Teaching & Learning with Technology
3 Tips for Making Passion-Based Learning Work Successfully
learning, a form of self-directed learning in which students pursue
projects of interest to them, is becoming more popular in schools —
and for good reason: Educators who have set aside time for
passion-based learning have discovered that students become highly
engaged and motivated when learning about topics that intrigue them,
while taking their learning much deeper than they would in a
learning initiatives include Genius
both inspired by Google’s program that lets employees spend 20% of
their time on projects of their choosing to spark innovation.
led effectively, passion-based learning can unleash students’
creativity and help them learn critical 21st
century skills, while also assuming agency over their own learning.
However, passion-based learning can be challenging to implement. To
make it work, educators need the support of administration — and
they need to be willing to take risks.
make the transition easier, here are three tips from educators who
have seen great success from this approach in their own classrooms.
a roadmap for the process,” said
who was a classroom teacher for 16 years before becoming a digital
innovation specialist for Education Service Center 12 in Texas.
began implementing Genius Hour when she taught gifted and talented
education for K–5
students about five years ago. “I felt like what I was teaching
wasn’t meaningful to my students,” she said,
confessing that she almost quit teaching before discovering the
benefits of passion-based learning.
passion-based learning allows students to follow their interests, it
shouldn’t be a free-for-all. Don’t just turn students loose
without giving them some structure to follow, McNair advised.
her own classroom, she devised a process that she calls the “six
to implementing Genius Hour effectively: passion, pitch, plan,
project, product and presentation. Students would think of a topic
they were passionate about learning, pitch their idea for McNair’s
approval, plan and develop their project, create a product that could
be shared with the world and present their product to the class.
Genius Hour time helped her students see how learning applied beyond
the four walls of the classroom, McNair said,
adding: “Having a roadmap helped my learners avoid being
overwhelmed and helped them stay on task.”
alongside your students
using 20Time in spring 2015 with her freshmen at Amador Valley High
School in Pleasanton, CA.
Before leaving the classroom last year to become a library assistant
at Belmont University in Nashville, she devoted 20 percent of her
class time to students’ passion projects for 12 weeks every spring.
was revolutionary in terms of making language arts skills relevant to
my students’ lives,” she said.
top advice is that the teacher should complete a passion project
alongside her students. Modeling is important for students — and it
was vital for me to ‘walk the talk’ of being a lifelong learner
the years, Randazzo’s students have created
a lacrosse blog and YouTube channel showing different stick moves,
a solar-powered phone charger,
collected used eyeglasses to send to a hospital in India and even
choreographed a ballet. For her part, Randazzo
has learned to play the ukulele and performed with students at a full
school assembly, strength-trained to be able to complete a pull-up
and built a 180-day curriculum pack to share with fellow English
used our 20Time class sessions to check on students’ progress and
help them over speed bumps, so all of my own projects had to be
completed outside of class time,” she said.
“Still, I felt a great empathy with my students’ struggles, and
my students enjoyed hearing about my progress, frustrations, setbacks
adds: “Student buy-in on this project was always huge, and I think
it’s because we were all in the struggle together.”
Sonora Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas, Principal Regina
students should have time for passion-based learning.
of our goals is to make sure each student has
choice and voice in their learning, allowing them to
their passion and be an innovator,” she said.
“Enrichment shouldn’t be limited to gifted students only. Every
student deserves the opportunity to pursue their passion — and when
they do, their learning goes through the roof.”
all students the option to explore their interests can be challenging
on a large scale. To overcome this hurdle and make the process easier
for teachers, Sonora Elementary uses a new peer-to-peer learning
platform called Tract,
which is a
collection of video content organized into self-directed learning
can browse for content that aligns with their interests, arranged by
topics such as Arts, Nature, Gaming, Food, Sports, Music, World
Culture, Technology and Business. They can learn how to take nature
photos, master the art of juggling, learn how to become a music
producer and more. Students can also upload their own video content
to help teach others about their passions.
learning path includes an extension activity, and when students
complete and upload their activity or challenge, the platform
provides authentic feedback.
What’s more, each completed challenge earns coins which students
can trade, redeem or donate to social causes.
Elementary students have engaged with passion-based learning in ways
that Stewman has rarely seen in her 30-year teaching career. “It’s
students teaching students at a level of depth that is much more than
simply watching a video,” she observed.
a love for learning
done well, passion-based learning can ignite a love for learning that
spills over into core subject areas, these three educators have
subjects, students want to be challenged while also finding relevancy
between the materials being taught and their own lives,” Randazzo
“What every student wants is to be inspired, to learn and to have
some fun while at school.”
About the Author
Dennis Pierce is a freelance writer with 17 years of experience covering education and technology. He can be reached at [email protected].