December 19, 2010

Marc Prensky on Passion-based Learning

Over the past year I've been sharing techniques, ideas, examples and resources that help educators move from a content-based, curriculum-focussed world to one where we pass more control over to students to lead with their passions. Whether it's Gever Tulley's Tinkering School model, the Albany Senior High model of Impact Projects or one of the many examples in my talk at the Global Education Conference, I'm convinced that the only way we can encourage a generation to be more entrepreneurial in their learning habits throughout life is to indulge their passions throughout formal education.

Derek Robertson asked Marc Prensky at the Qatar WISE conference how it can be possible to teach to 30 different passions sat in front of you. Other recordings and transcripts are over on the Consolarium blog:

I thought Marc's response was a good starting point for the discussion, one with which no educator, hand on heart, could disagree:

If you don't know what the passions of those in front of you are then you'll never know how to teach the people in front of you.

If you don’t know what your students passions are then you basically don’t know who is sitting in front of you and that makes teaching at a really deep level, I think difficult. Its never 30 separate passions its typically clusters of passions so one thing that you can do is to put people into clusters

There ought to be times in a day, maybe the days that a substitute teacher comes in when what you say to kids is ‘your job today, is to just learn more about what you are passionate in’ and it may have nothing to do with our curriculum but it is still important because you are going to find it valuable.
If every teacher tomorrow or the next school day takes twenty minutes out of the day and says to every student ‘what are you passionate about?’ and writes it down and then thinks about it in the back of their mind how they can use that, education will be much improved overnight.

All too often I get asked at events and roundtable discussions whether I have any evidence for what I'm sharing. The answer is: "Of course, here it is...". When I turn the tables and ask school or university leaders what evidence they have for their decision-making, on the other hand, one is repeatedly reminded that most institutions don't do enough talking with and listening to their constituents. My favourite doubting question after any presentation is: "what about the students who don't own smartphones or laptops?". My response - "have you asked them if they own them?" - is normally met with slightly annoyed silence (and occassionally an excited: "let's do that tomorrow!")

The same goes for passions as for equipment. We cannot spend enough time asking our students what they have, what makes them tick, what they think of their learning and what they need help with.

Tinkering School Laughs picture from Gever Tulley.


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Thanks for the post Ewan and the pointer to that interview which is a good stimulating piece.

I'm aware of several primary schools which adopt passion-based or negotiated learning in a very deep manner. Rosendale and Christchurch primaries in Dulwich and Brixton are two such schools. I briefly interviewed their Executive Head, Neil Hopkin, about their approach to negotiated learning at the recent SSAT conference. The interview is on Audioboo here:

I think that most teens and young folks enjoy music so that's one common denominator that could be incorporated into a lesson plan. Music can be used in lots of ways; for example a song with Spanish lyrics can be used to teach a foreign language. I've also heard one instance of a teacher playing music and then letting the students write or interpret a story based on the music for an English class. That sounded pretty creative to me.

The same concept applies to work too; if you really are passionate about it, then it doesn't really feel like "work". That's why it's super important to pick a line of work you enjoy.

Absolutely brilliant! Thanks for this - I can now quote you as well as Ken Robinson!

Thanks a lot for providing valuable information.And thanks for sharing the link it helps me allot.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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