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Joy Through Passion Projects

As many of our children are quietly (some not so quietly) facing anxiety and experiencing a wave of emotions that are disrupting their ability to learn and focus, we now more than ever need to make sure that our students see themselves in their learning. Our students (like us) need to feel a sense of purpose and belonging as they wake up every morning to tackle what sometimes feels like a “groundhog day.”

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to speak with many different educators. As I listen, I hear many sharing the decrease in motivation with more and more students not sharing their videos, not showing up, or cheating to get by. And I empathize. On the other hand, I am hearing some educators sharing an increase in motivation and an increase in students involvement. I was curious about this discrepancy and what might be causing this disparity. So, I did a little digging, and a little reflection. First, I noticed a difference in mindset. Those teachers who are seeing an increase in motivation are also sharing their own positive feelings about this “pandemic learning” and although they know this is not the same and truly miss the community of the classroom, they are using their rose tinted glasses (Shawn Achor, 2010) to create a new reality. The other was the integration of more choice and independent projects - releasing responsibility to the students in a manageable and supported way.

This made me think about something I enjoyed in my own classroom and did every year at the end of the year - passion projects! As an 8th grade math teacher, the end of the year often brought a decrease in motivation so I started doing passion projects to re-engage students. Passion projects bring joy by engaging students in a self-directed experience where they explore, apply skills, and grow within their areas of interest. Either intertwined in our curriculum or left open, passion projects can provide a space for students to explore interests, consider their wonderings, highlight their talents, and share what brings them joy.

You may be thinking, “Yes, I should do this! But, how can I implement this in a virtual environment?” Well, I have a few ideas and roughly paced out a way to get this started. If you would like more details, I attached a 5 step guide that might be helpful.

  1. Just like any unit, start with immersion. Drum up excitement by sharing completed passion projects as well as Ted Talks, student blogs, etc. This will help get students motivated as they will start to imagine themselves doing this same work!

  2. Then work through the next phases--generating ideas and gathering resources. Take this opportunity to tap into students’ interests. You might want to set up a virtual wonder wall or host a small group or whole class think-tank conversation. In these spaces students can explore their interests as well as the “why” for this interest (bringing out their passion and increasing motivation).

  3. After this, jump into researching as students read and organize their resources. Take this time to teach strategies that support nonfiction readers.

  4. Move into the planning and drafting phase where students might want to start some partner work. Students often benefit from having someone to share ideas with. Then, we move into the revising and editing phase where again partners and conferring opportunities are most beneficial as students will want feedback to improve their projects.

  5. Finally, publish and share! Either synchronous or asynchronous students could share their passions projects as well as all the work that went into doing it. It is so important during the share to also share out all the work that went into the project as this helps to instill the idea of perseverance!

Keep in mind, passion projects are an investigation into something that brings you joy. It is something you would WANT to spend time working on. This project could be as long or as short as necessary. It can be condensed into two weeks or something that students work on for 10-15 minutes a day for the remainder of the school year.

Emotionally we are all experiencing trauma on several different levels and we need an opportunity to remind ourselves of the things that bring us joy. Our students need a supported space to explore the ideas that bring them joy and the opportunity to share that joy with others.

Link to Plans for Virtual Passion Projects