Is Passion Where It’s At?

In my last blog post, I shared some of my learning after reading John Spencer and A.J. Juliani‘s book, Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their LearningThe book explores a couple of different topics, but just like the book, Launch: Using Design Thinking To Boost Creativity and Bring Out The Maker In Every Student, there is a lot of discussion around design thinking. I recently reflected more on design thinking and possibilities for the upcoming school year after receiving an unexpected email from a parent.

As many of my blog readers know, my teaching partner, Paula, and I are passionate about play-based learningFree play. Child-directed play. Personalized learning around interests formed, expressed, and experienced through play. This year, thanks to some feedback from a visiting educator and a closer look from us at our classroom experiences, we realized the impact that “making” has on our play environment. This is where a mom’s email coupled by a couple of posts that I was tagged in on Twitter really pushed my thinking.

Before we left our school classroom in March, a group of our students got involved in a clothing project. This started when we co-created a dollhouse with them out of cardboard. We thought that the children might make some furniture for the dolls, but instead, they began to make clothes. The clothing creations evolved to a look at advertising and even connections to different community jobs (e.g., hospital staff). Our YMCA After Care Program saw this interest in clothing, and extended this interest with one of our children. This child began to make her own clothes.

It was great to see the long-term commitment to this project, but then March 13th came, COVID-19 increased, and schools closed for the rest of the school year. Is this where the design thinking process ends? 

It doesn’t have to be! Recently, Lori St. Amand, a fellow teacher in our Board, shared this great video recording from the Marilyn Denis Show, where a leading educational expert weighs in on what schools might look like in the fall. His thoughts? Design thinking and personalized learning. Now I know that there might be a lot of questions around how to facilitate this approach across the grades, but I have to go back to our clothing project. Not all kids were drawn to this space. In fact, usually it was only between two and four students who really got involved in creating and advertising for these clothes. But for this handful of children, they found their passion.

Earlier this week, I received an email from a mom of one of these students. She gave me permission to share in this blog post some of what she shared in her email. Her daughter was very involved in creating clothes and considering stylistic options for different dolls as well as for herself. In May, while we were teaching and playing from home, another child shared a doll’s dress that she created and sewed with her mom. She showed this dress during one of our online meetings, and this sparked a further discussion around clothing and design.

Dress Making

Fast forward just over a month, and the child that was so passionate about clothing design in the classroom received an amazing opportunity at home. Another parent in the class, who knows that this child loves fashion design, emailed this child’s mom a link to an online art school. There is an online fashion design course for kids 6-10. The sessions were 1 1/2 hours on a weekend, and mom was initially unsure if this would be too long for her daughter, but she decided to give it a try. Here’s what she wrote me.

We ended up doing a trial this past Saturday, and all I can say is, “Wow! I’ve never seen such focus from her in my life!” She was in her element. In this first class, she learned about vertical, horizontal and diagonal stripes and when you would use one or another or a combination depending on the look you were trying to achieve (i.e. to lengthen or widen a look, etc). Since then, J. has been commenting on her own outfit choices. Yesterday, she said “Look! I chose horizontal stripes today.”

Here’s a six-year-old, who’s found her passion, learned something new, and applied her learning through her designs as well as through her own outfit choices.

Now I realize that there might be the question of, “Okay, but what about the expectations?” Let’s look at these expectations for a moment.

  • We have the math expectations around measurement, patterning, and even geometry (with the use of vocabulary, such as “horizontal”).
  • We have the language connection possibilities, through oral language (describing the outfit, using the topic-connected vocabulary, and listening and interpreting instructions online), as well as reading and writing possibilities, as she labels her pictures and/or creates a book of designs. There’s also the media literacy link in analyzing and creating designs, as well as any advertisements for the designs.
  • We have the problem solving involved in the creation of the outfits, or the application from transferring her designs on paper to designs using material.
  • We have the Self-Reg components, from the inclusion of items in her workspace that help her concentrate and create (notice the snacks and water). Also under the Self-Regulation and Well-Being Frame in our Kindergarten Program Document, there’s discussion around fine motor skills. Imagine the fine motor skills demonstrated through her drawing of the designs, her writing of the labels, and her creation of the clothing items.
  • We have the belonging expectations, as she contributes as part of a group and solves problems with peers while maybe connecting with them in this online forum. 

All Four Frames of the Kindergarten Program Document are addressed through this design thinking experience, while this child is able to follow her passion. Having taught Kindergarten-Grade 6, I realize that the complexity of expectations increase each year, but what might be possible?

  • If the process expectations still exist in the new math curriculum, they could be well-used here as a child problem solves and communicates learning around clothing design.
  • Reading, writing, and oral language possibilities extend into the grades, as well as the media literacy connection with creating and analyzing various clothing advertisements. 
  • The learning skills might also be showcased here, as a child works independently, collaborates with others in the classroom or online, takes initiative in selecting a topic of interest, demonstrates responsibility through the work that he/she does, and organizes his/her materials and sketches during the creation process. 
  • In the case of this clothing design project, visual arts is certainly evident, especially when looking more closely at the elements of art.

I wonder if knowing the curriculum expectations well — and the connections between them –may be key as educators explore design thinking and personalized learning possibilities for all kids. I keep coming back to this comment on play in this Manitoba Kindergarten Resource that Lori St. Amand and Roy Norris shared recently.

Without a doubt, the play discussed here aligns with design thinking. The same is true in Dr. Jean Clinton‘s comment around “playful learning.”

There are so many negative aspects to the Coronavirus and the impact on education, but could there be a little positive hidden in here as well? Might our new reality, inspire and support even more design thinking and personalized learning opportunities across the grades? What impact might this have on children as thinkers and learners? Reflecting now on this student of ours, I have to believe that some wonderful things are possible. What about you?


2 thoughts on “Is Passion Where It’s At?

  1. I’m in the boat. I’m on the team. What I’m struggling with is how to facilitate the conversations and play that need to happen while our littlest learner’s find their passions (or we uncover the ones that are there) while online. I found it incredibly difficult to maintain and create connections in a digital medium.

    • Thanks for your comment, M, and your honesty. I’m wondering, what have you tried before? What are kids bringing to these team meetings to play with? I’m also wondering what their passions were before school went online. Is there a way to provoke this interest (and these conversations) again in an online forum? Curious to hear about what others might have tried too. This is something that my teaching partner, Paula, and I continue to discuss.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *