A kinder, gentler fun
Having fully recovered from the celebration of our nation's birthday, I am able to offer much more innocent examples of fun. I'm leaving those college kids behind and learning from my nieces and nephews.
Don't Break the Ice is a simple enough game. Plastic cubes are loaded tightly into a rink and players take turns whacking them with a mini plastic hammer. You don't want to be the one who makes the ice-skating bear fall from the rink, but I will tell you, you'll want to play over and over again. There is something wonderfully satisfying about pounding these cubes.
So here's another example of low-tech fun. Can it be used for learning? I think so. Using a dry-erase marker, a teacher can label each cube with some type of value. This will depend on the subject, but could be anything from parts of speech in a language class to the various abbreviations of the periodic table of elements. Students of any age will have fun whacking out the cubes, now with pre-determined significance.
Uno Attack is another game that can be modified to engage your students, because it's just plain fun when cards come shooting out. A white mailing label on each card allows the teacher to write any information, then build a game from there. For example, adding historical events turns each hand into the player's ability to correctly chronicle the information in front of him.
In order to better understand the engagement of high-tech (which often translates to highly complicated) learning devices, I think starting with some common household games is a good idea. What we're really drawn to is the contact and decision-making involved in the first game, and the chance and logic in the second. Don't be fooled by the blinking lights of modern technology, understanding what appeals to our intrinsic sense of play is the best bet - and what better time to re-discover fun than summer vacation.