An Inspirational Teacher’s Story of Making Learning Fun

An Inspirational Teacher’s Story of Making Learning Fun


Ananth Pai, a teacher who is transforming the way our children learn, is here to talk about how he went from a globetrotting exec to elementary school teacher extraordinaire!

He asks us all, with urgency in his voice to “Become a drug pusher in schools—we need it.” He laughs. What he means is that we need dopamine in our classrooms.The chemical that signals “fun.”

Mr. Pai’s 3rd graders, when he first arrived in the classroon were so bored they banged on their desks and stared him down. He points out that this is the feedback. And all of us are paying for this educational system.

He learned that 7 out of 10 3rd graders are not proficient in math when they graduate to the 4th grade. They are not reading at all, much less at a third grade level. And he learned that if they cannot do things by the end of the 3rd grade, the decline will begin in earnest from there.

Mr. Pai changed the system. He heard about something called the Nintendo DS from his 6th grade daughter. He had no idea what gamification was. But nonetheless he brought technology into the classroom, through games on Nintendo DS’s and computers, he let his students play – math games, reading games and other games. Scores rose, reading levels went up exponentially. Gamification, he says, will save education.

People write checks after they see what the children are doing, Pai says. The education bureaucracy is not working. How can it be if 7 out of 10 children aren’t learning enough?

One day the CTO of Best Buy and Founder of Geek Squad heard that some guy was using Nintendo DS’s to teach kids. Pai shows a news clip about his classroom on the day of his visit:

The kids play games with kids in other countries. They use the word “fun” an inordinate amount in reference to school.

The video sets up Mr. Pai’s initial problem- 1 teacher to 20 students.

The Solution? technology.

Some of the kids wrote a petition asking for this type of technology for children’s use—You can sign it.

The numbers are not lying, says Mr. Pai, and behind those numbers are real children.

Some kids don’t know 7+7, he points out, but traditional classrooms have moved them onto long division. It’s better to work from wherever the children are, not from where you think they should be. These kids are not stupid, just at a different starting point.

Since beginning this program Mr. Pai has learned a lot about kids. He tells a story about a boy’s mother who called to tell him what her son was doing voluntarily after class- He is playing the classroom games from home  and talking on the phone with other students to compete. It’s much better than homework, he points out.

Mr. Pai tears up as he urges the audience to advocate for gamification in our communities. He asks us to ask our companies to help fund gamifying a classroom—it costs less than a smartboard. He wants us to help direct education grants toward the gamification of classrooms.

The kids told him that a sub was coming who gave out skittles and m&m’s. And he said I don’t do that. And they replied, “What you do is better: You let us play!”

A question from the audience asks, How sustainable will this be? How do the kids achieve useful study habits?

They leave my class eventually, replies Mr. Pai. But they retain the boost they got. These kids tend to stay at a higher level. In 4th grade you start reading to learn. If you don’t get out of third grade with that skill, you’re in trouble.

We have to start acting now.


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  1. Hi Gabe,
    I just watched your TED talk on gamification, and I was very interested. I showed the video to my parents (who are both educators) and they liked it as well. I was just wondering what games Ananth Pai used in his classroom, or if there was somewhere you could suggest to visit for educational game reviews or something of that nature.

  2. Hi Gabe,
    I too just watched your TED talk. You’ve convinced me! I posted the video on my blog, which I use for professional development for my faculty of teachers of which I am the principal. I look forward to including game based learning in our public school more frequently and finding convincing examples, like Mr. Pie, throughout the country. Thanks for your work. I look forward to hearing more.