Passion-based Learning – A Call for Help
I just got back from attending and facilitating sessions at New Tech Network’s Annual Conference, so my mind is swimming with thought. I have dozens of takeaways, but one that keeps popping back into my mind as I try to unwind is the idea of injecting passion into our school and my classroom.
The conference literally started and ended with this idea. The opening keynote was given by Dennis Littky, co-founder of Big Picture Learning, a network of great schools that use PBL. These schools ask students from day one about their passions. They help students find internships based on these passions starting freshman year. Two students accompanied Mr. Littky, and their stories made it clear that it was these passions that drove them to love learning.
The conference ended with a series of Ignite talks. All of them were inspiring, but it ended with Mike Kaechele’s amazing talk titled #standardizethat, which challenged politicians and ed reformers (and everyone else) to think about the things in education that should be standardized. One of these is passions.
As I think about this now, I find it very difficult to find a way to infuse more passion into my math classroom. Many projects were discussed at the conference that gave students the kind of choice needed to be able embed their passions into them. But these projects often come from Social Studies classes (or really anything but math), where I imagine the thematic structure makes this easier to happen. How can I do this in my math class?
I’d like to think that I can help my learners appreciate math for its ability to help us make meaning of the world around us, its usefulness in solving problems, and its inherent beauty. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the learners having true choice to pursue any topic and letting their passion drive the project.
Here is the best I can come up with, and honestly I think it’s garbage. That’s why I’m asking for help.
- Learners begin thinking about what they are passionate about early in the year. In fact, a better question that I heard from Dennis Littky might be “What makes you angry, and how can we fix it?”
- Learners then research and prepare for a 5 minute presentation at some point throughout the year (I’m thinking like every Friday, for example). Of course, the presentation time is being influenced right now because of the Ignites – I’m open to whatever.
- [wherein the plan falls apart] Somehow, learners find a way to incorporate math into their research. I’m picturing using linear regression to make a prediction, or something like that.
That’s it. The plan is terrible. The math is an add-on. I need help. How can I give learners the kind of choice and voice necessary to bring their passions into the classroom? How can I help them make meaning of a real problem that they want to fix, but still ties into math? And – I hate to say it – but how can I bring this kind of project to them without infringing on too much other learning time? At best, this plan can create a spark. At worst, it can be a complete waste of time. What can I do to make it better?