Is the learning in your classroom “hard fun”?

Seymour Papert often talked about learning needing to be “hard fun”.  Make writing hard fun.  Make reading hard fun.  The term hard fun was brought to his attention by a student who was working on a LOGO project.  It was a student enjoying what they were doing , being thoroughly challenged by what they were doing and most importantly enjoying the tough challenge.  This is fun but it is hard.

Reading the recent media blow up of the OECD reports and the really loose correlation between the amount of computers in a school and a student’s literacy and numeracy performance, I spent some time wondering about the health of tech use in our schools (For a great analysis and synthesis of the OECD report, check out Audrey Watter’s post here or a Storify of Richard Olsen’s comments here, thanks John Pearce!).  In my role, I see great learning with and because of technology.  I also see really low level use.  The high level use is most often synonymous with creation and the low level use is most often synonymous with consumption (Audrey really hits the nail on this one).  The OECD report was really loose with their explanation of what computer use actually referred to and this for me was a frustrating element as the loose correlations and inferences allowed for plenty of finger pointing.

With the report digesting in my brain, I spent the week in the classroom wondering how the OECD landscape compared with my own.  When did computer use benefit learning?  When did it not?  On Friday, my Digital Leaders presented their Makey Makey projects during Junior School assembly.  The hand made guitars and piano stairs were created wholly by these students and there was so much “hard fun” present.  Creativity, critical thinking and collaboration were in abundance and the learning was phenomenal.  Straight after that I worked with my Year 9 student’s on a media project and I was pulling my hair out in frustration at the low tier use.  They weren’t really enjoying the work and were completely satisfied with handing in “just enough”.  I’m not sure what the opposite to “hard fun” is but they had it covered and ironically enough these Year 9 students would be eligible for PISA testing next year.  I spent plenty of time reflecting on the two classes and I kept coming back to “hard fun” and not the OECD assumptions.  The learning for my Year 9 students was somewhat engaging, had wavering challenge limits and the results showed for themselves.  Is this because of the technology?  Nope.  These students were really apathetic about what they were learning.  There was no genuine interest, no real purpose and throw in a heavy conditioning program to do well on tests and get good grades and you arrive here.  What happens in the gap between Year 5 & Year 9?  Where is the hard fun?

How does one create experiences that are hard fun for everyone?  According to Ben Wildeboar, (@WillyB),

“Designing hard fun learning experiences requires a bit more flexibility, a lot more student control, and a heckuva lot less “feeding” students the one right way.”  

The notion of fun in a school sense is a particularly interesting concept.  In a landscape of national curriculum, standardised testing and ATARs, can we really let the students choose what they learn?  There are schools like Templestowe College that are allowing this exact thing and are transforming the learning for their community as a result.  Would it work at your school?  Choice is not everything but It is fun choosing what you wish to study.   Papert  “argued for learning experiences that are fun because they are hard“.   Learning that drives you to push through when you are struggling.  The sad part is that nowhere in the OECD report was there any indication that the use of technology was hard fun…just a whole bunch of web browsing, skill and drill tasks and low level thought tasks.




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