Between Passion and Purpose: The Need for Inquiry-Based Learning

One of the things I am passionate about as a teacher is helping students find their voice. Teaching Latin, and Art History, are definitely not high on the practical list of things for students to study. That said, both are excellent subjects to really test students on multiple levels – but that is another post for another time.

Most importantly, our students are graduating without knowing what they are passionate about, let alone interested in. They are told what they should study and most pursue that track in their later academic years but many do so dubiously and with a lack of fuel and execution. This is because not only do they not know themselves, but they also do not fully understand their purpose in life either. “Know thyself”, the famous maxim from Plato’s Academy is applicable on so many levels.

Why are so many students unaware of their passion, interests, or purpose? We are so busy telling them what to study but never why. We don’t give them the time to reflect on what they have learned nor dare to inquire about things that are interesting to them. Most of our courses are so jam-packed with things to study that there is no time to stop and inquire.

As a result, our educational system is reliant on extrinsic motivation. Students are “playing” at learning so they can get good grades on their transcripts and then move on to the next educational institution. They will then be on the hunt for jobs that fit their choice of study. We are becoming all-too-familiar with the fact that most of the jobs here today will be gone tomorrow. Our educational system is not preparing our students for their futures but instead setting them up for failure.

Students today need to be able to shift ideas and adapt. They need to be developing a vast array of skills and become focused on a growth mindset and not be stuck in a fixed world. This requires a creative outlook with a hacker’s flair. It is for this reason that I have been seeking further development in trying to shift my classrooms from a traditional, teacher-centered environment into a collaborative one that is student-centered.

I recently (in March) attended the Deeper Learning conference in San Diego and was exposed to even more PBL (project based learning) to help wrap my head around an inquiry-based methodology. This summer, I am also going to be heading up to Project Zero at Harvard to further enrich my approach in the classroom.

The reasoning is simple; students need to be driven by their passions and intrinsically motivated. That said, passion is only a starting point, it is not sustainable. It gets you out the door but any passion should evolve into an interest and eventually purpose. Once passion has turned into purpose, we have a longer game in play and a student will be dedicated to a life-long journey.

“…all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” Albert Einstein

In order to get to this space in the classroom, we need to drastically rethink how we teachers work. We need to put less stress on being the content experts and more stress on being coaches to help students acquire skills. Those skills should be based on inquiry where students seek out areas of interest on their own and report back on what they have found using credible evidence. Nothing today may be more important than teaching our students how to vet credible evidence from the incessant streams of information that are available to anyone with a connected mobile device. We need to let go of control and instead put our students at the center of their learning.

I will be posting more substantive ways of achieving this in future posts. Rather than just update what I am doing at the moment, which tends to be a lot as I do get very busy (and not a lot of time to post much!), I am also going to be sharing what my targets are and how I am going to strive to accomplish them. If nothing else, it helps me to hold myself accountable and provides me a reflection space for all to see!

The Maker Movement and Studying History | FCIS 2016 Miami

As promised, here is a copy of my presentation this afternoon, The Maker Movement and Studying History. It is packed with other resources and links, so please grab a copy and do with it what you will! I would love to hear your feedback and comments on what worked for you.

Using 3D printing and other advanced technologies requires a bit of training and a learning curve. It is important to also note that if your school is thinking of adopting these types of resources, they also need to have an expert staff in place to help guide the students on their usage. Our iLabs at Pine Crest are well-staffed and managed and this has been an excellent resource for us as teachers and helping us innovate our practices.

Also, here are some of the resources that I mentioned in my presentation that could get you started:

  • Tinkercad – web-based CAD program to design your 3D images
  • Thingiverse – web-based CAD program and online repository for 3D projects; check out their education section
  • Ponoko – outsource for your printing needs
  • Shapeways – outsource for your printing needs; inspire with various projects
  • Inventables – a marketplace for all things encompassing the maker movement
  • Makerbot – 3D printing needs, hardware; also has digitizing hardware
  • Minecraft – you can also read about some of my early experimentations here