FOR FUN’S SAKE

I’m probably not alone when it comes to wanting to have some fun.Fun – experiences where you are totally alive, your true self, open, truly happy and ripe for learning. I missed the memo that said life wasn’t meant to be fun. I remember my first real sailing experience (on a 30ft sloop, the Sea Urchin 2) in Darwin. I was  born a land-locked farm boy. Rare glimpses of the big blue are tucked away in my early childhood memories but it wasn’t until I moved away to school in Adelaide, when I was 13, that I lived anywhere near the sea. My love affair with the ocean evolved to being on the ocean, as much as I was in it. I fell in love and I fell in fun. To be 30 years old and discover a new life passion that is so ‘YOU’ is transformational – excitement, nature, challenges and rewards, and so much to learn. The salty wind, the sun drying the spray from the bow, the rhythm of the hull transferring from the roll of the swell through the hull and into my feet, the sounds of the hull-bubbles and the vibration-flap of sails that need a little sheeting in. I soaked up the learning. I couldn’t get enough of it.  I was having so much fun. Everything automatically downloads into your long-term memory when you’re having fun.

As a principal – and as a teacher – my primary focus for students is for them to be having fun. If it’s not fun, they’re probably not really into it, I’m not into it – so, what’s the point? I always knew when my students weren’t into it, all teachers know it – students also know when a teacher is just going through the motions. It’s impossible to miss. Luckily for me, I was a Maths teacher – and Maths is so much fun for everyone (that’s a joke). But I set my own KPIs for student success, with fun being up the top of the list. Being creative, bold and vulnerable (a bit of stand-up comedy never hurts), bringing in life-stories, real-world examples, talking about Numbers and Science as if they are magic (because they are), and integrating numeracy skills with science, PE, cooking, gardening and sustainability are ingredients in the fun mix.

When I bought my first classic Vespa, I used to spend hours at the bengkel (mechanic) learning Bahasa Indonesian and some (Zen and the Art of) Vespa Maintenance. And I wasn’t doing it for some end-point goal. It was fun. Yes, I got to restore a cool scooter – and yes, I learned a new language; but it was fun … that’s why I was doing it. To quote Robert M. Pirsig (I get to do that if I reference his book, yeah?): “To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.” It’s the sides of the mountains where the fun needs to be.

Fun isn’t about success or failure – the falling-down, missed shots, sore hands, mistakes, confusion, sorry-I’m-just-learning apologies … that’s fun too. I love the ache you get from a hard day’s labour – that’s your body loving the fun. Fun can be challenging, it can hurt, it can be scary – it can take you to a place where you are pushed to the limits but you don’t give in.

I’ve reflected a lot on these deep learning experiences. Drawing from these to understand myself and those around me has played into my belief that we need an education revolution. I am not just stating the problem – anyone can do that; fun becomes part of the solution. So let’s bust open the idea that we learn because we have to. Let’s activate engagement for deep understanding, let’s all get creative, let’s make education and learning fun for the kids! And while we’re at it, let’s turn up the fun for teachers and parents too!

Schools need to be more fun. We need to create learning environments that make students want to be there. If you haven’t already noticed, the 2020 school-age learner isn’t someone you tell to do something for no reason. Rigid curriculum, pointless homework regimes, standardised assessment of rote-learned information, learning something just because you might use it later – but, let’s face it, probably never will – this only disconnects the learner from the real world, from learning, and from their future. There’s no fun in that, for anyone.

The learning that happens at school is just a part of a life-journey of learning. Bored, disgruntled, disconnected, undervalued, and disempowered students – are these the people who we need to drive the future of this planet? Come on – FFS (For Fun Sake) let’s have some fun.