Regular Radical readers know that there’s nothing that drives me more than the notion that the best learning experiences are those that give students chances to master the required curriculum while wrestling with real-world problems.

That’s the inspiration behind the two best learning experiences I’ve ever developed for kids:  Our Kiva Microlending project and our #SUGARKILLS team.

Some people call this problem-based learning or project-based learning.  I call it purpose-driven learning, and I’ve been inspired by thinkers like Michael FullanWill Richardson and Garfield Gini-Newman, who all argue that our students are the most engaged when they are doing work that matters.

What really drives me, though, is the fact that kids are ALREADY doing work that matters.  Need proof?  Check out these examples:

Milo Cress – Be Straw Free : As a nine year old, nothing shocked Milo Cress more than the sad fact that plastic trash is not biodegradable and is literally destroying our planet.  Motivated to take action, Milo decided to start a campaign encouraging people to “be straw free”– a simple action that could have a huge impact, given that each day, 500,000,000 straws are used by consumers in restaurants.

Not satisfied with simply raising awareness in his own community, Milo began lobbying other influencers – including the National Restaurant Association.  The result:  Offering straws – rather than simply bringing them with drinks – is now accepted as best practice by restaurants nationwide.

Hailey Fort – Building for the Homeless : A chance encounter with a hungry homeless man changed Hailey Fort’s life forever.  After buying him a sandwich, Hailey decided to start a garden and to donate food to the local food bank in a project that she calls Hailey’s Harvest.

Her next step:  To begin building tiny homes for the homeless.  Hailey does all the work on her tiny homes – from designing blueprints to nailing the structures together – and plans to build a total of eleven homes for the homeless in her Western Washington community.

Marley Dias – #100BlackGirlBooks : For Marley Dias — an eleven-year old African American girl going to school in New Jersey — nothing could be more frustrating than reading class, where novel studies always seemed to include books about white boys and dogs — characters that lived lives that were hard for her to relate to and admire.

Her solution:  To start a book drive to collect 1,000 books with strong black, female lead characters and then to donate those books to a primary school in Jamaica.  “I used the resources I was given,” explains Marley, “and I want people to pass that down and use the things they’re given to create more social action projects—and do it just for fun, and not make it feel like a chore.”

Amazing stuff, right?  But here’s the thing:  ALL of these projects were completed by kids AWAY from our schools and OUTSIDE of our classrooms.

That drives me nuts, y’all.  If we know that our kids are motivated by opportunities to change the world around them, they why aren’t we using that motivation as an invitation to learn the required curriculum?  Milo and Hailey and Marley are all demonstrating mastery of important academic outcomes, aren’t they?  And they’re practicing with skills that we are all trying to teach in our classes, right?

Then why can’t this be school?  Why can’t classes be built around problems or causes or issues that are inherently engaging to kids?


If you want to learn more about using causes as levers for learning, consider checking out Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences — my latest book for Solution Tree Press.


Related Radical Reads:

My Kids, a Cause and Our Classroom Blog

My Beef with the Gamification of Education

Should we be ENGAGING or EMPOWERING Learners?

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