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March 16, 2021

Eustress: Bringing Stress Into the Classroom

I scoured SXSWedu this week for free and affordable resources for you that would make your classroom life a bit easier and more fun.

Here’s the best thing I found:

A list of the 10 positive emotions we can create for our students in our classrooms:

10. Joy

9. Relief

8. Love

7. Surprise

6. Pride

5. Curiosity

4. Excitement

3. Awe & Wonder

2. Contentment

1. Creativity

This list comes from Ms. Jane McGonigal – whose book, Reality is Broken, I am definitely jumping into this weekend. Here’s the surprise – this list is from a research study on the emotions felt by gamers when they play video games.

These are the feelings game designers work to invoke for their players. You are the chief designer in your classroom.  How can you create experiences that will lead to these feelings for your kiddos?

1. Eustress! Use Challenges to Create Positive Stress

Remember ZPD from your credentialing classes?  Game designers think about zones of proximal development too. When a task or game is too challenging, it’s frustrating. When you overcome a challenge that stretches you just beyond where you think you could go, it’s exhilarating!

Provide experiences for your kids that are a stretch, and work to create an environment where everyone feels like they are, “psyched up for a challenge,” as Jane would say.

I see a lot of these ideas in the classroom of Marlo Warburton. She says, “If you’re not confused, you’re not learning,” and cheers her students on with a saying used at their school – “Tiger Up!”

How can you tell if you’ve designed an appropriate challenge? Ask your kids, or even easier – look at their faces! Are they deep in concentration with a wily smile on their face?

2. Sprinkles! or Massive Multiplayer Games

The classroom is like a big collaborative game. Players in the game need to trust one another to overcome the challenges ahead of them.

Start creating the, “We’re psyched for a challenge!” mentality with Sprinkles or “Massive Multiplayer Thumb-wrestling” from Jane.

  • Try this quick challenge where students have to get a “clap” around the circle as fast as they can.
  • Or try a class-wide (or school-wide!) thumb-wrestling contest. Give everyone in the room 30 seconds to connect both of their thumbs into a thumb-wrestling match, and then chant it out…1-2-3-4  I-Declare-a-Thumb-War!
large thumb wrestling match

Here’s my pic of 500 some of us in Jane’s audience giving this a go.

You can also use these kinds of activities as warm-ups before challenging academic tasks to help get students in the right frame of mind.

3. Do Overs! And More Elements of Games

What makes a game a game? Jane writes (okay, I peeked into her book already) that all games have:

  • A Goal
  • Rules
  • A Feedback System (that tells you how close you are to achieving your goal)
  • Voluntary Participation

Now goals, rules, and feedback systems – got that in your class? Check! Here’s where I’m struggling to translate a bit. What does voluntary participation look like in a classroom? Here are two ideas:

  • Do Overs: Give students the option to re-do. This puts them in control and makes failure and mistakes okay.
  • Diversions: Let students get a little off-task. Huh? Yes, think about it. When working on a challenge, what do you do when you start to get too frustrated? Take a break. This is a lil ol’ life skill you can introduce to your students now.

What do you think? Wild ideas? Doing this already? Comment below.

More ideas like these:

Fostering a Growth Mindset

Persistence and Resilience


Jane’s Blog


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