Interest-Based Learning

Is School Enough? Exploring Interest-Driven and Informal Learning

Meet students around the country who are engaged and passionate about learning — outside of the classroom. Explore additional resources about student engagement and passion-based learning for both parents and educators.

July 1, 2013


Is School Enough? Video Series

Edutopia's new video series profiles young people who are pursuing their passions and making their learning more authentic by taking it into their own hands, on their own time. This series is produced by Mobile Digital Arts and Twin Cities Public Television, as a companion to an hour-long PBS special that is now available to watch.

  • Spoken Word Poetry Empowers Students to Use Authentic Voices (2013)

    High school student Shayanna develops her talents at Youth Speaks, a nonprofit that creates a safe space for young people to explore writing and performance skills in the service of bettering their communities.

  • How Design Thinking Can Empower Young People (2013)

    At People Serving People, a homeless shelter in Minneapolis, local design firms and educators work together to show kids how design thinking can help them make a difference in their neighborhoods.

  • Sparking Civic Engagement by Building in Public Spaces (2013)

    16-year-old Alexa gets hands-on experience and leadership skills by collaborating on a play space for kids through Philadelphia's Public Workshop, which promotes community engagement and civic innovation.

  • How Gardening Enables Interdisciplinary Learning (2013)

    High school student Pierre combined biology, math, economics, and more to transform his campus greenhouse into a sustainable aquaponic system that provides fresh vegetables for the cafeteria.

  • Constructing Sustainable Houses Develops Collaborative Skills (2013)

    Teens in Philadelphia learn how to solve math and engineering problems while working together to build high-efficiency homes designed for disaster relief, as part of an alternative senior year program called Sustainability Workshop.

  • How Making Robots Captivates Kids' Imaginations (2013)

    Building robots inspires such passion in high school seniors Violet and Kjersti that they've begun mentoring younger robotics teams to teach STEM skills -- and save their school's robotics program.

  • Internships Offer Meaningful Real-World Learning (2013)

    16-year-old Noah finds purpose and learns valuable career skills working at a nonprofit two full days a week, while protecting and restoring his local watershed. Internships with deep impact are a key element at his high school, San Diego Met, part of the Big Picture network.

  • How Building a Car Can Drive Deeper Learning (2013)

    Math used to be a struggle for 14-year-old Kathryn, until she fell in love with cars and started a hands-on project to build her own. Now the math matters and makes sense, and a whole new world of learning has opened up for her.

  • Learning STEM Skills by Designing Video Games (2013)

    Texas 10-year-old Rhys uses Gamestar Mechanic to program and create worlds to play in, learning valuable skills in science, technology, engineering, and math along the way.

Major funding for the PBS show and video series was provided by the MacArthur Foundation and the Pearson Foundation.

Lessons From Informal Learning

  • Dive into the Maker Movement, by Adam Provost (2013)

    Blogger Adam Provost visits the Fab Lab at NYC's Marymount School for a view from the front lines of the Maker movement.

  • Gamifying Student Engagement, by Matthew Farber (2013)

    Social studies teacher and ed tech adjunct Matthew Farber outlines the basics of gamification and suggests how they can be used to engage students in a game-centric world.

  • Expert Advice: Make More Time for Play, by Suzie Boss (2012)

    Blogger Suzie Boss explores the notion that adventuresome experiences that engage both mind and body are how we learn best.

  • Five-Minute Film Festival: DIY Education at the Maker Faire, by Amy Erin Borovoy (2012)

    Teachers who love hands-on learning and the DIY movement are a match made in heaven -- and nowhere is this better represented than the Maker Faire. VideoAmy has curated this collection of videos to help you explore the event and the culture that has grown around it.

  • When School’s Out, PBL Opens New Doors to Learning, by Suzie Boss (2011)

    Blogger Suzie Boss explains how making PBL part of out-of-school time gives youth new opportunities to become leaders, thinkers, and problem-solvers.

Big Thinkers on Learning Outside of School

  • Diana Rhoten on Sparking Student Interests with Informal Learning (2013)

    Sociologist and digital learning expert Diana Rhoten founded the New Youth City Learning Network to help organizations like museums and libraries design digitally-enabled learning activities built to tap into kids' interests and teach 21st-century skills.

  • John Seely Brown on Motivating Learners (2013)

    Innovative thinker John Seely Brown, known for his ideas for merging digital culture and education, shares lessons educators can learn from surfers, gamers, and artists on how passion and competitive hunger can drive intrinsic motivation.

  • Constance Steinkuehler on Interest-Driven Learning (2013)

    University of Wisconsin game-based learning scholar Constance Steinkuehler talks about her research on online video games and literacy, and how learning skyrockets when students are passionate about the subject matter.

  • Henry Jenkins on Participatory Culture and Media Education (2013)

    University of Southern California media scholar Henry Jenkins describes how educators might fuel civic engagement by tapping the skills their students develop in interest-driven online communities.

How Parents and Families Can Get Started

  • How to Have a Healthy, Brainy, and Fun Summer, by Ramona Persaud (2013)

    Documentary filmmaker Ramona Persaud shares a list of family activities that promote summer learning without taking the fun out of vacation time -- and they're good ideas for the whole year 'round!

  • Technology at Home: Developing the Social Self, by Douglas Rushkoff (2013)

    Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff encourages parents of tweens to let their children's social selves develop through reasonable limits on their digital access.

  • Parent Leadership in Education: Resource Roundup (2012)

    Experts agree that parent involvement in their children's education is one of the biggest predictors of student success. As a parent, where do you begin? We've compiled a list of articles, videos, and other resources to help you engage in a productive way with your kids' teachers and school.

  • A Parent's Guide to 21st-Century Learning, by Suzie Boss (2012)

    Discover the tools and techniques today's teachers and classrooms are using to prepare students for tomorrow -- and how you can get involved.

Resources Around the Web for Encouraging Passion-Based Learning

  • Hive Learning Network is an organization focused on building digital media learning environments where youth can more easily participate in educational activities by pursuing their interests and following their peers.
  • YOUmedia network is a group of libraries, museums and community-based organizations that invite young people to create, learn and build skills.
  • DIY is an online community for kids to master new skills of all kinds, share what they create, and meet others with the same interests.
  • Young Makers is a program that connects students with adult mentors to create opportunities for kids to dream up and develop projects for exhibitions.
  • The Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS) is a consortium housed at San Francisco's Exploratorium with a mission of strengthening science education through research and leadership programs that broaden concepts of learning across formal and informal environments.
  • Digital Media and Learning Central (DMLCentral) is a collaborative blog and curated collection of free and open resources on how digital technology is changing learning environments, social and civic institutions, and youth culture.
  • Connected Learning is a website dedicated to a learning approach designed for the demands and opportunities of the digital age.
  • Wonderopolis is an initiative from the National Center for Family Literacy and aims to be a place where parents nurture a brighter world for their children through discovery, creativity, learning, and imagination, sparked by daily emails offering topics for exploration.
  • 826 National is the hub of a network of nonprofit writing and tutoring centers around the country with inventive programs that provide under-resourced students, ages 6-18, with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills.

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