Last week, the R1SE Education and Recreation Center opened its doors in Tittabawassee Township, of Freeland, Michigan. But what opened was no ordinary ‘after hours’ center for students needing homework support: R1SE markets itself as the world’s first truly “fun” tutoring facility. Laid out more like a games arcade, giant rumpus or Google office, the 8,000-square-foot facility embraces state-of-the-art technology and modern design to appeal to its young audience. Why, you might ask? Founder Trevor Szafranski wanted to create a place where kids simply loved learning.
“There’s a lot of places to send kids before and after school, but we want a place where kids are begging to go to, not a place that they have to go to,” said Trevor. “So in order to achieve that we wanted to create a very wild, innovative space so when they walk in, jaws hit the floor and they’re begging their parents to come here and improve their academics rather than being dragged in.”
The center is divided into two key zones: upstairs is decked out with a movie theater, activity room and video games galore, and downstairs is where the students can receive academic support to complete homework, prepare for tests and undertake academic tasks, like assignments. On the lower level, students can find comfortable seating, virtual reality technology, a computer lab and “Michigan-themed rooms”, to inspire them to work harder and better, enabling them to reap the rewards of the upstairs level.
“Upstairs we have a movie theater, and an activity room with all of the latest video games,” Trevor said. “We wanted a space that kids see and their jaws drop and they beg to attend.”
This kind of positive reinforcement, the former schoolteacher explained, truly works for students. Having taught in the Swan Valley School District and coached in Freeland schools for over 15 years, Trevor is only too familiar with what works and doesn’t work in the educational context. Last year, turning his dreams into reality through R1SE won him the Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
But Szafranski isn’t the only educator dreaming of bigger and better things for the students of tomorrow.
Innovation in education – in a bid to make learning more accessible and engaging for students – is happening right around the world. But making learning “fun” again doesn’t appear to be just targeting young learners, but the young at heart, too. Computer tablets and interactive learning are increasingly popping up as entertainment options at nursing and retirement homes around the world, making technology accessible while at the same time stimulating elderly user’s cognitive abilities through computer games. The New York Times recently launched a Monday crossword in the hope of making general knowledge learning fun again for readers, and unless those readers start resorting to crosswordsolver.com to find clues, it just might have the intended impact on wider society.
Rewinding back to young learners, though, and the examples of innovation in education are endless. In Providence, Rhode Island, the Big Picture Learning model breaks down the walls between education and the working world, inviting students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to pair up with mentors who work in the fields the students want to someday enter. At the Brightworks School in San Francisco, California, students are encouraged to play with fire, get messy, experiment with electricals – and do basically everything their parents tell them not to do, in an effort to capture the attention and interest of curious young learners.
In Australia last week, a new literacy program that depends wholly upon furry friends was celebrated for its innovative approach to making reading – something traditionally dull for many young students – fun. The Story Dogs initiative – a program that sees dogs visit schools to encourage kids to give reading a try – aims to boost students’ confidence by getting them to re-read passages so the guest animal can understand. Social learning platform Extraclass was recently launched in India in the hopes of motivating students to study more by enticing them with rewards, in the form of snacks, accessories, movie tickets. The platform, which was created by Gurugram-based innovators Persainjit Singh, Prakash Gupta and Swati Gupta in 2017, provides free learning content to anyone between the ages of 5 and 25 years, using animated videos and infographic study material, plus video lectures, practice question banks, and adaptive assessment and test series.
“Do you remember your parents telling you that if you score higher in exams we will get you a cricket bat or a doll set etc.? Extraclass does that in a structured manner to recognise efforts and reward hard work,” Persainjit said of the app.
The people disrupting the education space by making learning fun and engaging again are not stopping anytime soon – and nor are the apps, programs, shows and initiatives they are rolling out, it would seem. Though not exactly brand new to the market, Duolingo is a learning platform that uses engaging and interactive bite-sized lessons to teach foriegn languages to learners, and Sesame Workshop is a non-profit that produces educational children’s shows, with a mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. The National STEM Video Game Challenge seeks to encourage participating students to develop twenty-first century skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and design-system thinking, by inviting them to code their own video games. The list. Goes. On.
Learning can be fun, and it seems as though learning is only going to become more engaging and interactive into the future.