This is the fourth post in a series where I flesh out why the ideal traits of a PBL teacher are important. Check out the links to the rest of the series below the post.
It’s cliche, but of course most teachers are passionate about their students and their content area. Teachers that I have seen that are most comfortable shifting to a PBL framework are passionate about things outside of the classroom too. They have hobbies that they love or things that they geek out about. It may be music, coding, knitting, martial arts, or blacksmithing.
It really doesn’t matter what they are passionate about. The important thing is that these teachers proudly share their passions with students modeling excitement about learning!
I was a concrete finisher for twenty years before I was a teacher. My students thought that I was obsessed with concrete, and I guess that compared to a “normal” person I am. They would troll me in class by calling it “cement” just to hear my lecture on how that was an inaccurate term. Seriously if we had a new student, they would tell her to ask me a question about cement. (You can learn the difference between concrete and cement with Clarence in the video above). Once I even wrote a poem about concrete.
But the truth is that I exaggerated my love of concrete for important reasons!
It all started my first year at our PBL school. The district had remodeled part of the Career Tech Center into an amazing space for us. It had these exposed concrete columns (see GIF above) that were beautiful. The exterior ones were left natural, but the interior ones were painted.
One class I started randomly lamenting that the district had painted the columns and that it is NEVER ok to paint concrete! Students thought it was hilarious and kept asking me questions about concrete. They even started tweeting out about it. Of course they were egging me on, down a classic teacher rabbit trail.
At first I kept talking about concrete because students thought it was funny. It became an inside joke for me to go off in great detail on how great concrete is and its scientific properties. The truth is, that I didn’t really care about concrete as much as they thought I did.
But then I realized something deeper was happening and that’s why I never let the topic die, but talked about my concrete obsession even more.
My passion for concrete is weird. I mean really weird. No one cares about what sidewalks are made of. I bet you don’t have a pile of coffee table books on concrete at your house. But by me proudly sharing my weirdness, it gave unofficial permission for students to share their weirdness too.
Students could share about anime, playing the accordion, cosplay, or Dr. Who. My students had unique, weird passions and it became cool to talk about them. Our classroom was a safe place, where everyone could be themselves and be accepted. My public display of affection for concrete created a positive classroom culture.
I had a couple of students whose entire lives focused on being woodsman. They would be “off task” in my history class because they were reading college level botany texts and watching YouTube videos on wilderness survival. One of them built a wigwam at his house.
Using PBL, I was able to integrate their passion into our class. I had them focus their research on Native Americans viewpoints throughout history. They loved the Revolution Garden project where we looked at the harmful results of Industrialization.
Teachers can use the PBL framework to engage kids by tying projects to student passions or integrating their passions into projects. Student passions could be a focus for research in a project like my woodsman students. The rest of the class benefits from the deep, passionate research about topics that they would probably never choose themselves.
Student passions could also be used to create a final product. I once had a girl who decorated a cake for her final product. It was full of imagery and symbolism. Students’ talents that are often ignored in school, can shine through projects. Examples of skills that I have seen from students include video shooting and editing, graphic design, coding, public speaking, dance, carpentry, sewing, and anime. I have watched students find a career path through skills that they have discovered and developed through projects.
The passionate teacher can connect with students in multiple ways. By recognizing students’ passions in project design, teachers can build relationships with students and engage more students in their class and their content. Besides teacher passions show both are humanity and excitement about living.
Links to the rest of the series on Ideal Traits of a PBL Teacher: