Passion-Driven Learning at School and Home

The wisdom of the ages has taught us to strive for balance. To the extent that we practise it, we see the value it offers in health, happiness, and success.

Balance is also behind transformational learning.

For far too long, education has been designed with well-intended imbalance. The half of the equation most focused on – curriculum-driven learning – is absolutely valuable. For generations, students have shown up to school and worked their way through a long list of knowledge and skills. Learn the alphabet, count by tens, contemplate history, write with persuasion, dabble in science, and – of course – show what you know and can do with the content and skills adults choose.

This is a critical part of school. It helps students practise core skills as steps to mastery. But more is possible. Making room for students to bring their full selves – their passions, curiosity, and talents – makes for the full value in education that students deserve and we all need them to have. Balancing the school experience with time devoted to passion-driven learning means students not only learn in the area of their passions; if done right, it develops their core knowledge, skills, and habits of mind in precisely the directions we rightly seek in the curriculum.

Here’s how this works at KCS:

When students pursue their passions at school, they usually practise their research skills. Their curiosity is exercised and they develop their question-asking and problem-solving. Because they care, they read more (and read more complex text), they learn more, take more notes, and write with greater attention to quality. When expected to share their learning, which our teachers ask of their students, this information is synthesized and turned into a coherent written project or public presentation. In the case of some passions, sharing often means creating something to show their classmates. This might include building a model (real or virtual), coding a robot, drafting a business proposal, making a video game, creating works of art, composing music, or writing a book. The ownership and empowerment are palpable. While initial steps are often modest, robust seeds are planted that fuel intrinsic motivation, responsible risk-taking, persistence, and creativity.

Passion projects are a journey of self-discovery and determination. Animation, cooking, activism, architecture, and interior design are just a handful of topics currently being pursued and shared among our students. Infused with positive emotion, these are presentations that engage and move listeners, making what they’re hearing ‘stick’. They also inspire listeners, either to try their hand at what so excites the speaker or just to double-down on their own passions. In fact, there is copious scholarly research that demonstrates how passion is contagious. (For more on this, look no further than this TEDx Talk from the University of Waterloo.)

Our commitment to passion-driven learning is even stronger in this unusual time. From day one of our KCS At Home Learning Program, passion projects have been part of the Weekly Learning Plan (WLP) going home to every student. Encouraging students to devote part of their school week to pursuing their passions is as much about learning as it is about our other priority: well-being. Our facility closure and the physical distancing that has removed much of what used to bring happiness has also taken away much of our students’ healthy sense of control. A significant part of mental health is rooted in the feeling that we have control over important parts of our lives. Passion projects that are rooted in one’s own passion and pursued in a way of their choosing, at a pace that’s right for them, bring a powerful sense of control and source of joy back into our students’ lives.

Balance has always brought value to the KCS experience. Passion projects and “learning for the love of it” bring value to student learning. They also bring happiness, motivation, and inspiration at a troubling time. We’ll keep sharing internally and on our social media channels (#KCSPassionProjects) where those passions take our students. And we hope our sharing will inspire all in education to find the balance all students deserve.

Andrea Fanjoy
Head of Senior School

Dr. Matina Mosun
Assistant Head, Academics

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