Difficult but fun? Or easy but boring? Which one should you choose? As a teacher designing a lesson, it is an important question; it can make the difference between engaging students and having them tune out.
In an innovative school district like Los Altos, teachers are challenged each day to do more in the classroom. Each day, I choose lessons that are difficult; giving my students the most learning for every minute in the classroom. I often worry that I have gone too far. I wonder if my students will complain and ask for easier work.
One of the lessons in my class this year was on computer hardware - learning what is inside a computer. Instead of giving students a diagram of a computer motherboard and explaining the parts, I took in an old Mac laptop with its insides pulled out as well as a couple of old computer motherboards. I asked my students to draw the motherboard on the computer in 3D using Google Sketchup. The sixth graders were surprised. This would be difficult, they exclaimed! However they were excited; they knew it would be fun. It was fun to find the parts on the board, it was fun to count out the exact number of slots, and it was fun to translate a pencil drawing into a 3D model.
I learned something that day; it is okay to pick the ‘difficult but fun’ choice for my class. Los Altos students are ready for hard work. When I ask my students what they think of a class project, I often get the answer ‘It was kind of difficult, yet fun’. I like that. Many of us wonder why our kids like video games over homework. Good video games are not easy; they require detecting patterns, finding problems, discovering solutions and mastering many skills in a short amount of time. They are hard work, and usually more difficult than most homework. Which is why, they are also a lot more fun!