From my very first days of teaching, I’ve learned from heroes in the field of education and my own teaching mentors to be a passionate educator, that passion goes a long way in the classroom. Now, I read article after article on passion-based learning, embracing my inner geek, and letting students study their own passions to foster student engagement in the classroom.
I know my own self, and I really only want to learn what interests me. Sure, I’ve had to figure out how to change lightbulbs, do laundry and bank online–yes, practical living–but when it comes to learning that would require me to be an “expert” of sorts, it is all about my interests. Most, if not all my students, seem to share my sentiment.
Third graders. Our big theme for the year is innovation and creativity. My end goal is to teach and provide them ample opportunity to learn and practice the engineering design process and apply creative thinking/problem-solving strategies to any challenge, design or not, they may face. We have spent the last month learning about innovations (vs. inventions), who are the innovators to know, what is the engineering process and how to use it to solve design challenges, and how can we be innovators within our own home and community. Inspired by Celeste Bain, we’ve played engineering games online, solved engineering problems from the past, had fluency sessions on how to use objects beyond their intended purpose, and we have created our own innovations based on stuff that “bugs” us, using only materials that we have found in our house.
And now we need to become experts in something. In other words, to meet the standards for our program, students need to engage with the research process and produce something that applies their researched knowledge. I thought instead of just doing a “here is your research project” or even “research whatever you want”, I began to think, how can I leverage our immersion in innovation and creativity to best support the students in the research process? At one point, we looked at different types of engineers—and all of us, including me, learned that there are too many to count! Well, maybe we can count them, but the numbers pushed well into the hundreds. So when I individually asked each student if they were to become an expert in something, what would that be, I found that 75 percent of their interests fell into at least one of the engineering careers. For example, one student loves airplanes and aviation. Done. Another wanted to study computers. Done. Another architecture and how to build buildings. Done. Another one electricity. Done. Most of those were my boys. So when I got the girls and fashion was one of the responses, I thought, well, engineers are designers. Jewelry was another. After I surveyed all of them, I realized that the other 25 percent that didn’t directly fall into engineering, did fall into the category of designer. Done.
So now we embark on becoming experts in our passions (topics of study) in the role play of a real life career. At present, I have a budding fashion designer, civil engineer, electrical engineer, even medical engineer. I’m excited to tie all this together and see what my students produce. Maybe we will have the next Coco Chanel or Steve Jobs.