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Play Like a Pirate – Fun is an essential part of learning

I spent part of the morning chatting with golfing buddy and educational expert Steve Wyckoff. He’s got a way of sucking people into unplanned conversations that end up making everyone smarter. It’s always a good time when it starts with Steve’s signature line:

“So what’s become clear to you?”

This morning wasn’t any different.

We spent perhaps an hour meandering around a matrix that focuses on levels of student engagement. The different quadrants of the matrix ask students to think about how challenging a class is and whether they love or hate it. We’re thinking about using this to get usable data from middle and high school students. As in, “pick a quadrant that best describes each of your classes.”

engagement matrix

We talked about how we could use this collected data to help design high quality professional learning. We chatted about what does the word challenging mean. How grit and rigor might figure into the matrix. And how an Uber business model might impact how kids complete the matrix.

The scary thing?

I think a lot of kids sit in classes that could easily fit in the Grind quadrant.

Part of the solution?

play like a pirateGet Quinn Rollins new book Play Like a Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics. It’s just that simple. The book’s Amazon blurb might have been written specifically for our matrix conversation:

“For some, school feels like a chore: boring, monotonous, necessary. But what if school were fun – for you and your students? What would life be like if you felt excited about your lessons? Better yet, what if your students actually looked forward to your class every day?”

I had the chance to meet Quinn at a recent NCSS conference and have been using his graphic novel ideas ever since. The brain research is pretty clear – when our kids are both challenged and engaged, powerful learning is the result.

Quinn walks you through a wide variety of ways to insert fun into your instructional design. He  shares why toys such as Hot Wheels, Play-Doh, and Barbies / action figures belong in your classroom, how to use board and video games, and why graphic novels and comic strips aren’t just for fun. He talks about how to bring passion to the classroom and why it works – even if it isn’t related to your subject.

Play Like a Pirate includes practical strategies and QR codes that link to even more resources and templates that make it easy to integrate brain-based fun into student learning. And it doesn’t matter what grade you teach – Quinn provides a variety of ideas and resources for different ages.

Quinn starts off with five guiding principles:

  • Make sure the fun applies to your content
  • Don’t kill the fun
  • Make the activities versatile
  • Try out everything first
  • Use toys you grew up with

I especially like that last one. Nothing wrong with current toys, games, and culture. But don’t think that your favorites won’t have an impact. When we share our favs and “gush about them,” Quinn says that “your enthusiasm will be contagious.”

The bottom line? You’re going to put this book down and walk away smarter.

You’ll also want to be sure and bookmark Quinn’s Play Like a Pirate site. He’s got even more goodies over there. Spoiler alert. His latest post focuses on how to use Little Green Army Men as part of learning. Who doesn’t love Little Green Army Men?

I am seriously loving this and will be using even more of Quinn’s ideas and suggestions. Play Like a Pirate is the perfect “get back in the teaching mode before school starts personal professional learning” tool.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Key to me in reading this is “your enthusiasm will be contagious.” I am neither an educator nor do I work in the field of education. As a product of the sixties I attended schools that were homogenous with a discipline focus to more diversified with limited discipline. I personally have the greatest respect for teachers and believe that an educated population is the main ingredient for a meaningful life. When I consider my various classes so many years ago, what comes to mind are teachers who brought the subject alive and made us students a part of it. Perhaps easier in teaching history and literature then math and chemistry but doable. We each have that quadrant within us. How a teacher can direct students to the best area is essential. Sorry to be so long winded but I do appreciate your writings.

    August 1, 2016
    • glennw #


      Thanks for your comments! I hear the same story from both current and past students – a teacher’s obvious love and passion for their content can have a huge impact on student learning. And there are so many different ways this enthusiasm can be shared.

      We just need to be willing to let it show!


      August 1, 2016
  2. Reblogged this on The DigiTeacher.

    August 2, 2016
  3. Really great article. This is useful to so many people. I also refer to the “engaged” state as “flow” state!

    August 2, 2016
    • glennw #

      I love the idea of flow! We can learn some much from gaming research.

      Thanks for the comment!


      August 4, 2016
  4. Glenn,

    I really like the four quadrants! Great book and series. Bringing students from Entertained to Engaged a current challenge for me

    August 11, 2016
    • glennw #

      The matrix is definitely a good “rubric” for helping us focus on our task. And the books can be very helpful with that!


      August 11, 2016

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