Some very clever people are using fun to solve social problems. The approach is called “Fun Theory,” and it’s tackling all kinds of social ills.
For example, Kevin Richardson suggests creating a “speeding lottery.” Cameras that catch speeders can also recognize those who obey the speed limit. Speeders pay fines into a pot, and those who obey are entered into a lottery to win the pot. Check out the speeding lottery video. Fun!
The mayor of Bogota, Columbia, has his own approach to speeding. Anatas Mockus hired over 400 mimes to stand on street corners, making fun of bad drivers. His reasoning is that it is more of a deterrent to humiliate bad drivers than to fine them. His idea has worked, dropping traffic fatalities by more than half. Fun!
And recently, two 17-year-old Canadians named Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad used fun theory to capture international attention for their backyard experiment. They sent a helium balloon nearly into space, including a Lego astronaut, which they filmed in flight. Fun!
What can fun theory do in my classroom?
Fun theory is limited only by imagination—yours and your students’. First, use fun theory on a source of annoyance. What is your biggest pet peeve? What are you constantly reminding your students about? Here’s a beginning list:
- Lateness for class
- Forgotten homework
- Sloppy mistakes
- Chatting and texting
- Not turning in assignments
- Not putting names on assignments
Put your name on your assignment!
Let’s take the last problem as an example. How could it be fun to put your name on a piece of paper? Here are three fun-theory possibilities:
- Low-tech solution: Set out colored highlighters beside your “In” box. Tell students that before they hand in an assignment, they need to highlight their names with a favorite color. Most students enjoy using highlighters, and getting to pick their favorite color makes the process more individual. The process of highlighting will remind students to include their names.
- Mid-tech solution: Ask students to create stickers that include their names. They can use a computer to do so, or they can write their names on a sheet of stickers and decorate the sheet with stamps, stars, and so on. Students can make the stickers as elaborate as they want, in whatever font, as long as it is readable. They might even adorn the stickers with royalty-free images. When assignments bear stickers that truly express the student, students are more likely to apply them.
- High tech solution: Have students create stickers that not only include their names but also have a personalized QR code, using a free online QR code generator. Then, when students hand in their assignments, they have to scan the code using a mobile device with the QR code reader. Kids will like the cool tech, and you’ll have an instant, digital record of who turned in what and when. You could display the assignment roster in the first five minutes of class so everyone can make sure everything is turned in.
What if I’m not that clever?
You don’t have to be. Half the fun of fun theory is coming up with the solution. Get your students’ help. After all, they contribute to the problem, don’t they? And if they are part of creating the solution, they will learn all along the way. To enlist students’ help in solving classroom problems with fun theory, follow these steps:
- Show some fun-theory videos to get students primed. In case the videos above aren’t enough for you, check out this “Bottle Bank Arcade” and this “Piano Staircase.”
- Ask students to brainstorm problems in the classroom or school—whether those are your pet peeves or the students’ own. Brainstorming problems sharpens thinking and disrupts the groupthink of solution-oriented brainstorming. It also helps students take ownership of the issue. Choose one problem to address as a class.
- Challenge students to devise numerous fun-theory solutions to the problem. Tell students the solution can be as imaginative as they wish, as long as it is fun.
- Select three or four workable and promising solutions, and have the students vote as to which of these they like best. Group students into teams based on their preferred solutions.
- Provide students the time and resources to innovate their solutions. Yes, I know this part may seem scary and messy, but you'll find all kinds of resources to help you and your students through any project. And recognize that when you have students working to solve a classroom problem, you are providing an environment in which they are thinking critically and creatively, problem solving, communicating and collaborating, and building many 21st century skills.
- Have students demonstrate their solutions in front of the class and a group of objective observers. Have teams advocate for their solutions, indicating why their particular idea should be implemented. Then you, the class, and the observers vote.