The Passion Project

The Passion Project and supporting Passion Projects Portal provides principles, curriculum, and resources designed to cultivate curious, engaged, and passionate learners through a 4-part Project-Based Learning progression – investigations, explorations, adventures, and quests – that grows learners’ interests into deeper passions. 

The Definition of Passion

Black and white photo of W.B. Yeats

Education is not the filling of a bucket, But the lighting of a fire. – W. B. Yeats

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow. – Anthony J. D’Angelo

For future experts, playful interaction with whatever has caught their interest is their first step toward what will eventually become their passion. – Anders Ericsson

This work’s generous sponsor, the Australian Learning Lecture (ALL), defines Passion as:

The spark which ignites the tinder of curiosity, taking a learner from initial interest to deeper and deeper levels of engagement and passion for learning – from a passive, conforming student to an active, self-motivated, purposeful, creative, and passionate learner.

Ten Principles of Passion Learning

Learner Interests & Passions

  1. Learners learn best when they have a strong internal desire to learn – usually about something they really care a lot about.
  2. Strong personal interests – another way of saying “what learners care a lot about” – can be some of the best keys to unlocking their doors to highly motivated, creative, and engaged learning.
  3. Caring for and supporting learners’ personal Interests may be one of the most powerful antidotes to the anxiety, turmoil, and mental health distress they often experience in our times.
  4. Some learners need time and help to identify, select, and investigate their strong interests, choose the ones they care about the most, and commit to learning more about them; other learners know their Passions well and are actively pursuing them.
  5. All learners need the freedom to shift their Interests, explore new Passions, and even manage the pursuit of a diverse set of Passions all at the same time.
  6. With the right support and encouragement, learners’ powerful motivations to pursue their Passions can “spill over” to the rest of their learning experiences and can even develop into a deep commitment to life-long and life-wide learning.

Passion-led Capabilities

  1. For learners to successfully pursue their motivated Passions, they need to develop sets of essential Skills, Character qualities, and Meta-learning capabilities that power their passion-led learning, such as: SkillsCreativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration; CharacterCuriosity, Courage, Resilience, and Leadership; Meta-learningMetacognition and a Growth Mindset.
  2. Learners also need to learn how to successfully manage their own learning plans and projects through a well-researched yet simple Project Learning Cycle that includes the project phases Define, Plan, Do, and Review.
  3. Being recognized by peers and adults as an “expert” in their Passion pursuit has enormous benefits to learners’ self-confidence, pride, motivation, personal agency, positive mental health and well-being, and their prospects for future success.
  4. One of the best ways for learners to gain expert knowledge and capabilities is to have supportive relationships with expert mentors or coaches who help guide their learning using purposeful and mentored practice, and to actively participate in the supportive communities and networks of people that share their passions.

Passion Project Curriculum Overview

Cultivating curious, engaged, creative, and passionate learners

    • Grows learners’ Interests into deeper Passions through a 4-part Project-Based Learning progression from brief Investigations to deeper Explorations to action project Adventures and Quests
    • Uses an online collection of 340+ exemplary learning experiences, the Passions Project Portal
    • Aligns with the UN’s Strategic Development Goals (SDG), the Millennium Project Global Challenges for Humanity, the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges, and the World Economic Forum Deep Shift Technologies

This is a screen shot from: https://passionprojects.curriculumredesign.org/. It shows the home page of the Passions Projects Portal. It shows the four types of project plans users can search for: Investigations, Explorations, Adventures, and Quests.

Introduction: Why Focus on Learners’ Interests and Passions?

Benefits

  • More Learner Engagement – harnesses learners’ own desires to learn
  • More Capability Achievements – ensures required capability and skills outcomes
  • More Resilient Learners – enhances personal agency and positive mental health
  • More Future-skilled Learners – builds project, problem-solving, and social skills
  • More Future-ready Workers and Citizens – increases career and citizenship skills
  • More Confident Learners – helps create self-propelled lifelong learners

Challenges

  • Freeing up time and space in your busy curriculum
  • More focus on growing individual learner’s interests, capabilities and knowledge
  • Developing your own Passion-led learning and teaching skills

CCR’s Assistance

  • Offers a large, well-curated online collection of exemplary Learning Experiences ( Investigation and Exploration activities, and Adventure and Quest projects)
  • Provides professional learning resources for teachers based on CCR’s deeply researched and practice-tested Passion Learning instructional model

The 4-Part Interests to Passions Learning Progression

Interests: Helping Learners Develop their personal Interests

  • Develop their awareness, curiosity, and wonder around their Interests
  • Explore and research their areas of personal Interests
  • Identify their own strengths and others’ with similar Interests
  • Research skills of others with similar Interests through:
    1. Investigations: short activities that engage learners’ curiosity and help them to identify and focus on their areas of Interests
    2. Explorations: longer activities that help learners build essential skills and capabilities that best prepare them to successfully pursue their Passions

Passions: Helping Learners Pursue their personal Passions

  • Develop their evolving Interests & Passions Profiles
  • Identify Passion “S/Heroes” and what they know and can do
  • Grow their Project Learning skills (Define, Plan, Do, Review)
  • Widen their knowledge of Passion-related subject areas
  • Deepen caring & commitment by doing Passion-related:
    1. Adventures: collaborative action projects that apply learners’ skills and capabilities to their Passion-focused topics, issues, and communities
    2. Quests: extended personal Passion projects, often guided by an expert mentor or coach, that go deep and wide into a learner’s Passion pursuits

Getting Started 1: Videos and Conversations

Passion Learning Videos: What does Passion Learning really look like for learners?

Interests to Passions Conversations: Use the Passions Conversation Questions to guide Starting Interests to Passions Conversations and Ongoing Interests to Passions Conversations with learners.

Getting Started 2: Interests to Passions Profiles

Have each of your students fill out the Interests to Passions Profile with your help and guidance.

Assure your students that this is just a snapshot of their thinking about their current interests and passions and they will have lots of opportunities to revisit and revise their Profiles later.

It’s also important to let your learners know that the process of growing their Interests into Passions, and eventually having them become an important part of their own personal identity, can be a very fluid (and often bumpy), growth process.

It’s perfectly OK for learners to shift their interests and passions around as they experience more of what their particular Interest or Passion is really like, what others who have the same interest or passion are like, and what kinds of things they do to pursue that interest or passion.

When appropriate, you may even encourage them to try on different Interest and Passion “hats” to see which one might fit even better.

It’s also perfectly OK to pursue a reasonable variety of Interests and Passions at the same time, as long as they have the time and energy to pursue them well.

You and your learners can fill out the Profile, save it, and update it as things change, while going back to previous Profile versions, so you and your learners can see how their Interests to Passion Profiles have evolved over time.

Passion Learning Pathways

Once students have completed their initial Interests to Passions Profile it’s time for each student to embark on their personalized interests-and-passions pathway.

The Learning Pathways Case Studies offer four examples of how teachers and students worked together to choose the project-based learning experiences most appropriate for each of their interests and level of engagement. You will meet four students (Amari, Kai, Caelon, and Lani) and the pathways they took, including links to all of their activities and projects.

The Learning Pathways Summary Table displays all the Learning Pathway activities and projects selected for the four sample students in one summary overview table.

The online Passion Projects Portal collection provides a broad range of learning experience choices relevant to a wide range of student interests and passions, including those of the case study students, organized by where a student happens to be along the four increasing levels of engagement in their personal interests and passions, from:

  1. A range of Initial Interests, to
  2. A particular Interest turning into a Passion, to
  3. Widening their personal Passion experiences, to
  4. Deepening their Passion Expertise and Identity

These four progressive levels are associated with the four types of Learning Experiences included in the Passion Projects Portal collection:

  • Investigation activities: 1 hour or less
  • Exploration activities: 1-8 hours
  • Adventure projects: 8-50 hours
  • Quest projects: 50-100+ hours

Note: Some of these activities are also micro-credentials that sometimes have a cost associated with evaluating your work in order to be awarded a micro-credential. If you do not desire the micro-credential award, you can do these activities with your students without any charge.

Learning Pathways Case Studies

Amari

Amari is an energetic student who has a variety of interests, but is not entirely clear which of these interests is the most fun or which ones would be worth spending a lot more time on – they all seem so interesting!

Like many classmates, Amari hasn’t really thought too deeply about the role personal interests and passions might play in one’s life, or how to decide which interests could really turn into a passion – music (guitar), dance (hip-hop), poetry (rap), chemistry (concern about harmful chemicals in the water supply), and plants (gardening).

Amari’s teacher decided that since there are so many students like Amari that haven’t thought a great deal about their personal interests and passions, a series of short (one hour or less) introductory, whole classroom Investigation activities would be best to kick off the Passion Project unit.

Amari’s teacher chose the following Investigations that leverage students’ existing interests in poetry, music, and role playing to start them thinking more deeply about their developing interests and identities:

  • Bio-Poems – personal poems that explore the question “Who am I?”
  • Musical Circles – exploring personal feelings through music and dance
  • Role Play – acting out a character to explore different roles one can play
  • Identity Charts – graphically sketching the many parts of one’s identity

To capture this new thinking about their interests and passions, Amari’s teacher helped each student fill-out an Interests to Passions Profile and then discussed each student’s Profile in private conversations.

In thinking about how best to prepare students for further explorations into their interests and passions, Amari’s teacher decided that three general skills and capabilities were needed, no matter which interest or passion they wanted to pursue – research skills, identifying a strong personal purpose, and having a growth mindset.

Three Explorations (1-3+ hour activities) found in the online Passion Projects Portal matched these needs perfectly:

Since Amari is still in the process of deciding which interest to focus on as a potential passion pursuit, Amari’s teacher shows them a sample of interest-related projects to consider from the online Passion Projects Portal to see which project might appeal the most to Amari – after much debate, Amari chose the Endangered Species Poetry and Portraits project.

Kai

Kai is a student who has always been fascinated by things that move (especially fast!), and loves bicycling, cars, trains, etc., with dreams of being able to fly in all kinds of aircraft, including spaceships someday.

Kai also had two friends who shared similar interests, so Kai’s teacher decided to do a series of short three-student-group Investigation activities to help focus them toward more specific areas of their “moving” interests, and to better prepare them to do collaborative hands-on projects related to transportation. These included:

Kai’s teacher also wanted the group of three students to hone their skills and capabilities related to their interests by providing a series of deeper Exploration activities:

Kai’s teacher wanted the group to do a collaborative project where each student could focus on a specific form of transport, and they would work together assisting and learning from each other. The Adventure project they all agreed on was Designing Energy Efficient Vehicles – designing vehicles that meet both energy and efficiency goals for future transport

Kai eventually went on to do a year-long Quest project modeled after this Quest from the online Passion Projects Portal: Personal Electric Transport. (Advance to 2:05 in the video to see the overview of one student’s “moving” Quest project)

Caelon

Caelon is a quietly thoughtful and caring student whose passion for health and medicine was influenced by helping take care of a younger disabled sibling, and whose passion for computing and digital technologies arose from receiving helpful support through social media connections and through online gameplay.

Caelon clearly exhibited an early passion for all things both medical- and computer-related and was always curious and deeply involved in learning more about the science and practice of both subjects. Caelon’s teacher’s challenge was to help provide additional enrichment learning opportunities in these subject areas – these learning activities included a start-up series of introductory science- and communications-oriented Investigations:

Caelon’s teacher also wanted them to build a number of important essential skills and capabilities that would be most helpful in deepening the knowledge, skills, and character qualities for both Passions – these Exploration activities were chosen through a series of discussions with Caelon about the strengths needed to “get better” in both Passion areas:

Next, Caelon’s teacher offered a list of team Adventure projects they could do with some classmates:

Caelon and a couple of classmates chose Operation Kidfit as the first project and Slow the Spread as the second project. These projects both deepened and widened Caelon’s knowledge and capabilities in health science and in using computers to improve health services.

As Caelon witnessed the increasing health risks of polluted groundwater in the community they live in, Caelon decided to do a year-long personal Quest project modeled after the Crowdsource Monitoring of Freshwater science Quest project in the Passion Project Portal, which won Caelon a first prize in a regional Science Fair competition!

Lani

Lani is a student with a deep moral sense of fairness and justice especially when it comes to farming the land and environmental issues. Lani grew up on farms and their parents faced many challenges including health issues from pesticide use and difficult financial challenges. Lani developed a deep and activist commitment to environmental justice, and a surprising depth of knowledge in environmental science and agricultural issues.

Lani’s teacher recognized their deep expertise and commitment to righting environmental wrongs, especially those related to agricultural practices that were believed to be causing health problems in the local community. Lani’s teacher reached out to a number of local environmental groups to find an appropriate mentor to help guide their growth and learning, and after a few interviews with potential mentor candidates, Lani, Lani’s teacher, and the mentor agreed to work together to support Lani’s passion pursuits.

Lani’s teacher and mentor decided on a series of introductory Investigation activities that Lani could do either with Lani’s teacher and classmates, or with the Mentor. These activities included:

Lani’s mentor agreed to help Lani learn the knowledge, skills, character qualities, and capabilities that are essential to being both a good environmental scientist and an effective environmental activist. These Exploration activities included:

Both Lani’s teacher and mentor agreed that to be an effective science-based activist, a wide experience in doing team projects with a wide assortment of teammates was essential to increasing Lani’s expertise and leadership skills. Over the course of an entire school year Lani completed three extensive environmental Adventure projects:

Lani still wanted to help solve the kinds of environmental issues that affect so many people working on farms (as Lani’s parents experienced), so with the mentor’s help, Lani designed and carried out a year-long personal Quest project based on a Quest project in the Passion Projects PortalHeavy Metals in the Soil.

The project was so successful that Lani worked summers for the mentor’s environmental organization and was instrumental in helping to write and lobby for a new ordinance that was passed in Lani’s community banning the use of a number of pesticides used in farming that persist in the soil and in the groundwater.

Selected Bibliography and Resources

The Australian Learning Lecture Passion Toolkit

The Passion Toolkit offers a simple but powerful set of tools for schools to ensure that all children are known, and their interests and passions employed, in driving high-quality education for each and every learner.

The toolkit is an important asset for preventing student disengagement. A survey of Australian schools, commissioned by the Australian Learning Lecture showed that many schools did not know the individual interests of their students.

Further research showed that passion can drive and develop deep learning and help to change the paradigm from one of success-or-failure to one where growth-and-motivation are celebrated.

The Passion Toolkit is a step-by-step approach to assist students to identify and investigate their strong interests and to choose and know their passions, and for teachers to better know their students’ motivations and strengths and help them develop the joy of learning.

The Toolkit has been extensively piloted firstly with 19 inspirational teachers and then with six schools in Victoria: Western Port Secondary College, Mount Alexander College, Bentleigh Secondary College, Eltham High School, Kingswood College, and Portland Secondary College.

The Australian Council for Educational Research undertook the evaluation of the Passion Toolkit trial. This important trial and evaluation of the Toolkit was generously supported by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

Interests, Passions, and Motivations for Engaged Learning

Passion-based Learning Practices

Essential Capability/Competency Learning Goals

Regenerative Design Learning Practices

Personalized Learning Practices

Project Based Learning Practices

Developing Resilience

Educator Professional Learning and Micro-credentials

Developing Expertise – Purposeful and Mentored Practice

Deepening Expertise – Learning from Expert Communities, Becoming an Expert Learner