Passion Based Learning

A Recipe For Success

First Ingredient

Stop answering every little question, AND EVERYTHING will change. Give every student a team and job. Give them an assignment that has to do with the regular curriculum, and step back. Watch as student groups will grow. You may even witness a firing. That’s right, Donald Trump style. I've witnessed it. A team decided to fire one of their associates and said nothing about it. These were the students who didn’t care at ALL about their school work, and suddenly someone wasn’t pulling their weight and they had to go!

How powerful. Now I witnessed students apologizing to other students so they could get reinstated to the group...the alternative was to complete the project on their own.

Second Ingredient

The Question Slip

Here is how it works: If the team has a question of the expert (teacher), it uses one of its Question Slips to ask the question. The teacher can give out several at the beginning of the project or one every day or whatever seems appropriate. The team has to confer to decide whether to use the slip. They all sign and bring the slip to the teacher who then helps them as appropriate. This is the theory of how it works. The reality is that they were so loath to turn over the slips that I rarely got one back. What was really beautiful was that I required them for everything. “Can I go to the bathroom?” Expert (teacher) holds out hand for slip, student returns to team and says, “Y'all, I need to go to the bathroom, sign this so I can ask her.” Team: “What the heck? You should have gone to the bathroom before class started. I’m not signing that for you."

Third Ingredient

Engaging Questions That Your Students are Passionate About

There’s a lot more to passion/project based learning but this is a good start.

Common Craft Video: Project Based Learning Explained (From the makers of all those little paper cut out videos. Easy to understand, powerful message.)
Buck Institute for Education (Extensive site about PBL. Includes material and project downloads)
Wikipedia article about Project Based Learning (Has a bunch of warnings at the top but is really very informative)

The Rest of the Ingredients

Problem, Question, Project

Example: it’s Shakespeare time in 11th grade English. Each team has a topic to cover and Bloom’s Taxonomy to help them level their topic to get the best grade. The food team cooks authentic food, divides the class into poor folk, rich folk, and the queen (teacher), and we all get to eat ONLY the fare designated for us. Only the queen can eat anything she wants.

Technology Access

Every student doesn’t have to have a computer to make any of this happen, but computer access is a must. Teams have to be able to access computers/smart phones/information on their own to get these projects done independently and to create the presentations they need to show others what they’ve done.

Collaboration With Peers/Peer Evaluation

Collaboration with peers is essential but group grading is terrible practice and motivates people exactly like communism (which is not at all). The teacher always grades the assignments not the students. The students grade each other and award a percentage of the teacher’s grade. If Sally does 100% of what she’s supposed to do for the team, she’s eligible for 100% of the grade the teacher gives. If the teacher gives the project a 92, Sally gets a 92 (100% of 92=92). Jack, who’s on the same team with Sally, is eligible instead for 80% of the grade because his team mates say he didn’t pull his full weight. He only makes a 74 on the same project (80% of 92=73.6).

Presentation or Publication/Community Involvement

People work harder and better when there’s an audience and a product. Invite administrators (local and central office), parents, and peers to watch them present big projects. This strategy works for teachers too. If you want people to be interested in their work, create an audience for them and tell them right up front they’ll be there watching at the end. If you can find a real-world application that satisfies your need, bring the real world in.

Teacher Guidance

This is really the least important part. As teachers, we take over the students’ learning by doing too much. The person who does the work gets the learning. In the immortal words of Pink Floyd: “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!”