Learning with a (Big) Bang

By Sari Kontra©

At the last Game for Change Festival in New York City I had the privilege of meeting Lauri Javuilento, CEO and founder of Lighteneer in Helsinki, Finland. Lauri is a dynamic, creative and enthusiastic advocate for games as exemplary learning experiences and his new company had come out with their first game Big Bang Legends an exciting, thrilling blast of a game about physics for kids. One of Lauri’s daughters demonstrated he game, and I was soon set up with an educator’s account and played and played and played when I got back home. Lauri’s team bring together some of the geniuses behind (He being one of those geniuses) Angry Birds (Rovio) phenomenon, and Lighteener tales the fun of those angry birds and applies it to a game designed for spark children’s curiosity and natural drive to explore and discover.  Lauri, should he know. His PhD is in philosophy and he is founder of Helsinki’s Academy of Philosophy (Filosofian Akatemia). As philosophy was the ‘outside’ field for my doctorate exam, we had a natural affinity for each other’s work. I also know Finland has one of, if not the very best, public school systems in the world, so I asked Lauri to recommend a Finnish teacher to write this blog. The result follows. You can read Sari Kontra’s bio below what I hope to be the first of many guest blogs from Finland.- David Seelow, PhD

Is there such thing as right way to learn?

When most look back to their time in school, they find similar memories: long rows of clumsy tables, uncomfortable chairs, a teacher’s monotone voice in front of the classroom, the quiet yawns of classmates, slowly but surely closing your eyes… Hey, wake up! Your school memories could have been something else.

Researchers and educators have already figured out that sitting quietly, and alone, doesn’t contribute to one’s ability to learn very efficiently. Of course, we still need some individual time for our own thoughts and quiet time for certain things, but teaching methods of the past shouldn’t be the only ones used in schools today. In the working world, we have already come a long way from assembly lines and workplaces made up of rows of offices with shut doors, and improvements are still on their way. However, when it comes to schools, this progress isn’t happening fast enough, and too many are clinging to methods of the “good old days”.

When I started my own career as a primary school teacher, I became filled by doubts about these ancient beliefs. I felt sorry that my pupils had to stay seated all day long, filling in their old-fashioned notebooks with soon-to-be-old information. Those bored faces, sore backs and tapping feet reminded me of my own time in school and suddenly, I wanted to do things differently. I asked myself one question: What am I usually doing when I’m having fun learning?

For me, fun was always found through learning in groups and particularly through physical activity and mobile games, such as Big Bang Legends. I was fortunately able to test this new way of teaching, and learning with my pupils.

Kids in Sari’s class playing Big Bang Legends

Before long, my doubts and concerns were replaced with ideas and answers – but it was a bumpy start, and I quickly realized that finding new ways to teach meant going back to the “classroom” myself. Teaching without books or a blackboard was frightening in the beginning and believe me, using monkey bars and other outdoor facilities during my lessons made me feel the way Mr. Edison most likely did while discovering his famous lightbulb. I also faced the opinion of some people: “That’s not the right way to learn. Get back and sit by your table.”

Is there such thing as right way to learn? Shouldn’t we look at the aims and get there in those ways one can best achieve them? For some it might be reading for hours but, believe me, for most it’s completely something else.

More than nine hundred attempts, several litres of sweat and dozens of hours of brainstorming gave both me and Mr. Edison our own personal goals: he got some light and gave it to us, and over a hundred years later, I discovered my way of offering light to the kids I teach every day, by helping them find fun in learning.

We all know that our world needs co-operative, flexible and self-confident individuals and future employees. However, sitting quietly in dim classrooms while being spoon-fed information isn’t the way forward.

If we support our children and teach them to work together today, we can be quite sure that they will carry this spirit into their adult lives and careers. If we want them to solve future problems and challenges, we should provide them with the skills they will in fact need – and they should be taught in the way our future leaders are more able to learn them: by letting them be active, question, cooperate and most importantly, have fun.

Believe me, the last one isn’t the enemy of learning – it’s our key for success. Therefore, anyone who dares to succeed in life should dare to have fun while learning one’s future skills. I am quite positive that this involves all of us and is worth trying. For instance, with Big Bang Legends.


Author Bio

Sari Kontra (M.Ed.) is a 29-year-old elementary school teacher in Finland who would rather take her students outdoors to the monkey bar than stay and teach in a traditional classroom environment. She believes that by incorporating physical activity and new forms of functionality and devices into teaching, that we can tackle many of today’s challenges in the field of education. These ideas brought her together with Lightneer, the global gaming studio from the former makers behind Angry Birds. Sari Kontra held her first TEDx talk

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