FETC speaker is covering 5 ideas for playful and purposeful learning

'We as educators do have to take learning very seriously but we don't have to take ourselves so seriously,' FETC speaker John Meehan says
By: | September 9, 2021
Gamification, play and fun are how English teacher and instructional coach John Meehan, an FETC 2022 featured speaker, is reaching new levels of engagement with his students.Gamification, play and fun are how English teacher and instructional coach John Meehan, an FETC 2022 featured speaker, is reaching new levels of engagement with his students.
John Meehan

John Meehan

Students, undaunted by the virtual challenge, fail for hours on end during marathon sessions of playing Minecraft, Fortnite and other immersive video games.

However, they get a few questions wrong in an algebra class in which they succeed more often than not, and they decide they are not good at math.

Gamification, play and fun are how English teacher and instructional coach John Meehan is solving this problem of engagement in his and his colleagues’ classrooms at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia.

“We have to figure out what excites students and try to harness those things to create more dynamic, purposeful and playful lesson plans for our classrooms,” says Meehan, who is a featured speaker on the EdTech Coaches Track at Future of Education Technology® Conference 2022.

“You’re looking for action-packed teaching strategies that get students up and moving out of their seats,” he says.

Meehan went viral in 2019 with a video of his #EggDashChallenge, in which teams of students scramble to solve problems written on slips of paper concealed inside plastic Easter eggs.

“We as educators do have to take learning very seriously but we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously,” Meehan says.

In his FETC talk, Meehan will describe some of those “action-packed teaching strategies” as detailed in his latest book, Fully Engaged: Playful Pedagogy for Real Results. Here’s an overview of the concepts he will cover:

1. Game design: It starts with the motivational psychology behind how great games are designed and how to adapt those elements into classroom learning activities.

2. Transforming instruction: Game design concepts will guide teachers into transforming instruction into something that looks feel more like “the kind of learning students are doing outside of school for hours and hours,” he says.

EDrenaline Rush: Game-Changing Student Engagement Inspired by Theme Parks, Mud Runs, and Escape Rooms 

FETC Live 2022

The Future of Education Technology® Conference takes place live and in-person Jan. 25-28, 2022, in Orlando.

3. Innovative examples: Students can find the answers to a low-level, “gotcha” quiz about The Great Gatsby on YouTube to “convince” a teacher they’ve done the required reading. Instead, a teacher could play 1920s jazz recording in the classroom and divide the students into small groups of flappers, mobsters, stockbrokers and other characters from the novel. Lessons could proceed like a game of Clue, with students revealing new details about the story.

Or the discussion could proceed like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, in which students read up to a point in the novel and then decide what course of action the characters should take next. The students would use evidence from the novel to defend their ideas.

4. Centering students in their learning: These types of engaging playful lessons naturally put students at the center of the pedagogy. This empowers them with feelings of being able to control their own learning, similar to what they experience playing video games, Meehan says. In turn, that mindset will allow students to risk feeling vulnerable to take chances.

“Brains are hard-wired for novelty,” Meehan says.

5. Is homework outdated? Very little is revealed about students’ learning after two weeks’ worth of homework followed by a big unit test. For one, it’s easy for students to copy, cheat or find other shortcuts to complete the homework, which leaves them unprepared for the test and produces grades that might not reflect how much they have actually learned.