4 Ways Student Were Surprised By Passion-Based Learning & Research

Monday, January 23, 20176:11 PM


I may have a lot of questions about the best way to make passion-based learning work for my students, but I have no doubt of its value. When students care about what they learn and can help determine how they learn, the experience and learning is transformative. Many of my ideas and practices about #GeniusHour have changed over the years, but that’s fundamental truth that I’ll continue to stand by.

But I do have a lot of questions. Thanks for the great response to Perplexed by Passion: Planning for a Better #GeniusHour, in which I explored my questions and thoughts as to how to best adapt last year’s projects to my current students. With tenth graders’ success in their Capstone class, I need my plans to complement students’ work and not add to it in a negative or repetitive way.

And those are questions I continue to think about. Later this week, I plan to discuss them with my students, too, and to ask them to help me plan our potential projects.

Until then, it’s been helpful to look at some data on the current tenth grad cohort, which was collected from an exit survey of their first semester Capstone class. From the 130 students, there were some very clear trends. Some students complained about the new class, program, and workload, and some supported these complaints thoughtfully. So many others, though, expressed pride in their work and learning. Many made positive comments about their teachers and their support.

And most of the students shared their most interesting thoughts when asked about what surprised them. They reflected on learning, difficulty, growth, the writing process, and so much more.



4 Ways Student Were Surprised By Passion-Based Learning & Research


We Learned a Lot

The biggest trend was simple: most students were surprised by how much they learned. Capstone, as a concept and course, had been met with some resistance, so reflections of positive learning are a big win. Some common student comments included surprise at:
  • The amount of knowledge I could gain by doing research
  • I am surprised about how much I have learned about my topic
  • That I got to learn a lot of new information about my passion.

It’s interesting that students were surprised at how much they learned, but I think it speaks to how much of education typically restricts or directs their learning for them.



Learning Can Be Personal

A direct follow up to the amount of learning was the personalization of that learning. Students were surprised by the freedom they really had in coming up with topics and ideas. Many wrote about how easy their work was because they were able to explore their interests. Some even called it fun.

Towards the beginning of #GeniusHour, I tend to ask students what they want to learn about. When they stare back at me confused, we begin to deconstruct the question and explore why it can be so hard for students to even make connections between their passions, inquiry, and school. Personalized education needs to be the norm, not the exception.



Image from values.com


Real Research Takes Work

The biggest surprise of all was probably about the time and effort that real research takes:
  • I thought it was going to be a waste of a class but I know it will help me with other research papers I will have to write in the future.
  • It was actually quite helpful. Not only did we have to do certain things or work with different applications [and online tools] to do what we had to but it also helped me with other classes. 

For many students, I think Capstone is the first time that the research process becomes real. All students research and write throughout their school careers, but the inquiry process of their work here seems to have opened their eyes towards real academic research and writing. One of my favorite comments compared research to a puzzle, saying that it’s hard to really understand how it comes together until the end.



Writing Gets Easier

And while research and writing can be difficult, it gets easier. As an English teacher, this was a very positive trend from the students. In addition to an annotated bibliography and research proposal, students wrote a ten page introduction to their projects to end the semester. Then, they will conduct their own research and continue to develop the writing.

It’s hard to get any writing out of some students, let alone ten pages. And while they recognized the challenge, many students admitted that it got easier, with comments like:
  • I was surprised that I wrote so much in my paper, and the amount of knowledge I gained about my topic.
  • In the beginning of the year I thought it was going to be impossible to write a 10 page paper, but as capstone went on the paper was broken down and i was surprised how easy and smooth everything went.
  • I was surprised by how much I ended up writing, because it did not feel as if I wrote 11 pages. I was surprised that I did not feel too overwhelmed . . . 



What Now?

These students wrap up their semester this week and will continue to explore their passions, to research, and to write independently and throughout their next two years of high school. Their teachers start all over again with a new group of sophomores, and will hopefully continue to find success.

For me and my students, I see two big lessons here. The first is in the value of both passion-based and personalized learning. The second is in teaching students the skills to problem solve, investigate, and persevere. Their Capstone reflections and work seem to embody Ducksworth’s definition of grit: the tendency to sustain interest in and effort towards very long-term goals. I know it required rigor and persistence, but it wasn't until their reflections that I made the connection to grit, a skill that these students seem to recognize, and I want our work to more directly value, too.

How can I transform my past #GeniusHour plans through passion and grit? Stay tuned, keep reading, and join in our journey.

And as always, share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.

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