Intellectual Playfulness and the Power of Feiro

People of all ages need time to learn through play in education. Time spent on play in education becomes less when you grow up in education and life. The erosion of play, creativity and joy in education and lives has devastating effects. Researchers have documented a rise in mental health problems – such as anxiety and depression – among youngsters. This was directly related with the decline in children’s opportunities to play. While play has an important role in fostering social-emotional and cognitive skills. Play also is very important to cultivate creativity and imagination.
For early childhood years this is broadly recognised but the importance for youngsters, adolescents and adults has been left out of this recognition. People need time to play and they need time to play in education because it supports the learning process.

interest and joy

Specially early childhood educators have known about the learning and developmental benefits of play (for all ages). Experts like psychologists David Elkind and Peter Gray define play as: you have choice in your pursuits, you self-direct your learning and exploration, you engage in imaginative creation, and you do all these things in a non-stressed state of interest and joy.

intellectual play

‘Intellectual playfulness’ is a term that becomes more populair in educational research and discusions. Intellectual playfulness discribes the ability to learn through play. Intellectual play not only fosters creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance, but also addresses peoples’ developmental needs for greater independence and ownership in their learning, opportunities for physical activity, creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence.


In each of the learning experiences, people were allowed to make choices about what they wanted to learn (relevant to their interests), direct their own learning, engage their imaginations, had opportunities to experiment with different (adult) roles, play physically and were able to develop imaginative physical and mental creations. Research shows that people become more motivated and interested, and they enjoy more positive the learning experiences. As with all good teaching, teachers must be deliberate about their aims. But, given that play allows for particular kinds of valuable learning and development, there should be room in education to cultivate all of these dimensions.

Purposefully infusing play into education holds the potential for a more joyful, creative, and deep learning future for us all. A future in which people have more interesting things to do in education. With the hope that intellectual playfulness will establish in the near future one other perspective on play is the growing interest in gamification.


Gamification is popular in many segments of society. In general, gamification attempts to superimpose the stimulating motivational aspects of the game world onto the life. Gamification is used in education every day. Educators gamify learning by replacing grades with levels and merit badges. Rather than simply delivering lectures and then testing for retention, gamification manifests when educators create project-based units where completion, or the demonstration of mastery, is what allows the learner to move on. Perhaps learners receive badges recognizing the successful completion of each assignment. Maybe future learning units are imagined like sequential game worlds – a certain number of badges are required to ‘open each portal’. The portal is the next lesson or the next learning module. When learning is structured this way, learners intuitively understand the cumulative nature of learning. They are motivated to master a compounding sequence of skills.


Tapping into the natural instinct to learn is fairly easy. Any educator can implement a ‘gamified’ approach. It’s a matter of reframing traditional assignments as inquiry-based individual or group projects. It’s also a matter of employing a more mastery-based assessment strategy that is grounded in project-based learning and understanding the motivational benefits of a more game-like structure. Done well, gamifying education encourages learners to be motivated by the excitement of moving on to new challenges.

power of Fiero

Gamifying is not disempowering learners through extrinsic rewards. Remember, it is not the gold stars, points, or smiley faces that motivate gamers nor learners. Stars, points, and badges are simply symbolic representations marking a task well-done. All educators can attempt to harness the motivational power of ‘fiero’.
‘The Power of Fiero’ becomes a common part of the learning experience. The Italian word ‘fiero’ comes from the same Latin root as the English word ‘fierce’. It has to do with pride, feeling of wildness and feeling untamed. Fiero is the rush of excitement that gamers experience when they overcome challenges.

Scientist at the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Science Research at Stanford have recently documented that fiero is one of the most powerful neurochemical highs we can experience. It involves three different structures of the reward circuitry of the brain, including the mesocorticolimbic center, which is most typically associated with reward and addiction. Fiero is a rush unlike any other rush, and the more challenging the obstacle we overcome, the more intense the fiero.

In education, fiero makes learners see that they are empowered players in their own learning. They are released into the exciting adventure that learning can be. A learning experience is feeling liberated from restrictions and constraints. It enables you to play free. Gamers (and learners) want those little rushes because, in a way, it’s the opposite of feeling self-conscious, of feeling like they need to conform.

I hope that the power of fiero will become part of the educational agenda soon. Intellectual playfulness and the power of feiro shows that we need multi-disciplinairy thinking and working to develop education in such a way that it will fit the learners needs and societies demands. I hope you will contribute………I will.

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