“Joyful learning often means that students don’t even realize they are learning,” said Amy Wright, chair of the Technology and Engineering department.
It’s as simple as that. Here at The Hun School, we’ve thrown traditional textbook learning methods out the window, and the classroom dynamic revolves around joy and exploration. Research shows that pairing an educational lesson with a few laughs here and there deepens understanding helps students retain the information better.
In fact, Dr. David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institution states that research indicates that students who “experience positive emotions are able to perceive more options when trying to solve problems that require insight, collaborate better, and generally perform better overall.” He explains that when students portray feelings of interest, happiness, joy, and desire in the classroom, their dopamine levels increase, creating the ideal learning scenario.
For Ms. Wright, each semester she is tasked with teaching Programming 1 students what a function is. And she does so with a timeless polka dance: the chicken dance. It may seem silly, but it fits into the lesson plan perfectly.
“Like a dance, a function is a list of steps that is grouped together for a purpose, and given a name,” she said. “So, I have everyone stand up and I play the chicken dance on YouTube, and we do the steps together until everyone has it down. Then, we write the steps down and give names to each of the moves. Anytime my students struggle with applying the concept of a function, we refer back to the chicken dance and it falls right into place.”
Teachers at The Hun School have learned first hand that their students tend to make deeper connections when they actively participate in something, rather than passively absorbing information, so lesson plans are active.
Lynn McNulty, a teacher in the History and Global Studies department, has spent several years revamping her lesson plans to create assignments that leave lasting impressions on her students. Through the years, one assignment in particular has proved itself to be a fan favorite amongst students: 16th and 17th Century Historical Speed Dating.
That’s right. What better way to study the Enlightenment period than speed dating. Students select a historical figure from that time period, create a dating profile, make a prop that signifies the person, and create a business card to exchange with other speed daters.
Ms. McNulty notes that her favorite part about this assignment is her students' involvement. Whether they come to class dressed up as Isaac Newton or Galileo, she always appreciates her students’ ability to transform themselves into character for a class assignment.
“This type of learning is imperative,” she said. “Enthusiasm, laughter, excitement, and collaboration in the classroom is key for students to be able to engage with the material in different ways. It really takes their skills of understanding and critical thinking to the next level. That cognitive flexibility and nimbleness are key skills to adapt to the ever-changing world we live in.”
Allison Sims, a Visual Arts teacher at the School, explains that this year in particular, she is making it a goal of hers to create projects that not only give students a break from screen time, but also challenge them to think outside of the box when it comes to creating art. Just recently, students were assigned a project where they had to use materials around them to create a fort outside large enough that they could fit inside of.
Ms. Sims notes that while some students thought the assignment was challenging, others found joy in creating a fort and even used it as a place to relax and unwind during a nice day.
“Joyful learning is important because it makes the art-making process enjoyable and in turn, students begin to associate learning with positive experiences.”
Whether it be computer science, history, art, or anything in between, teachers at The Hun School always make it a priority to mix learning with plenty of laughter.