INTRODUCTION:  As a professor of college students and a mother of a four-year-old son, I’ve noticed that college students seldom pursue learning with the same zest that a child does. What has happened to them between pre-school and college? Has formal education zapped their enthusiasm?  Did someone along the way suggest they should check their curiosity at the classroom door? I wanted to tell my students that their love for learning was still within them and could be rekindled. However, I knew that merely telling them wouldn’t work.  To have this important “Aha,” my students would need to discover this truth for themselves. To help my students rediscover their love of learning, I adapted the Learning Game from the On Course facilitator’s manual. And I engaged my four-year-old son to help me.

I used this activity in my First Year Experience class, but other educators could use it in any class or student gathering to help students rediscover their zest for learning. (Approximate time: 50 minutes.)


      1) To identify the essential steps of the learning process.  
      2) To rekindle the insatiable curiosity the first year (FY) student once had as a child.
      3) To identify the importance of feedback to academic success.


      *Dollar bill
      *Two volunteers: 1) a Child and 2) a College Student. Have them wait outside of the room. (If you don’t happen to have a four-year-old at home, perhaps a colleague or student will loan you one.)


1. With the two volunteers waiting outside, show the class a dollar bill and explain that you’d like someone to hide it somewhere in the room.  Tell the students to watch carefully where the dollar is hidden because the two volunteers are going to be asked to find it. Say, “Notice how this situation is similar to when you enroll in a course. Your job is to learn what and where the valuable information is.”

2. “There are two parts to this activity, and we’ll do both parts with the child and then both parts again with your classmate. See if you notice any differences in the way they approach their learning. For Part One, we’ll let the Learner look for the dollar without any help. After a couple of minutes, we’ll start Part Two. At that time I’ll fold my arms across my chest, like this, as the signal for you to start giving FEEDBACK to the Learner. Do you remember the child’s game, ‘Hot & Cold?’  As, the Learner gets closer to the dollar bill, we’ll all start to hum, like this:  Hmmmmmm. If s/he gets closer to the dollar, we’ll hum louder. If s/he stops or turns away from the dollar, we’ll immediately stop humming. Watch carefully what both Learners do from the moment they come in the room until they find the dollar. WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING S/HE SAYS and DOES. Ask yourself three questions: ‘What hinders learning? What helps learning? What is the difference between how the child learns and how the college student learns?’” 

3. When the Child Learner comes into the room, tell him/her:  “We’ve hidden a dollar bill somewhere in the room. Your goal is to learn where it is as fast as you can. Please talk out loud telling us what you are thinking/doing so we can understand how you learn where the dollar is.”  (You might have to prompt the child on this part.)

4. As the Child Learner verbalizes, compare what he/she says to the experience of students in college; for example, “Have you ever gotten stuck in a course and found it hard to do anything?  Did doing nothing ever help you learn?  What did help?”

5. After a couple of minutes of the Child Learner’s search, fold your arms and let the class know it’s time for them to give FEEDBACK via humming.  Keep asking the Child Learner, “How are you going to learn where the dollar is?”  Also keep relating to the class, “Is it possible that you have had a professor who was giving you great feedback, but you didn’t realize the importance of what he/she was doing?” After the Child Learner has found the dollar there will be a huge round of applause from the class. 

6. Now repeat the activity with the College Student as the learner. Keep reminding the students to take notes on how the College Student goes about learning where the dollar bill is hidden, and keep making comparisons between the College Student’s behavior in the game and the class’s experience in college courses. If the College Students says, “I quit. I can’t find it,” ask, “Have you ever felt like quitting a difficult course?” Again, encourage mighty applause when the college student finds the hidden dollar.

7. Classroom discussion. Explore the following…

      *What did the Child Learner do that was unhelpful/helpful?

      *What did the College Student do that was unhelpful/helpful?

      *What hinders learning?

      *What helps learning?

      *What differences did you notice between the two learners?

      *What happens to our childhood love of learning?

8. Have students give suggestions to the child about how to keep his/her love of learning alive. Record suggestions on the board.

9. Ask students, “What can YOU do to rekindle your love for learning?”  Record suggestions on the board (and perhaps provide the list on a handout at the next class).


This activity generated fascinating discoveries about awakening the child’s curiosity for learning.  My four-year-old son Dayne was uninhibited and playful.  He continually asked questions and received feedback from the students. He never gave up, and he found the dollar bill more efficiently than the college learner. Dayne took about 10 minutes to find the dollar while the college student sat down and gave up after 10 minutes but then continued searching after his classmate’s prompting, finally finding the dollar bill after about 15 minutes. The whole time my son had a grin on his face, saying things like, “This is fun! Oh, I can’t wait to find the dollar! What do you think I should buy? Some gum from the book store? Can you help me find it? Is it here? Can you guys help me? Is this like hot and cold? Oh, I get it now. Mommy, can I come back to your class everyday? These guys are a lot of fun! I can’t wait till I go to college. Mommy, when will I go to college?” 

By contrast, the college student at first commented that he found the humming (feedback) irritating, though later he stated the awareness that the feedback was helpful.  At several points the college student sat down and said, “This sucks!”  (I didn’t like my son hearing that comment!) I continued to point out the similarities between the college student’s comments and the students’ experiences with their classes: “This is REALLY hard.  I don’t know about this.  How will I know if I’m close to finding it?  Am I all alone in this?  Can’t you guys help?  Where is that dollar?  I give up!  I can’t find it.”  The college student was much quicker to give up, and he obviously had much less fun in the process of his learning.

Also, and this was quite profound, I had each student in my class give my son suggestions about how he can keep his love of learning alive. The students’ comments were full of great insights.  For example, “Dayne, don’t give up–keep asking questions. Don’t listen to older people who will tell you ‘You can’t do it.’ You CAN do it! Your energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Don’t ever lose that sparkle in your eyes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Dayne, you helped me remember how much fun learning CAN be!” 

As a means to help students apply their Aha’s to themselves, I asked, “What can YOU do to rekindle your love for learning?”  Responses included, “Don’t give up.  Stop my inner critic and start telling myself, ‘Learning is fun!’ Getting immediate feedback is very important for success and it’s a motivator.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  It’s okay to make mistakes.  Think of learning like you think of a game—there’s lots of trial and error—but eventually success will come!”

Later in a journal, one student commented on the activity, and I realized my goal of awareness had been accomplished with at least this one student and hopefully others.  She wrote, “When I saw Dayne so uninhibited by the learning process, it took me back to my own childhood.  I realized that well-meaning others (including myself) had told me what they considered to be some “good” things.  However, before hearing these good things, I would have been more like Dayne, enthusiastically saying, ‘When can I go to college?  I want to learn about Biology, History, Math and English, and so on.’”  She ended this journal by saying, “I’m going to work at getting some of that child back. The child is still within me. I’ll begin by taking ‘baby’ steps. And you know what? Children are an excellent example for me to follow.”

SOURCE:  Game adapted from the Facilitator’s Manual of the On Course text, Cengage Learning

–Cheri Maben-Crouch, Faculty, Business and FYE, Buena Vista University, IA

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