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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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A Little Lego

The idea for this post comes from an old Lego piece that lies on my desk.

Its a black piece with eight notches. I have no idea what Lego kit it comes from~ nor do I care.

But the piece will stay on my desk as a powerful reminder~ a reminder that we owe it to ourselves and to the children in the schools where we work to allow kids to share their interests and passions~ and whenever possible~ provide time and encouragement to pursue those passions with vigor.

First~ before diving into the topic and sharing some practical examples~ let me tell you how I got the Lego piece.
A student recently strolled into my office (since I go into other classrooms~ I have an office~ but dont be too impressedtheres no view of the skyline;I think it was an old closet at one time). He came in there by mistake~ during a parent meet and greet. After his mom realized they took a wrong turn~ she tried to get him out~ but he became interested in something I had written on my white board. He saw the words Lego written as part of a plan to offer an Enrichment Cluster program at the school.

He instantly perked up and started telling me about Legos. This student~ from what I could tell from his schedule and class placement~ had his share of academic challenges. But he had no problem enthusiastically telling me about his interest. Then~ before leaving~ he reached into his pocket~ pulled out a dusty~ old Lego piece~ and said Here~ you can have it.

Unsure what to say~ I replied You sure? Dont you need it?

To which he responded No~ thats alright. You keep it as a memory.

Later~ I looked at the piece and realized how this students love of Legos bridged us together~ allowed us to connect on some level~ and allowed this student to become excitedwhile in school~ believe or not.

With that little Lego piece in mind~ Id like to share the following strategies for finding ways to connect students with their interests and passions:

Curriculum
Find ways to connect student interest to the curriculum. Perhaps guide them toward reading a book about their interest. Try to tie a math lesson to a students love of football (statistics) or their fascination with cruise ships to geometry and engineering. Be creative.

Pre-Test~ Pre-Test~ Pre-Test
Test students up front to determine parts of the curriculum that they have already mastered. If the student already knows the material~ why not allow the student to research an area of interest and develop a report or product to demonstrate what he or she has learned? Freeing up time through pre-testing is a wise way to find space for students to pursue interests.

Create Time
We all know there are only 24 hours in a day~ but we can add time to the school day by offering enrichment programs and activities before and after school hours and during recess and lunch. Yes~ it takes more energy and commitment~ but sometimes it is necessary to go the extra mile to provide students with these much-needed opportunities. Could you offer an enrichment cluster program before or after school or maybe create a science invention club~ a book club or other group during lunch? Would it be possible to recruit parents or other volunteers to help accomplish these goals?

Technology
Programs like Renzulli Learning allow students to take part in enrichment activities while at home. Do your students have access to technology that would allow them to pursue their interests after school hours or during weekends? Many schools subscribe to Renzulli and other programs. Check with administrators or your schools media center specialist to see what is available.

Share Your Interests
Finally~ a powerful way to teach students about pursuing interests is to share your own passions. I recently saw a television show featuring a teacher~ who shared his fascination with Bigfoot by displaying casts of footprints and other items he claimed were evidence in his classroom (whether a large~ hairy ape-like creature exists in North America or not is not the point~ here. The point is he shared his passions).

To summarize~ the little Lego piece will remain on my desk~ serving as a reminder to strive to connect students schoolwork with their interests~ every day~ whenever possible. With standardized testing pressures and the requirements to absorb a prescribed curriculum consuming education~ I hope that you see the value in this pursuit and join me in keeping all of our interests alive.

Take care~
Steve