns, and the atmosphere reminded me of any one of my high school maths, chemistry or accounting classes – i.e. serious, uninspiring, labour-intensive. I knew that none of the content would be stored in their long-term memory – that if I asked them a year later, “what is the 11th element on the periodic table?”, the answer would be, “….uuuhhhhh……can I Google that?”.
Then I taught them the same facts in a different way, using stories and pictures which helped them to learn the element names and link them to their number on the periodic table. I also gave them corresponding games, where they played with magnets on magnetic boards, which got them moving and engaging with what they were learning. What a huge contrast; the whole atmosphere and countenance of the teachers changed dramatically, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds! The stories and games were fun, the pictures were colourful, and this time I could tell that the information was going in. When I tested them at the end, the responses were quick and confident, and there was a lot of laughter and fun, as now the elements had meaning and even personalities given to them by the stories. It was great!
Subsequently, I’ve done this demonstration with various groups of teachers around New Zealand and Australia, and many of them have said to me months later, “You know, I can still remember all twelve elements!” I find that amazing, as that result only came from having one session with them. It shows the power of our brains to store information in our long term memory when it is learned in a fun context.
Imagine what could be achieved if, as teachers, we took this approach to teaching on a weekly basis. If adults respond better to teaching that is fun, how much more relevant this is with kids! Using a bit of “nonsense” to impart information is a great way to teach if it’s going to “wake up” our students’ brain cells!
When you are teaching music to a new beginner, one of the biggest tasks is to teach them the notes – but this gives a lovely opportunity to have fun! I love making this the most fun part of the lesson by using Easy Notes to turn the notes into characters and stories. I have started some 5- and 6-year olds in piano lessons this year, and what fun they have with the stories and magnets! One 5-year old boy walked into his lesson last week and said to me, “I’ve made up a song about the notes”, so I asked him to play it to me. He then played the notes from C to G singing, “C is for Cat, D is for Dog, E if for Elephant…” It was so cute! I asked him if he made it up by himself, and he said that he and his parents made it up together. What a lovely picture then sprang into my mind: Mum, Dad and son gathered around the piano with the Easy Notes theory book open on the music stand, making up a song about the characters … I’m sure that’s quite a romantic 1950’s sort of image, but it’s probably not too far off! I’m going to video him singing his song and post it in my next blog – so stay tuned (it’s really cute).
Not only do the kids enjoy learning in a fun way, but how satisfying for me, the teacher, when I see them week by week assimilating the notes and their positions into their memory, and subsequently being able to play the music from their piano books with ease. I used to struggle so much with this aspect of teaching music, and would never start kids as young as 5 and 6, knowing that they weren’t ready for the academic rigour of learning the notes and reading music using the traditional way of mnemonics. But now that I have found a fun way to do it, I happily start students even as young as this, because when learning is fun, learning is easy!
I’d like to close with one more quote for you: “Fun learning is successful learning, so your homework assignment for the week is to make learning fun!” (Hager, 2010)
Take care everyone.
If you would like to comment on this topic, please feel free to in the space below.
My next blog will be about how fun creates a positive atmosphere in the lesson and removes the fear of failure.
Kasibhatla, Nishant (2010). Maximise your Memory Power. EzineArticles.com
Toney, Barbara (2011). Brain Rules: An Overview of the 12 Brain Principles. EzineArticles.com
Hager, Stephen (2010) College Survival Guide: Make Learning Fun! EzineArticles.com