Phenomenon Project Based Learning Series: Fun Theory

Phenomenon Based Learning (PhBL) is a multi-disciplinary form of learning that approaches a topic (phenomenon) initially from a bird's eye view. PhBL was developed as a means to address the growing need for learning experiences which encounter and solve real-world issues while being aligned to 21st century skills. The topic or concept is deconstructed into distinct yet interdependent aspects. The learning then spirals full circle to encompass the topic or concept holistically.


We are SO thrilled to share this PhBL concept that emerged from a design team collaboration here in Washington State as we support the opening of Cascade Charter School. Our design team developed multiple concepts for PhBL experiences before involving students and community members in selecting the most relevant concepts and contributing to their continued development for what will become the 9th grade PhBL curriculum.

We hope these concepts will seed some ideas with you!

Title: Fun Theory

Focusing Question: How can we change human behavior, for the better, using fun?

Essential Questions:

•What is fun exactly? •Is fun or funny the same everywhere? •How does the pursuit of fun shape _________? •What makes something fun? •What is humor? •Why do humans do what they do? •How does behavior change occur? Or not? •How does fun impact the brain, learning and performance? •What is the role of fun/play in “serious” pursuits?


The whole class explores the phenomena above (fun, human behavior, change, humor, laughter) together using the essential questions above and other curiosities and “wonders” students have along the way. Learners, as individuals or in groups, select their own phenomena of interest to examine in response to the focusing question. Students’ examinations of their selected phenomena would involve pushing into the environment where that/those phenomena are manifesting and are observable to learn more.

Possible Disciplines or Learning Outcomes:

•Scientific practices •Experimental design •Observational research •Data collection, analysis and visualizations •Sociology •Literature-student choice •Writing process •Using evidence to support claims/findings •Research/citing sources •English L.A.-comics, comedy, media, art, slapstick


•Entry event: Launch with funny games/videos/media & discuss which were funny, or not...and why that might be •Phenomenon deep dive (student chosen) •Targeted behavior to be changed •Baseline data •“Fun” experiment •Data gathering •Analysis/findings •Submission to Volkswagen “fun theory’ challenge •Visual representations of results (infographics, graphs, surveys, etc.) •Focus groups •Compilation videos of the “fun theory” research and experimentation results/findings

Adult World Connections

•Making a measurable impact using fun (student determined) •Volkswagen ‘fun theory’ submission examples •Guest scientist to “upskill” students in data collection methods •Comedians, improvists •TED Talk “formula for humor/jokes” •Physiology of laughter •Science of play •Laughing yoga practices •Observational research •“Influencer: The Power to Change Anything” book •Laughing “epidemic” case study in Nigeria (1962)