It’s About Passion

If you don’t have passion for what you do, then what you are doing will do you in.

Just my opinion of course, but I think passion is the key to turning a “job” into a vocation. After all, when you love what you are doing, it ceases to be just a job.

And, I also believe that for students, having a teacher who is passionate about their subject, who is passionate about teaching, makes all the difference in the world with respect to students’ interest and enjoyment of the class, and, I believe, their performance.

Case in point: my son who is a junior in high school has the most amazing US history teacher. His passion and enthusiasm for the subject is palpable. The students eagerly go to his class and engage with the material and the teacher in a completely different way. They are not memorizing facts and figures, they are discussing motivation, reasoning, impact on society and impact on their lives. Now, one could say that passion alone will not make a student like a class or even do well in a class. But I will say that it is a large part of what makes a class or subject come alive for them.

Case in point number 2: I happen to have introduced coding to my eighth grade students during the Hour of Code this past December. Many of the students enjoyed it so much that I decided to suspend my regularly scheduled class programming so the students (and I) could explore a bit more of the coding. We are using and Khan Academy and we spend about 48 minutes once a cycle solving puzzles and creating code. It’s been very exciting. One of my girls who started off as a reluctant participant (she preferred the discussions we were having over the coding we were/are doing) told me today that she is going to be participating in the LEAD program this summer and she will be continuing to learn computer programming! Now this is quite a turn around for this student who begrudgingly started coding with me just a short time ago. But, because of the excitement and enthusiasm in our classroom environment, she has become excited and enthusiastic about learning how to code! Quite wonderful if I do say so myself.

SO what can we as teachers do to keep the passion alive?

  1. I think we need to begin every year as if it is our first. We should not just open our plan books to see what we did last year at this time. New students, new interests, new personalities, teach them differently; one size does not fit all.
  2. Try something new. Coding is not something I knew a lot about. I had taken a Coursera course from Stanford, which I loved, and tinkered around in Tynker, but it was not until this year that I really began embracing the excitement and challenge of solving these puzzles.
  3. Keep learning. As John Cotton Dana says, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”
  4. Find other teachers to learn with and from- create your PLN
  5. Lastly, take risks. There is nothing difficult about doing everything the same. It’s easy certainly, and comfortable, but you can’t grown when you don’t change.


One Size Fits All? Some?

I just read @CrudBasher’s post: The Learning Equation and began to think about a particular statement he made,

I think the goal of education should be to develop every child’s gifts and aptitudes to their furthest potential. As all children have different gifts they will all turn out differently.”

I agree wholeheartedly with what Andrew says and think that most teachers would as well. What I’m wondering is what the stakeholders in the school districts have to say is their goal for students. Because, when you look around at the classrooms that are still set up the same way they were 25 and 50 years ago, and you look at the standardized tests and the information that is deemed “necessary”* for people who want to be educated, it would seem to be that there is a disconnect between what is written, what is expected, and what is actually happening.

Here is what I mean: now, I have not actually asked superintendents of schools what their goals are for the students in their district, but I’m guessing that they have a mission to educate all children. But educate according to the standards set forth by the state. What I am confused about is the one size fits all curriculum that is then enforced (for lack of a better word). What Andrew and then Salman Khan in his video (embedded in Barras’ post) say is that even though the students are all in school for the same amount of time (give or take), some achieve better than others. Everyone is taught the same things, but not everyone comes out on top. So it is obvious that the one size fits all approach is not working.

In his comparison of education of the past (even present) and his vision of education 20 years from now, Khan said that students go to school for a fixed time from K-12, then some add 4 years for college. At that point, “you are 22, now you will not go to school anymore.” The learning is done. Andrew said something similar in his post titled Education Reform is About Time:

“Even if you factor in high school and college, you still had to be done by the time you were 22 or so.”

Schooling as it has been historically, has been about going to school from a certain age, being in classrooms with children of the same age, learning what is supposed to be taught (if one wants to be educated), and then moving out to the working world. It is no wonder that I have heard kids say they can’t wait to be finished with school. I even said it myself at one time (we’re talking many years ago while still in high school–now there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not looking to learn more).

When students are not taught material they are interested in, or are allowed to pursue their own passions, why shouldn’t they want to just be finished with school? The school is being done to them. For some, the achievers, it’s ok, they still achieve. But what about the children who learn differently, who are not motivated? What happens to them? They are in school the same amount of time (give or take) as the achievers, but they do not achieve.

And so this is where technology comes in. And differentiation. And sharing learning with others. Because it is technology which will allow for “customization” as Barras says, and “credentials” as Khan says in his video. Technology will allow us to change the question from, “what did you earn in school” (GPA), to “what did you contribute to society?”

photo credit: Derek K. Miller via photo pin cc

* Seth Godin defined “necessary” so clearly in his book, Stop Stealing Dreams when he said

For a long time, there was an overlap between the education that the professions rewarded and the education that we might imagine an educated person would benefit from. 

Harness the Power

Wind Turbines by xedos4

I have been teaching in this school for four years and therefore I have had the opportunity to get to know my students and work with them over these 40 school months. Some students have been easy to get to know right away, others I have had to use every bit of these four years to really understand them well. I have one student who has been, until last year, has been a bit of an occasional crabby patty (to quote a term from Spongebob). If this student did not like what we were going to do, I knew about it in no uncertain terms, it was written all over his face.

And then we unearthed it–his interest and passion. It happened by accident really. His classroom teacher and I decided to embark on two exciting activities: Mystery Skype and Independent- completely separate from the school curriculum, follow their passion and interest- Research Projects.

When the teacher and I introduced the topic and the idea to the class, you would have thought we just told this child that Christmas just became a monthly holiday. I began getting emails from the child telling me how excited he is to be doing these projects, or how much he loved the website I shared with him, how much he enjoys having the responsibility of the (insert skype job here).  The child began sharing his expertise with the class in such a proud way and asking to do more. The teacher and I were thrilled, of course, at how readily and excitedly all of the students took to these ideas; but for me, I was especially motivated by this one child’s response, and my goal is to use this excitement and interest and build upon it to keep him and the rest of the students engaged, excited and interested.

One always hopes to reach all of their students. My question is this, if we have the access to the technology to connect these students with their passions and incite in them an interest, why aren’t more teachers harnessing this power and using it for all it’s worth?

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