George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Makes a Learning Experience Unbelievably Satisfying?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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"How was school?" I asked Mercedes, my middle school-aged daughter. I have learned to not ask yes or no questions, but she still gives me a one-word answer. "Good." My typical reply to that is, "Good for what?" This makes her laugh but she still doesn't want to provide much detail to her days learning activities. It might be that she is providing a buffer of protection for her teachers from an overly critical dad, or I suppose it could be a syndrome of her age -- simply not wanting dad to know too much.

Whatever it is, it's the typical response and she only shares more about her day upon insistent prodding. It would be nice, just one day, if I would ask her, "How was your day at school?" and she would respond, "Unbelievably satisfying!"

Those are words that I don't think are regularly used to describe schools. Even more specifically, I am reasonably certain that in the history of the world, no student has ever described her day at school as unbelievably satisfying. These are the thoughts that pass through my head every day as I drive passed a billboard for Dr. Pepper, in which a smiling leprechaun holds up a soda can and in big bold letters states, "Unbelievably Satisfying!"

But wouldn't it be absolutely awesome if our schools were able to inspire this kind of emotion in their students?

So how can an everyday school experience become unbelievably satisfying to a student? In the case of Dr. Pepper, they claim it is this way because it quenches your thirst, and is sweet, tasty, and fizzy. Let's look at how a teacher can make her classroom learning activities unbelievably satisfying for her students:

  • Students have a general curiosity, a thirst to find out what's new. When a teacher inspires students to discover something new, you can actually hear the gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.
  • Students love to feel needed and essential. When teachers share leadership and play to the strengths of the student, there it goes again, gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.
  • Students crave honest and specific praise and when they get it from an observant teacher, gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.
  • The sweetness of victory fills students to the brim when they succeed at difficult problems with which an astute teacher has challenged them, gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.
  • Canny teachers purposefully engage the students in hands-on projects designed to leave the students with a taste for more, while energetic and enthusiastic teachers create fun and active learning environments where the students' excitement can't help but bubble to the surface, gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.

That is how teachers can create unbelievably satisfying days at school for students. Getting away from the idea that education is something you do to kids, and embracing the idea that it is something to be experienced with kids is what will make the difference between a good day at school and an unbelievably satisfying one.

Mercedes is my youngest child, but I have hope that soon she will have unbelievably satisfying days at school every day.

What are some ways that you make learning experiences in your classroom satisfying and memorable for your students?

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Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Comments (32) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Ramkishan's picture

As an administrator of a chain of International schools in India, I find a huge disconnect between the learner and the teacher. In a majority of instances I have come across teachers being blissfully ignorant with the modern educational tools available at their disposal for effective use in class room. For instance, the potential of using social networking sites or for connecting students across the Globe through common projects... just to cite an instance. On the other side of the spectrum are those bright eyed kids willing to devour any amount to learning experience which is creatively delivered to them. This gap in the educational technology transfer from the resource providers to the recipients' at the point of instruction in classrooms is creating, in my opinion, an educational void. I guess to some extent the teaching community is not able to keep pace with the technological strides taking place at a mind blowing pace or could it be that they are simple not interested in this whole thing and resign to go along the routine path. It is a challenge to comprehend and address this disconnect.

LindaC's picture

Motivation is such a key to success in all classrooms. Kids will always demand that you answer the question " Why should I? " I've learned to use "preferred activity time,PAT," designed to let students earn game time or trip time by hustling to their seats, having a pencil ready, and just generally doing what is right throughout the day. I have a "PAT time earned and lost" poster on the board and they see every time they earn a few minutes, which becomes important to them quickly.
They also see the rare times that I have to deduct from their preferred activity time if they are not managing themselves well.
You will see kids start to encourage and manage themselves and other kids to be quiet or get going on work or whatever, as they want to continue to earn preferred activity time. Now, when they have earned a half hour or so, then an activity can be designed. For older students, it might be a science review in he form of a quiz show game or a baseball game or football. Students can research from their assigned work and reading to design their own questions and rank them. It becomes a wonderful learning time earned by the students for their own good behavior - a win win situation. Learning from playing a game, earning it from behaving and being responsible- who could ask for anything more?

anniebesant's picture
Conceptualizer of innovative educational apps

I grew up in India... and survived 17 years of an "Indian education". What that means is that I survived all that rote learning, the blind acceptance of every written word, and the lack of intellectually stimulating debates! Looking back at my education, I'm "Unbelievably Dissatisfied". But what is satisfying to me right now is that I'm working with an organization that is at the forefront of developing innovative and creative ways to use technology to teach children (k-12). Of course I might be biased when I say that we are excited about the applications we are developing because we believe that they are truly breaking traditional teaching models. But I would love for you to try one of our applications and see if you find it "unbelievable satisfying". Would you be interested?

Alissa Krug's picture

I believe that not only should my classroom be a positive learning environment, but also a comfortable one. I greet my students between classes with a smile on my face asking them how they are doing today. I know that students, just like us, have bad days. I relate to those students and I try to make them laugh but telling them their day will get better now because they are in my math class. I try to promote student learning by having the students participate in class discussions on a topic. I let them discuss a problem and talk about their different ways in which they went about solving the problem. I encourage them to see that there are mulitple ways to do things not only in the classroom, but also in life. I let the students work together in groups on their assignments to investigate and teach each other rather than me leacturing all class. I try to do as many hands on activities as I can to enhance their understanding of the topic. Lastly, I try to relate each topic that we discuss in class to the real world and encorporate technology in my lesson.

Crystal Thurber's picture

I taught fourth grade last year in a Virginia, USA public school. As the demographics of the area are diverse, my classroom reflected this diversity with several different nationalities and cultural backgrounds represented. It was therefore important to create as many different learning opportunities for my students to relate to as possible.

I made my classroom interesting for my students in a variety of ways. I had my students learn the Virginia Reel, a historical dance that related to their Virginia Studies lessons, solve real-life division problems of how many pizzas to buy for a class reward, practice cooking to learn about fractions, write and perform their own Reader's Theater, a form of dramatic reading that does not use costumes or props, to practice reading fluency, and perform exciting, and sometimes messy, science experiments. When I read aloud to my students, I chose books for their emotional impact, so that they could see for themselves how reading can be an enjoyable, moving, and thought-provoking experience.

This year in my graduate work, I have been exposed to many new and exciting ideas that I want to try. For example, in Dr. Sonia Nieto's book, What Keeps Teachers Going? (2003), she describes how one teacher used community-based action to encourage learning in the classroom. This sparked a series of thrilling ideas about taking my children on at least monthly, if not weekly, short hikes into the woods behind the school to record data. I would love for them to collaborate with one of the Virginia universities' biology departments so that we may learn from and share data with each other. Here on Edutopia's blog section, Ms. Suzie Boss has links to teachers offering Project Learning (2010). My imagination was caught by the possibilities for global education and social networking. My own students use tools like Facebook at home, so why not bring that into the classroom?

The teacher is the most important element in whether a classroom is exciting or not. The teacher needs to take personal responsibility to engage in professional development, seek out other professionals to collaborate with to improve student learning, develop a caring and respectful working relationship with parents, administrators, the community, and most importantly, the students. Complaining about everything that a school system does or does not have, how the students behave, and any number of other items is a waste of time that could be spent much more productively. I am grateful to have found a community of like-minded educators, dedicated to the best possible learning for our students.

Crystal Thurber


Boss, S. (2010, April 22). Perfecting with practice: Project-based teaching. Message posted to Edutopia, archived at

Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.

Nancy's picture

Using hands-on materials that engage students' curiosity is a great way to make learning experiences satisfying and memorable for students. Yet many teachers are limited by lack of classroom resources. A helpful tool is the Adopt-A-Classroom program which is a web-based nonprofit where anyone can make a direct donation to a classroom so that teachers can purchase supplies. Donors go to to make a tax-deductible donation and 100% of the funds is directed to the classroom. Teachers use the funds at their discretion to purchase much-needed classroom resources that help to make school "unbelievably satisfying"!

Ryan Mitchell's picture

I'm a 7th grade Social Stuides teacher and I will be the first to admit, my curriculum is not always 'unbelievably satisfying'...but I sure do try to make it so.

When I am trying to get students to be engaged and active learners, I always play to their strengths. It is very difficult sometimes to make all my required content exciting to them and I as a teacher need to form lessons and activities that gets the student to truly experience what we as a class are learning.

Teaching middle school is difficult for a whole host of reasons, but one main issue is trying to keep our students focused on an idea long enough to actually understand and then (hopefully) teach it back to us. If I am able to do that with at least one student in every class, I'm positive I 'll have an unbelievably satisfying day!

Great post Ben!

Jk's picture

I agree with you on your comments. I think it is important to have our students engage and have satisfying learning experiences. I work with preschool students and so I try to remember to have lots of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement when engaging with them.

Here are some the things I try to do:
-Getting to know each student and finding out their interests, learning styles, and strengths/weaknesses.
- I try to provide a lot of hands-on activities, songs, technology, and books to gain their attention and interests
- We use centers to provide time for students to discover and explore their creativity.
- Providing positive interaction with the students through conversation and listening to them while they are exploring makes them excited!
I hope to make my students' learning experiences fun and memorable!

Ms Walczak's picture
Ms Walczak
Elementary ESL Teacher

I could not agree with you more! Your statement regarding how we view education is so true. Kids need to know that we have an interest in them as a person, not just as a student. One of my favorite expressions is, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." In order to make school an extremely satisfying experience for our students we need to show them that we care. Once they feel valued and respected, they will respond in a much more positive manner.

My daughter is also in middle school and I get the same response from her on a regular basis when I ask about her day. However, this year she has two teachers that she really enjoys. Why? Because they make learning FUN. She likes them because she feels like they like her. There are too many teachers in the system that simply don't care. That attitude will be reciprocated from your students and you will not be able to accomplish your goals. The key is take a little bit of extra time to show you enjoy your job and the benefits will be limitless!

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