Scaling Up Passion-based Learning

The print of a flamingo by Audubon, one of my daughter's favorites.

I know a lot about dinosaurs. I have a three-year-old obsessed with dinosaurs. We watch Dinosaur Train, look at pictures of dinosaurs online, talk about dinosaurs and, most importantly, read books about dinosaurs. The other day my four-year-old asked, “Can an artist be a scientist, too?” That led to a trip to the library and long conversation with the woman at the help desk (who took pity on me while I was trying to guide two preschoolers through the adult section of the library). She returned from the stacks with a huge book filled with John James Audubon’s prints of birds. We stopped by the children’s section to pick up a biography and spent this week  learning about this early American naturalist solely to show my daughter that yes, artists can be scientists. 

Passion-based learning works on the small-scale. I see how excited my kids get when they are learning about what they are interested in. But is it possible when there are more than two kids in the room? 

I found this article, “Engage Me or Enrage Me” by Lisa Neilsen, that has some good advice. She recommends not having kids blog or wiki…or at least not right away. (I had planned on giving students blogs in the first few weeks of school next year.) She says that we should first help kids figure out how to connect to others who share their passions, how to research and learn more. Only when they have built a significant knowledge base do you then help them “create and produce” content. I suspect she was speaking about students a little older than thirteen, but much of the article still applies. 

But I only get limited time in the computer lab…do I spend it researching or writing? And how to a teach kid who claims to have no passion for anything how to connect? I suspect it would be a bad thing to connect them to others who have no passions. (And if you say that everybody has a passion for something, then you’ve never been around middle schoolers. Many would fake a lack of passion just to show you that you can’t make them have a passion if they don’t want one.) 

I’m not struggling with the belief that passion-based learning is effective. Of course it is; I have a four-year-old who knows who John Audubon is to prove it. My struggle is how to scale the project up? How to I facilitate passion-based learning for 100 kids on two computers in 45 minutes a day? How do I scale the project up? Hmm…


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