Learning Has Always Been Fun

Learning is Fun

I was reading a blog post today about how a few companies are collaborating on a new app for NASA that will integrate the playability of an MMORPG and the coolness of real-world science. This sounds incredible to me and I can’t wait to try it. The one thing that irked me though was how when things like this come up, the cliche thing for marketers, journalists and the media to say is, “it will make learning fun” or “your kids won’t even know they are learning”.

News flash to those out there that think you have to disguise learning: LEARNING HAS ALWAYS BEEN FUN AND PEOPLE ENJOY IT.

With few exceptions, everyone loves to learn. Learning new things is what makes life exciting instead of the same old thing everyday. Talk to almost any kid in elementary school and they enjoy going to school and absorbing loads of new information. Post-elementary? Well, that’s where the excitement begins to diminish. Why?

That brings me to my theory of where this popular “It’s OK, they won’t know they’re learning” phrase came from. It probably stems from many kids’ attitudes toward post-elementary school. Learning isn’t a drag, school is. Allow me to elaborate.

The School Setting

Do you remember what it was like walking into your elementary school classrooms? I remember there were heavily decorated walls. Posters of planets, ecosystems, history and far-off places invigorated the mind. Art projects hung from the ceiling. Who wouldn’t get excited to dive into knowledge in a setting such as this? These are the best years of school.

This week we took our kids to their school open houses. As expected, the classrooms for our two youngest in elementary school were comfortable, full of creative inspiration and poised to take in a roomful of energetic kids. Then came the middle school for our two oldest kids. What did those classrooms feel like? In a word, boring. White cinder-block walls. One or two posters. Nothing hanging from the ceiling. Desks in rigid rows. Cold and sterile. Wow. Let’s open up that social studies book and have fun!

Why can’t we carry that “elementary school room” mentality throughout middle school, high school and beyond? Do we think decorations and models are childish? I don’t understand. Why is it that the system thinks we don’t need to be fully stimulated anymore as we grow older?

Following the Rules

One of my most negative memories of school was during a high school English class where we were given a short story writing assignment. At that time I had a favorite author who I liked to emulate. One of his popular writing techniques was to end a paragraph with a very short “sentence” for impact. For example, the end of the paragraph might read, “Very cold.” Now, you know and I know that this is not a complete sentence in the sacred, formal rules of grammar. So what? I loved how it sounded and how it made me feel when I read it (I actually used a few in this post, ahem).

“No. That is not allowed. I’m marking points off”, was the teacher’s response. That’s interesting. I wonder if the author, who made millions of dollars from his books writing that way, realized his blatant disregard of the English language with his sentence fragments?

My point is that creativity is stifled when students aren’t allowed to push boundaries and bend rules. Isn’t history full of examples of greatness when so called “rules” are not followed precisely?

Sark feels my pain in her book, A Creative Companion.

At school, things may have changed. The chairs were in rows, and tree trunks were to be colored brown, not purple. If you lived in a world of purple tree trunks, you probably learned to hide it.

Encourage Learning. Encourage Fun.

Our education system should do everything it can to keep our students excited for the long term. I think two very simple steps could be taken right now. Make the school settings engaging throughout all levels of education and encourage creativity and rule bending.

Learning is not a drag. School is. Let’s change that.

Virtual Coca-Cola for Your Virtual Thirst

Back in 2007, Coca-Cola held a contest to see who could design the best virtual Coca-Cola machine for their corporate presence in the world of Second Life. I had only dabbled in that world, but I’m a Coca-Cola addict and I thought it was a fun idea.

Coke wanted entries to capture the essence of the brand: refreshment, joy, unity and experience. So I set to brainstorming for a machine that would encompass those ideals. Using RayDream3D (I hadn’t used Blender much yet) and Paint Shop Pro, I created a storyboard to convey my vision.

Coke scene 01
Approaching the Coke machine
Coke scene 02
Make a gesture to activate
Coke scene 03
The Coca-Cola sign illuminates
Coke scene 04
Bottle dispenses a wide spray dome
Coke scene 05
Projectors extend around bottle
Coke scene 06
World map is projected onto spray dome
Coke scene 07
Bubble dispensers extend and activate
Coke scene 08
Player points finger through a country on the dome
Coke scene 09
Projectors overlay flag of activated country on dome
Coke scene 10
Individual bubbles show scenes from selected country
Coke scene 11
Player selects another country
Coke scene 12
Flag of newly selected country is projected onto dome
Coke scene 13
Bubbles now show scenes from both countries

Faster Fast Food

To stay on the subject of McDonald’s, while giving the cashier the order for my six-person family on my last visit, I was thinking about how I routinely give this lengthy order, and how there’s a good chance I may miss a subtle difference from one week to the next (apple dippers instead of fries, or ranch dressing instead of honey mustard. Oh, the wrath I receive when I deliver a tray with the wrong dipping sauce).

So I started taking orders for my family with the trusty notepad app on my iPhone. I walk into the restaurant and read the order off my iPhone to the cashier. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if I could just send the order from my iPhone to the cashier’s terminal? This method would have several benefits, including:

  • Order accuracy (this helps me out more than McDonald’s since I’m the one who usually gets something wrong)
  • Saves time (it takes me quite a while to spill out the details of several custom meals. Think about how this would speed up the line at Subway! No more “wheat bread, six inches, toasted, lettuce, onions, green peppers, light mayo, honey mustard, salt…and on the next one….”)
  • Payment integration (you might as well pay with the app while you’re at it instead of reaching into your wallet for your card, or worse, cash)

There are several ways this could be handled, but we’ll just play around with one idea here. I’m thinking each restaurant would have its own app. That way, each could keep its own menus up-to-date. I would take my family’s order with the app by tapping on menu items (probably much like the cashiers do with their touch screens) instead of typing in my notepad. I could save the entire order as a favorite to use again, or use as a basis for quickly creating an order with only a few changes.

I walk into the restaurant with the app fired up. The cashier asks me what I would like, I inform him that I’ll be sending it over. I press send, he acknowledges, I confirm the total, my card gets charged, and I wait for my order to be assembled. Here is a diagram of the process:

Fast food app
Fast food app architecture

Digital Donations

I was at McDonald’s the other day, looking at the mostly empty donation box in front of the cash register, and was wondering if Ronald McDonald House Charities had felt an impact from the current trend of plastic money over paper. I have rarely carried cash for several years now, and I know many others do the same. Several years before then, when I did carry cash, I didn’t hesitate to throw my change into the donation box.

There’s got to be a way for us plastic users to easily donate to this and other worthy causes. I remembered a few years ago, when another fast food restaurant was asking for donations to help the homeless, and they asked if you would like to round up your bill. I thought this was an excellent idea and made it so easy to give. For example, if your meal cost $4.45, you could round up your bill to $5.00, and the extra $0.55 would go to charity. This method works for plastic as easily as it does for cash. You are told the total amount of your bill, including the donation, and you pay as you wish.

I think McDonald’s and RMHC would do well in implementing a similar program. To raise the idea another level, what if the credit card terminal prompted the customer for a donation amount? The options would be something like “round up”, “$1.00”, “$2.00”, and “Cancel”. This may prove to increase donations even further, as many people may opt for at least the one dollar option.

I have diagrammed the process below. Do you see any barriers to this implementation? What may work better?

Digital donations
Digital donations