The struggle is real. Where’s the passion gone?

We’re nearing the end of the semester, and we’re in the middle of presentations for Passion Projects. I have mixed feelings.

My idea of Passion Projects is that it’s an opportunity for students to spend part of their school week exploring an interest of their own, instead of what the teacher tells them to. It’s an opportunity to control their own learning – to a degree. Sure, there are parameters, but who wouldn’t want a chance to spend legitimate school time learning about and creating a project of their own choice?

Their idea of Passion Projects is that it’s some torture device. It’s as if I’ve thrown them into a room full of spikes with loud opera music playing. They don’t understand why, and they just don’t want do it. Especially when I mention that they’ll be presenting their projects and what they’ve learned at the end.

Firing squad. That’s what they are thinking.

Now they have to have a mentor for their project? What? They have to talk to people?

Un. Bearable.

In spite of those initial reactions, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the presentations and the learning they showed. I’m not dumb. I know a lot of it happened at the last minute, and based on what was shared, it certainly didn’t constitute 12 hours of learning (12 weeks at about an hour per), of digging, researching, exploring and creating.

Some good ideas did come from the class: How are airports run? What’s a vegan diet really like? How does a radio station work? What can I learn about the career options of nursing and athletic training? I want to learn to crochet, speak French. If I’m “with the band” what might my job be?

Presenting to a small class is a stepping stone to being able to handle bigger presentations later on, especially in college, and I am determined to make presentations a small part of my curriculum in all my classes so they can get comfortable with it now. But I was disheartened when a full one-third of my class really – really – did not want to present to the class. The class has 15 people in it, 15 people who’ve been around each other all semester. Nevertheless, I provided the option of bringing in three friends and presenting during their lunch or after school. But what’s to make them show up for that?

Though this is my third semester for including Passion Projects, I still researched before presenting the unit, so that I could make it better. I guess engaging students is a passion of mine. I’d had my eye on Don Wettrick’s “Pure Genius” ever since missing out on it at an EdCamp drawing. Got it at the tail-end of summer and didn’t have time to digest the whole thing (maybe I should make speed-reading a project of my own next semester?), but I did read some and watched some of his videos. I picked up the idea to add the requirement of a mentor. It didn’t go over well. Some kind of, sort of, had a mentor – sort of. Do YouTube videos count? Some really did get an authentic mentor, while others did not.

What’s happened? Why are students so afraid of presenting? Why won’t students question their world, find their passion, explore ideas? Why do they have such a tough time planning? Over half of students to whom I suggest using a web or something to “plan” a story, a speech, a presentation, tell me they do better “winging it”.

No. They don’t.

It can’t be that they don’t know how to plan. I’ve demonstrated over and over and over. There is certainly a disconnect there, and I can’t seem to make that connection.

The new semester will begin in three weeks (it’s a semester class), and already I’m reflecting about what went well, what I’ll keep, what didn’t and how I should reconstruct. I’m really wondering if I should keep Passion Projects. I’m considering going back to what I did before that – a group project with topic that goes with a unit (it was cyberbullying then), but they choose the purpose, the direction, the actual project, the audience, the tasks, the rubric, etc.

What alarms me is that I’m considering watering down, dumbing down my curriculum and tossing presentations. But that’s like not giving your child vaccinations because he cries too much.

I’d really like to know what my peers in other places think. Is the tendency to be this passive in learning, to not know what they want to learn, to detest the idea of presenting even though this is the most transparent generation ever the same everywhere else? What have we done to these kids and how do we turn it around? How do we help them see that they need to be able to generate ideas and solutions, they need to be able to communicate, both verbally and in writing. They need to know what they need and how to make it happen.

I’m struggling here. What are your thoughts?

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

One Response to The struggle is real. Where’s the passion gone?

  1. Joy Kirr says:

    I find that the more I require, the less they want to do it. I wrote about some of what you speak of in an older post – http://geniushour.blogspot.com/2015/04/its-not-perfect.html

    I think each year is different, with a different group, different requirements, different attitudes, different way of introducing the concept to the kids. This year I started very differently, and we won’t be choosing topics and questions until we get back from winter break. I think I’ll have more buy-in, as they’ll FINALLY be able to work on what they’d like to work on during this time. But I’m not sure. And I know I’ll have at least one “Billy” who “won’t know what to do” or who will pretend to be working each week. And it will hurt. Just keep tweaking, just keep tweaking……

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