Increase student engagement by increasing fun

 In Education

Originally posted on LinkedIn, 5 June 2017

Students prioritize the fun in history, and so should we

When looking at some of the feedback I’ve gotten from Ancestors unKnown’s students over the last couple of years, one word makes a frequent appearance: fun.

Student opinions

Some students are enthusiastic about all the fun they’ve had learning about their ancestors, asking their family members questions, and discovering new things about other parts of the world. They say things like, “it was really fun to learn about where my grandparents grew up;” and “I had the most fun on the field trip because the history came to life;” and “I liked the investigating part, it was fun.”

Other students are looking for more fun than that. Sure, the whole ancestors + history thing is cool – but it’s not fun. These students recommend we add more games to the curriculum, more animation, more pizazz. You know, fun stuff.


I get it. Everyone wants to have fun. And memorizing facts about 1863 isn’t fun for everyone. For some, history class needs to meet them halfway.

I’m the first to admit I didn’t like studying history when I was in high school. In fact, I didn’t even see the fun potential in the subject. I looked at history through a lens of resentment and frustration. Since my ancestors and their stories weren’t accurately represented, and I was angered by the erasure of Black narratives, I had no time for any of it.

Representation went beyond the mere mention of my ancestors. Because even when Black and brown people showed up in the curriculum, I stayed checked-out. Well, I perked up for a few minutes during that one trimester when we studied Third World History. But once I realized those three months were dedicated to the whole entire history of the entire global south, and that the whole non-white part of the planet was labeled “third world” – no, I wasn’t having any fun.

Beyond my childhood angst, the bigger point is what I (don’t) remember from those history classes. How much of the subject made an impression? Honestly, not much. Because when you’re angry and annoyed, you don’t have much time to remember things. Most of that historical information went in one ear, and with a swift eye-roll, was quickly tossed out that very same ear. Useless.

Finding the fun – and why it matters

As educators, we must be careful about how we teach history. We should know what our students care about and if/how they connect with the subject. We can tell great stories, talk about famous people, show a movie or two, and connect it all to dates and maps; but if there’s no special connection made, or no fun involved, the information might not be retained.

Read the rest of this article on Linkedin, including my ideas for making history more fun for students.

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