Motivation, curiosity, and drive - those are what one teacher is trying to tap into as she pushes her students to learn about things they care about.
Julie Clarke, a Grade 6 and 7 teacher at Maple Ridge Elementary, who is completing a graduate diploma at Simon Fraser University on teaching in the digital age, said it is very satisfying to see how her students become excited when they are learning something they care about.
Clarke has been applying inquiry-based learning in her classroom, and with the help of laptops the students created "Genius Hour" projects.
While Clarke said inquiry-base learning "is nothing groundbreaking - teachers have been doing this for years," she feels there's some solid research done to support it.
"[Inquiry-based learning is] based on some good pedagogy - it's based on what motivates people," Clarke said.
The Genius Hour is about motivating students to learn about a subject, allowing them to explore what they are passionate about and interested in.
With inquiry-based learning, there's a lot of questioning, summarizing, and inferring happening, Clarke said, and the students have to learn how to present material.
This differs from some traditional models of learning in which students just learn content.
But with content at the students' fingertips via the Internet, the focus needs to shift to teaching students to learn.
"Content becomes secondary - the learning process is paramount," Clarke said.
Inquiry-based learning in the classroom allows students to go deep into their learning, rather than staying at a superficial level, said Jan Unwin, superintendent of schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
One spin-off benefit is that the teacher turns into a coach and mentor, as students work collaboratively in groups.
Another benefit is that students take ownership of their learning when they can choose their own projects.
Project-based and inquiry-based learning gets away from "compliance learning," Unwin said, which doesn't promote long-term retention.
When the students presented the topics they wanted to pursue, Clarke posed the challenge to them: "make me care" about what the student was passionate about.
As a teacher, however, she needs to pull out their curiosity and help them find what they are passionate about.
As a result, some students who struggled putting words on paper were producing full paragraphs on the subject they were pursuing.
"Their best work was coming out because they cared about [the subject]," Clarke said.
Daniel Motyka decided his Genius Hour would focus around how the brain worked. The question he posed to himself was, "how are we able to think for ourselves?"
Daniel, whose favourite subjects are math and art, said he learned that the brain is the one thing in a human body that you can't live without.
"Without the brain, nothing else would work," he said, adding, "The brain might be small, but it sure works like it's huge."
Hannah Farquar was able to study the mythical creature Medusa and how she has been portrayed throughout time.
As a Percy Jackson series fan, Hannah has become interested in Greek mythology, and specifically Medusa.
Hannah noticed that a lot of portrayals of Medusa made her very beautiful, but reading about the original myth, she discovered that Medusa is "supposed to be horrible and ugly" because of all the bad things that happened to her.
Her research showed her how Greek gods used people as "play toys," and Medusa was punished for nothing.
"This story is really about her being pushed about by the gods," Hannah said.
Through her research, Hannah said, the lesson she learned was that "beauty can be a gift or a curse."
Before Christmas, Clarke had her students do some guided inquiry in their science class around ocean ecosystems, and then her next step was to do the Genius Hour.
The next step Clarke wants to take Genius Hour is experiential, not using technology, rather hands-on learning.
After brainstorming, one student said she wants to learn American sign language, another wants to learn to knit, and a third suggested making a circuit board.
This takes inquiry-based learning away from a screen, and challenges the students to produce something with their own hands.
Especially for students who are highly invested in video games, it might be hard for them to find something to make that they're passionate about, Clarke said.
In the spring, they will take part in a district-wide inquiry-based presentation and assessment.
Having laptops in her classroom has facilitated doing Genius Hour, but Clarke pointed out that "technology does not replace teaching. nothing replaces the teacher-student relationship."
Technology is more an "add-on" in the classroom.
Unwin pointed out that teachers have to teach "differently" when using a laptop - they can't just be used as typewriters.
Teachers who have integrated laptops into their classrooms say they can never go back, with comments like, "I'm creating the environment for learning, then I get out of the way."