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Engaging Young Learners through Voice and Choice

January 28, 2018

Younger learners must have hands on learning. They must experience through all senses to learn and understand the world in which they live. Working with our hands should be our priority as early years educators. Experiential learning as a foundation that builds upon other conceptual skills later on in life is paramount to learning how to learn and inquire into the environment around us. The more we make connections to, the better we can create and learn.

Though passion projects and individualised learning, students can have choice and voice in what and how they learn. So what are passion projects? Passion projects are student driven. They are individualised learning where the teacher takes the role of a guide, assisting the learner along the way. Allowing the student to make mistakes is an essential part of passion projects as this allows for deeper understanding and thinking on the part of the student. Passion projects can be daunting for the teacher as well. Often both student and teacher are required to learn together. The teacher may not even know how to help the learner initially and this is all part of the excitement of passion projects. Both teacher and learner are learning partners and work together to inquire into something that may be unknown to both of them. Passion projects usually start with a plan that includes the idea, list of resources needed (if known) and some research. Resources include materials and people. The plan must be carefully crafted and requires teacher input at this stage as the teacher needs understand what the learner wishes to achieve. For example, a student who is really passionate about drones wishes to build one however the teacher needs to guide the child to first understand the shape of the drone, how a propeller works, how it flies or how a motor works before building a drone. There are a lot of complexities in building a drone and to be successful, complex projects must be broken down into manageable and achievable chunks. This is where the teacher or other experts as resources can help.

Passion projects are a great way to engage with integrate many learning areas such as science, technology, art and mathematics. A child may need to use mathematics in an authentic way in order to bring the passion project to fruition. It is this authentic learning through choice that makes this type of learning so powerful. Some examples of passion projects include creating a video game with coding, making a puppet for a play, knitting a case for mother’s mobile phone or learning about basic circuitry to to make a toy where the eyes light up. It is not about the technology but about the learning process. Through the power of inquiry, students must plan, investigate, find out, sort out, understand and take action. Not all projects are successful and failure is not seen as negative but another opportunity to learn, or challenge our thinking. This is probably one of the biggest barriers to the maker – mindset. Failing is very much a part of making, of passion projects and through failure students build resilience. Passion projects require choice, interest, guidance, resilience and patience. To  quote Seymour Papert, the father of the maker mindset, “I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge”

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