Passion-based learning

Incorporate passion-based learning into your class and give everyone a chance to pitch their idea, prototype and showcase their work.

Photo of Donna Teuber
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Amazing learning happens when students are given the time to pursue their interests. During the 2014-15 school year, students at Sandlapper Elementary were given time during the school year to pursue passion projects. Projects ranged from claymation videos to a website on cyberbullying. Students also had the opportunity to connect with high school mentors and members of the community to learn specific skills related to their projects. Students held a showcase at the end of the school year called CastleCon to share their work with the community and with their mentors.  Ridge View High School's Jeffrey McMicken had a similar 20 Time project and his students presented their work to the student body and community at the end of the school year. Having time to work on a passion project can be incorporated into the class/school calendar so that the time doesn't get used for other initiatives. Routines and rituals that formalize time for students to work on these projects will establish a culture of innovation.

We believe that passion-based learning with 20% time should be available for all students. By engaging students in pursuing their own interests, we are enabling them to be critical thinkers and creative problem solvers. When students develop grit by persevering to learn more about their passions and experiencing failure as a learning experience, they will be well prepared for future careers. How might we create and sustain an environment where students have voice in how they learn?

To make time available, teachers can create playlists of resources that can be used in a blended environment. Students are able to move at their own pace through the content knowledge and take assessments when they are ready. Having dedicated time for content frees up other time for students to work on passion projects. Mentors from other schools and from the community can help to foster student passions by providing ongoing support.

In addition to the blended environment, it is also essential that students are able to use their passions to investigate and share their content.  Our students make stronger connections to their subject matter because they see a real world connection in a way they would otherwise not.  For example, our 4th grade students at Sandlapper  investigated the Age of Exploration and then designed prototypes of games, videos, and toys that would engage 3rd graders.  Our students interviewed the 3rd graders for feedback, partnered with a professional mentor, created the project, and then pitched their project to the 3rd grade focus group.  This process drove our students engagement and created connections to content that is often difficult.  

This same process is also used during math problem solving.  Students not only solve challenging, inquiry based word problems, but they also explain their thinking and use of math practice standards through their personal passions.  By using a passion to solve and express an inquiry based math problem, our students engage in deeper critical thinking.

Students need to be given time (at least 20%) not just to work on their innovative projects and ideas, but they also need constant exposure to the same innovation that others are working on - mainly their peers.  That’s why blogging weekly and commenting on classmates’ blogs should be an essential routine and ritual in a class implementing 20 Time.  Students respond well to feedback from one another and also are able to track their own progress in a personalized avenue online.  


Teacher Handbook

Teacher Resource Guide

Project CASTLE Project Design Template

Blended learning playlist

Mentor Toolbox

      Code of conduct

      Tips for Mentors

      Mentor Log

      Mentor Survey


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Photo of Britta Wilk McKenna

I love this concept of passion-based learning. Start where the interest lies and map out a learning plan from there is a great way to grab the attention right off the bat on something that matters deeply to the student, instead of the teacher.

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