Promote Creative Thinking Through Passion Projects

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In This Post

  • An overview of passion projects in the classroom.
  • Why you should consider doing a passion project with your students.
  • Suggestions to rethink a unit and approach it as a passion project!

Creative thinking is a skill we absolutely want to cultivate. We want our students to think critically and analyze. We want them to assess situations, look at them differently, and find new solutions to the problems we face.

The traditional classroom model doesn’t always promote this type of thinking. In fact, it can squash it completely by focusing on compliance and control. But if you’re ready to try some creative thinking in your classroom, a Passion Project might be right for you!

Remember, your goal is for students to master the skills of your content area. If they can do it by exploring their passion, let them! Click To Tweet

What is a passion project?

Passion projects are those that encourage our students to explore something they are passionate about. They give students freedom to look into the things that excite them or drive them to succeed.

Passion projects can be similar to genius hour, but they don’t have to be. In my language arts class, our passion project is actually our informational writing unit.

I invite my students to research something they are interested in. Something they love. Something that is really exciting to them. It could be a problem they notice, a hobby they have, or just something they think is cool. I have only one requirement: They have to be able to do something with the information once they have it.

We learn to research, take notes, and assess the credibility of sources. Our writing workshop still runs smoothly. We have mini lessons on informational introductions, organizing an informational piece, and students spend time writing and conferencing.

After the piece is written, we learn about public speaking. Each student gives a presentation on their learning. They incorporate valuable speaking skills and outline what they learned about their topic. But my favorite part is when they tell us what they are going to do with their learning.

Some students discuss a potential career path. Others start coat drives, food collections, or poster campaigns. Students have even sent messages to our administrators and our school board about changes they’d like to see.

In all of them, you hear student passions. And in every single one, you hear student voice.

Why do a passion project?

Even if you don’t teach language arts, passion projects can weave into any content area.

In social studies, students can explore a historical event or time period that they choose. They could consider societal influences that have shaped the world as we know it.

In math, students can explore an area of mathematical thinking that they find interesting or look for a problem in the community. Math is one of the most applicable content areas, and many community problems require mathematical solutions.

Whatever content you teach, passion projects are a great way to engage your students and empower them to seek information. I never thought I’d be teaching research and expository writing this way, but here I amĀ loving this unit (which was previously SO boring).

Consider a unit that can incorporate more student choice. Maybe choose the unit that students struggle to stay engaged with, or the one you struggle to teach. Can you provide more choices? Could you still teach skills and concepts while allowing students freedom to explore?

If you can or could, it’s likely that a passion project will work for that unit. Think of what it will look like for students to accomplish the same goals through the lens of their interests. Emphasize the concepts and the learning targets, not the topics.

Remember, your goal is for students to master the skills of your content area. If they can do it by exploring their passion, let them!

To be successful, studentsĀ have to think in new ways and push themselves to learn differently. They have to approach situations from a new angle, own their journey, and problem solve.

And that is what creative thinking is all about.

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About Katelynn Giordano

Katelynn Giordano is a 6th grade language arts teacher in the Chicago suburbs and the Digital Content Editor for the Teach Better Team. She loves writing, both on her blog, Curriculum Coffee, and for the Teachers on Fire magazine on Medium. She is a dynamic educator with a focus on student empowerment in the ELA classroom. Her writing and presentations are all about incorporating student voice, choice, and personalized learning in your teaching practice.

Katelynn is active on Twitter and Instagram, and loves to collaborate with educators everywhere! In her free time, she enjoys relaxing with her husband and her cat, Chickpea, drinking coffee, and reading YA books.

Katelynn is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.