Games Not To Play in School

Pop quizzes, strictly timed tests, surprise notebook checks, all seem to be about “Catching Kids Not Knowing.” It is an old game familiar to everyone who has been a student. The idea, I suppose, is to create a state of constant nervousness in students, that apparently will motivate them. I doubt it works.

I don’t want to play that game, and neither do the kids. Let us choose not to.


Here is another destructive “gotcha game” not worth playing. It is called controlling student technology use: confiscating cell phones, constantly monitoring I-pads and laptops. Students will always be two steps ahead of a teacher in this cat and mouse game.

There are no winners and the class atmosphere is tainted.

Let’s not play that game either.


A mentor once said to me something like this…

“Play the game you want to play. Don’t get lured into other peoples’ games where nobody wins and everybody loses.”

photo 3

Here is the game I like playing with students.

It is the Learning Game.  This game has an informal and yet very important set of “rules” that all of us in the classroom can choose to abide by.


Here’s how it goes. I  make promises to my students and hope for a commitment from them in return.

I promise to do my best to prepare curriculum that will support you in learning. I promise to give you constructive feedback and to get your assignments and tests back quickly, having tried to mark them fairly and with transparency.

I promise to work with you respectfully as fellow human beings, all of us striving for a common goal. I promise to own my mistakes and to apologize when I unintentionally, although inevitably, do something that hurts feelings or causes embarrassment.

I promise to oversee a classroom atmosphere that is safe and nurturing for your heart and mind.


Here is what I ask from students. Please keep trying. Giving up is not an option! Help each other.  Collaboration works.

Please engage in class activities. Listen and ask questions. Tell me if you are struggling. Communicate however you can: speak up in class, write an e-mail, send a text, show me by your expression if you understand or are confused.

Be honest at all times.  Your integrity is the only thing you truly own, and is an essential element in human relationships.

Please be sensible in lab so no one gets hurt. Keep your goggles on, please! You only have two eyes, both of which are needed for this primate thing we get to do, called binocular vision.

Tell me if something breaks or spills so we can clean it up safely together.

Most of all be good to each other in all ways, academically and socially.  Kindness is the glue that holds us all together.

Learning, just like life, is a team sport.

We are all on the same team, and together we all win this game.



About Sue Houston

I've been teaching high school science for over 25 years. The more I learn, the more questions I have about how good education really works. This blog is an attempt to explore the fundamental question of "How do Kids Learn?" This blog will include posts related to technology in education, neuroscience, behavioral science and real life experiences in the classroom. Please, I invite you all to join the conversation in the comments sections. Perhaps together we can find more insights into how kids learn! If you are a student, educator, or past student (that covers everyone, right?) you have something to contribute! :)
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Games Not To Play in School

  1. Leslie Doyle says:

    What a nice ending to my day/weekend. Thanks for your thoughtfulness which seems to be missing at times in life. What an inspiring teacher!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. maisymak says:

    I like it, as always. So tell me, what do you do when a student is texting under the table? The trust has been broken…would love to chat about this. I need a mentor named Sue 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Houston says:

      Thanks for asking the question, Amy! (I’m sure others have the same question.) As I think about what I want to say, it is clear your answer deserves an entire post, so that will be the next one to write. Meanwhile let me just say that it was as recently as 3 or 4 years ago that kids were not even allowed to have their laptops open in my room and any cell phones visible were also a target. What happens with technology in my classroom has changed radically in the last few years and I’m pretty happy with how things have settled out. As you can see in the pics above, technology is everywhere in the room, but the kids are for the most part, using it productively. It has been a multidimensional journey to get to this place.


  3. Pingback: How Technology is Not Ruining My Classroom | How Do Kids Learn ?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s