Passion Projects

I am always looking for ways to inspire my students and promote learning in my classroom. The biggest obstacle I often face is school itself. Whether its curriculum, rules, schedules, standardized tests or the host of other things that get in the way of inspired learning, there is always appears to be some obstacle. The past two years I have been fortunate to offer my students a day of unfiltered learning that was driven by their passions and interests in the form of Innovation Day. For me, it always kind of bothered me that this day only happened one time during the school year. I wanted a way to have this notion of learning exist in my classroom more regularly and this year I am giving something new a try.

Two weeks ago I introduced my students to something a colleague and I are calling “Passion Projects”. We committed a day a week (which is a class period in a junior high setting) to allow kids to work on these projects. To start, we asked our students what they were passionate about. What did they want to be when they grew up? If they had unrestricted time and resources to learn about something, what would that be? As a class we talked through the answers to these questions and started designing projects and learning activities based on their interests. Below is the first list of topics that was generated by my students during their first brainstorm.
  • Music
  • Environmental impacts on testing
  • Entertaining
  • Ocean
  • Building
  • Website design
  • Interior Decorating
  • Fishing
  • Photobooks/Photography
  • Acting
  • Writing
  • Engineering
  • Dinosaurs
  • Dancing ballerina
  • Cooking, chef
  • Perform-drama-skits
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Marine biology
  • Animals
  • Basketball
  • Swimming animals
  • Game design
  • Meteorology

Now some of these we are working with and creating into “doable” projects within the parameters of our school day and physical space. Outside of that, I have given them very few restrictions. One requirement I gave them is that I want them to keep a learning journal in some form to reflect on their learning. The other thing I asked them to do is share their work with their peers a few times over the course of the year. I told them I will provide feedback and guidance but never a grade or evaluation.

My goal is for students to pursue something they are passionate about and may never get a chance within a school to study. One way I hope to further inspire them is to use my social media “superpowers” to connect my students with some experts or professionals in some of the above topics. For example, I am already working on connecting my young meteorologist with one of the stars of Discovery’s show Stormchasers. I truly want to inspire these kids to think outside of the box and find something to be passionate about. If are or know somebody that is connected to one of these fields please leave me a comment as I would love to talk with you.

I look forward to sharing this journey with my students and sharing their successes and spectacular failures along the way. 


Judy said...

Keep us posted in a few weeks or a month to let us know how the Passion Projects work out. If you blog about it, send link to Twitter.

Unknown said...

I dig it, Josh. I love the concept of letting them see and understand the notion of passion.

I've done similar one-day-a-week projects. I called them Indie Projects and we really talked about the idea of independence and owning one's learning. But honestly, I think I like passion better. It gives them something big to hold onto.

Can they do the passion projects in pairs or in groups or does it have to be solo? I realize they'll be sharing what they do, but is the project itself allowed to be collaborative?

Josh said...


Thanks for the comment...yes, I am allowing collaboration. Some of the kids have already grouped together to work on collaborative projects. I find the conversations they are having to be a key part of the learning process.

Unknown said...

Fantastic! We use the #geniushour to chat about this exact idea! You should check it out :)
We also have with resources, etc

Here's to Passion based learning!

sylwiaw said...


I am a student teacher part of the PDP program at Simon Fraser University, and I am all for students being passionate and in control of their learning.

In regards to 'Passion Projects,' I was wondering if this was directed more towards elementary students or do you think it can be equally effective in high school classes as well? Does time become a constraint?



Betty-Ann said...

This seems related to inquiry learning as well: What's your big question? How can you find out about it? How can you share what you found out? Looking forward to hearing more.

Anonymous said...

Betty Ann, I was thinking the same thing. It seems very much like Inquiry Projects, which I really like. There is a lot of student-directed thinking and creating involved in projects like this.

Dan Reardon said...

love your ideas for influencing creativity. It's such a great aspect of student learning and usually directly correlates to academic achievement!

Elizabeth Mims said...


I just wanted to comment and say that I love your idea for the "Passion Projects." If only students could have more control of what they learn and how they learn! Once I become an educator, I hope to include as many hands-on activities into my lesson plans as possible. Your idea has opened up so many new ideas and possibilities that I can use. Children are more eager to learn about something they are passionate about, as you have stated. They feel a sense of accomplishment when they get to create their own projects. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed your post and cannot wait to read more!

Elizabeth Mims

Miss McLaughlin said...

I love this idea. One great thing about being self-contained with the same class all day is we have more control over the schedule. I just had my 2nd graders complete an interest inventory. I am thinking about how I want to do this same thing. I think I am going to give them their top 10 and help organize them into interest groups and go from there. Still thinking this out but I think they would love the freedom to pursue what they love.

Jay Bohnsack said...

I like this idea, I am going to incorporate this as part of my Digital Media class!

Melinda said...

As a former student of Liberty Junior High School, it makes me so proud to see students’ interests being integrated into learning. The “Passion Project” is a great way of connecting students to the real world and inspiring them to think about what they want to be when they grow up. I agree that if you can incorporate students’ “passions” into learning and connect them to real world experiences, learning can be fun and inspiring for students. My son often asks me as many other teachers have heard, “When will I use this in real life?” All of the topics the students listed above are obviously ones they are passionate about that they could apply to their world. Reaching out and asking us if we know someone connected to one of the above fields is a fabulous idea, and I will continue to read further brainstorming lists to see if I can be of assistance. I would love to be a student again at Liberty Junior High to see all of the wonderful learning that is taking place! I felt I received an excellent education from district 203 that prepared me well for college and now for my master’s degree in special education. I can only imagine how well your students are being prepared for the future!

Denice Kotnik said...

52A great question you asked your students was, “What they are passionate about”? Many students were probably in complete surprise because their voices are not heard enough. Allowing a project based on their own interests may also lead to numerous questions. Students are like robots at times and have a daily schedule that seems programmed which could lead and produce anxiety. The great thing is allowing the voices to be heard. This will create insight for teachers about the students they teach and also create ideas for future lessons and projects. The journaling aspect of the project is crucial and allows students to explain positive and a negative regarding what is being asked of them. If we all as teaching professionals took a few minutes on a daily or weekly basis to reflect on tings in the same manner it would beneficial. I guess in a way “practice make perfect” and “if at first you don’t succeed try try again”. In recent Graduate classes we have learned about Universal Design Unit, which uses students voices (their needs and wants) and see the need to expand the rigor in the unit to meet students’ needs and learning.

Amanda McCarthy said...

I love this idea! I am currently a Special Ed teacher (getting my Masters in Special Ed too right now since I only have my endorsement) and this is something I encourge my kids on my caseload to do when we are talking about Transition goal and researching what they want to do after high school. Over the last three years, I've had a few of my students becom interested in Cooking/Culinary Arts as well. One resource I have found is something that Joliet Junior College offers called Chef for a Day. One of my students has participated in this and loved the experience!
Here is the link:
Joliet Junior College has one of the best rated Culinay Arts programs in the area and Chef for a Day gives students a great deal of insight into what a career in Culinary Arts would be like.

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Jeff B said...

I like the ideas of an Innovation Day. It seems even though the topic may not be the Pythagorean Theorem or the theory of relativity the students are learning more on this day than any other. Why? They are focusing on a topic that interests them. Would you rather learn about different types of clouds or the science of skydiving? The same basic principles will be discussed regarding weather. It is almost as if you are ‘tricking’ students into learning, which is not a bad thing. Connections can be made with many popular television shows like Stormchasers. Pawn Stars can relate to economics, American Restoration connects to American history as well as plenty of other shows.
I am intrigued by the lack of an evaluation. The reason I say this is I wonder if it will make them work harder because it is simply a topic of interest or will students become lazy and disinterested if there is no final tangible grade.

Unknown said...

I love it, and can't wait to share it with my administrators!

Unknown said...

Totally in favor of this! It falls under the 'choice' debate. How much choice should we allow them in their own learning?

I was at an Autism seminar last week and the topic of 'choice' came up. We concluded that choice was an amazing deterrent of problematic behavior in the classroom. And I have seen it happen.

Teaching them that they are responsible for their own behavior gives them ownership of it and behavior improves! Teaching them that they have a choice in what they are learning gives them ownership of it and their grades improve!

Sandra Perez, Early Childhood Special Education Teacher NYC

6H_RedHill said...

Great post Josh

What did the kids do who we're passionate about a certain sport, for eg. Swimming or soccer???

Any ideas?



6H_RedHill said...

Great post Josh

I'm intrigued, what did the kids do that were passionate about sport, for eg. Swimming or soccer???

Any ideas