scene built out of legos by student April 27, 2018

Lighting A Fire: Passion-Based Learning

“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” —W.B. Yeats

This quote by W.B. Yeats describes the goal of passion-based learning, a learning method that is both exciting and infectious, where teachers integrate lessons and assignments with the passions of the student. We all know that anyone is increasingly motivated to do a task when the work is associated with something they find interesting. Education also can be enhanced when we combine curriculum with what grabs our students’ attention.

Will is a fifth-grade student at Excel Academy who loves Lego, friends, and technology. He can complete worksheets and textbooks, but they are not his passion. Recently, Will studied the settlement of Jamestown. For an assessment project, Will was able to combine his passion with his curriculum. Will and two peers wrote a five-scene script about the historical accounts of Jamestown. They then created Lego scenes and characters who acted out the scenes for a stop-motion movie they created and presented. After I watched Will’s project, he told me excitedly all about this process, what he learned, and how much he loved this assignment. This was his passion inspiring his education—the lighting of a fire.

Not only do we see the benefits of passion-based learning through educational experiences such as Will’s, but scientific studies have also shown that the pleasure chemical in the brain, dopamine, helps us retain new information if it is present when we are learning. In a 2012 article for Scientific Learning Martha Burns states, “I like to refer to dopamine as the ‘save button’ in the brain. When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we remember it; when it is absent, nothing seems to stick.” Knowing this, we, as educators, should underscore the importance of education being an enjoyable experience.

One huge advantage to a independent learning program such as Excel is the individualized education plans families can create, combining their student’s interests with the standards they are learning. Whether it be roller coasters, computers, art, marine animals, music, sports, or insects (note: insects ARE animals), a passion can be infused into any curriculum at any grade. Families know their students’ passions best, and homeschooling gives families the freedom to tailor lessons to include specific topics of interest. If you are feeling inspired, begin with individual projects, and, as you get more comfortable, try infusing whole units of study with your student’s interests.

Passion-based learning will change and morph as your student develops, and, you will find, the options are limitless. Be inspired by what inspires your student and watch as the passion for learning follows. So, let’s all light the fire and pass on the torch of knowledge and learning!