Let Kids Be as Creative as They Wanna Be, Gosh!

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.


Drops mic. Photo CC by Carlos Varela on Flickr.



8 thoughts on “Let Kids Be as Creative as They Wanna Be, Gosh!

  1. That is awesome that you got to do that in high school! By being allowed to use your creative minds, it imprinted a more permanent memory. Compared to if your teacher would have simply had you take a test or do a few assignments. That project, is something you will also carry with you.


  2. Thank you, I thought it was awesome too! I couldn’t agree more. Creativity was at the heart of this assignment, and it is what made it worthwhile. I hope one day my future students will be able to look back and have the same fond memories for one of their English projects. Thanks for the comment!


  3. I thoroughly enjoyed how you incorporated your own experiences into your post to prove a point. I also love the idea of having a genius hour to allow students to enjoy what they are learning and reflect their information with their peers. I believe that our independent learning project fits perfectly into this topic. With that being said, I think that you can create an assignment that lasts the whole year, or even just a semester in your high school classroom that resembles the one we are doing now. This would be a wonderful way to incorporate your students’ passions into the classroom. At the end of the week, they could write a single page paper on their findings and share them with the class. Also, you could allow a few hours of class time a week for the students’ to work on their project! What do you think?


    • Thank you! When you’re learning something new, I’ve found that it is always more enjoyable if you can find a way to relate it back to a personal experience. I also love the idea of genius hour. I am very glad I stumbled upon it as I was completing research for this post. I agree! I think letting students complete a passion-based project over a certain period of time would make for fun learning. As a future high school English teacher, I think I would space the checkpoints for the project out more than every week. In a subject that is already heavy on reading and writing, it might backfire to pile more written assignments on top of the students… especially when it is for something they enjoy. It is all about balance. I appreciate your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have as well! I agree with your thoughts! I did not realize you were going to be an English teacher. I feel that book reports on their own choice of reading would be sufficient enough in your situation!


  4. Oh my goodness! You DO know you are going to HAVE to upload that video now. Right? I bet it was hilarious!! Thanks for sharing your experience. Having the opportunity to relate our learning back to a personal experience is always more enjoyable. In both courses I’m teaching this semester, students have a great deal of freedom to pick topics, websites, articles, and books. In my experience, they get so much more out of each learning experience. This excitement is what we’re after (unless it’s a numerical test score, which is meaningless in a few months).Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Haha! I actually still have my copy of the DVD, maybe next time I’m home I’ll upload it. It definitely makes me laugh every time. 😀 I couldn’t agree more about learning being more meaningful when it can relate to the student in a personal way. I had a fun time writing this post for precisely that reason. Thank you for letting us have so much freedom in our choices! I appreciate the comment!


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