One time in high school, I got to be Kip from Napoleon Dynamite in a Spanish parody film entitled Napoleon Dynamite (pronounced Na-pol-E-own-Dee-na-mee-tay). It was pretty much one of the greatest moments of my high school career. The movie (or masterpiece in my opinion) came into existence my junior year in Spanish III, where the only two students were myself and my buddy Enrique. Our teacher had everyone in her upper level Spanish classes create their own take on any appropriate movie of their choice. Acting, filming, and editing were all up to us. Once all the movies were complete the teacher put on a showing in the auditorium, complete with plastic Oscar awards, of which mine are still sitting on my desk at home.
Let me tell you, Enrique and I swept the competition. Even though we were a two man show (with the help of a few volunteers), people loved it. I largely attribute our success to one scene in particular, where Enrique and one of our fellow classmates recreate the “Happy Hands Club” scene. We used the song Coleccionista De Canciones by Camilla. Essentially, the two guys winged the whole part with a bunch of nonsense hand movements. The camera was all over the place as I filmed because I was laughing so hard I was legitimately sobbing. I wish I had my copy of the DVD here with me to upload and show you all, because it is truly a hoot.
My point of telling this story that is a billion times more funny to me than it most likely is to you is the assignment itself. As John Hardison states in the article Opportunity: The Heart of Passion Based Learning, “Truth be told, I don’t recall a single life-changing worksheet I ever received, I struggle to remember any riveting multiple-choice tests, and most memories of collaboration can be reasoned out to be nothing more than social time framed around mediocre assignments.” Same John, same. I will remember this Spanish project for the rest of my life because it was unique, and it provided me with the opportunity to show how I was unique as well. It was a prime example of passion-based learning.
In a nutshell, passion-based learning is when students have some autonomy in choosing what they want to learn as well as how they will go about that learning. In my case, Enrique and I chose to improve our Spanish by embracing the roles of Napoleon and Kip. We got to flex our creative muscles to the point where we were having so much fun we nearly forgot that we were also educating ourselves, which is a feeling lost in much of education today.
As I first began researching passion-based learning, my main concern was how on earth would I be able to incorporate such an open-ended approach in my classroom on a regular basis? Fortunately (props to the internet) I stumbled upon the wonderful article Are You Ready for a Genius Hour Classroom? The idea is to devote one hour a week or 20% of classroom time on letting students “learn about and create whatever they want, unencumbered by teacher control”. Over each quarter or semester, students brainstorm ideas they would like to know more about. After they settle on one or two, the students themselves get to pick how they present the knowledge they acquire throughout the process. At the very end of the unit, they complete a self-assessment on their experience, keeping in line with the idea of students taking some control over their own learning. It is a wonderful practice.
Although the Genius Hour article I read catered mainly to elementary classrooms, I don’t think it would be outside the realm of possibility to include this type of passion-based learning in a high school classroom as well. As a future high school English teacher, my mind immediately jumps to books. It might not be quite as open-ended as the original Genius Hour, but I think it would be neat to let passion-based learning take over book reports. Students would be able to choose any book over any topic they want and then they complete a creative project, anything they could imagine, along with a reflection. This is just one idea. Genius Hour is something that can be played around with and changed to fit the exact needs of any classroom. The main thing is to make it fun, just like what Enrique and I experienced.
In parting, I will conclude with a thought reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite himself. Let kids be as creative as they wanna be, gosh! Let us not forget this as teachers. Creativity should always be a main focus.