10 Keys of Purpose Driven Learning

Michael Matera @mrmatera, author of Explore Like a Pirate, talks about Purpose Driven Learning in the classroom.

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

10 Keys to Purpose Driven Learning

Vicki: Michael Matera @mrmatera is my favorite game-based learning guru, but today we’re going to talk about keys to purpose-driven learning.

Now, Michael or Mr. Matera as he’s known everywhere (Twitter, YouTube, and everywhere) teaches history in a sixth-grade classroom.

So, Michael, what are the keys to purpose-driven learning?

Michael: Well, first of all, thanks, Vicki for having me on the show. I’m super excited to be here.

What Are the Keys to Purpose Driven Learning?

The keys to purpose-driven learning are these ten sort of intentional words that I choose, a language which I use with my students — whether it’s in their quarter comments, their work when I’m conferencing one-on-one with them. They’re action-oriented words because I felt like over the years, just talking to students about grades wasn’t really functional. Also, talking to kids in general platitudes, like, “You should just do better.” (laughs) Like, that’s not very helpful!

Vicki: (agrees)

10 Elements of Purpose Driven Learning

Michael: So, a colleague of mine and I sat down and drilled down on what we thought were words for ten key elements that some of the successful people in our world have. These leaders — whether they’re leaders in industry, leaders in the arts, leaders in military or politics — tend to demonstrate these traits.

Vicki: OK. What are they?

Michael: So, in no particular order, the keys are:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Effort
  3. Confidence
  4. Focus
  5. Resilience
  6. Dependability
  7. Initiative
  8. Creativity
  9. Curiosity
  10. Empathy

Vicki: Wow, and so you really try to use these words because you want to build it in your students?

Michael: Yeah! So we’re really trying to say, as our school now uses a lot of these words, and we’re really trying to build up students like, “We want YOU to be a leader,” in whatever, again — the arts, industry — it doesn’t matter. But we want you to be a leader, and so let’s be intentional at pointing toward these successful words. Let’s cultivate these, as opposed to talking about, “I have an A-… or a B+.”

Let’s talk about “What are you bringing to your class? What did you bring to your homework last night? How do you interact with the material? Are you bringing your enthusiasm? Do you display confidence? Are you taking the initiative to go above and beyond on a particular project or subject? Are you applying your creativity? Are you empathetic with the people in your class or your group?”

Vicki: So Michael, what’s the most mind-blowing thing that has happened since you started using these words?

What is the impact of using these words?

Michael: Well, it takes a while, but eventually there is a de-emphasis on grades. Kids start to adopt this language and take it on their own. For me, that’s the mind-blowing thing, when kids start to apply purpose-driven learning in their own responses, without that being required of them. When they start talking, in a student reflection, about how they’ve seen over the course that they’ve developed their own confidence in themselves and in their talents. They see that it’s about applying themselves, it’s about putting focused effort toward a goal. It’s about being dependable and bringing their best to class every day. I think that’s just mind blowing, when students use this language, and it’s become internalized for them.

Vicki: And you can imagine them in ten or fifteen or twenty years using these same words, and you’re like, “Yes! I taught you how to live life.”

Michael: (laughs) Yeah! It’s just really cool. Again, I teach sixth grade. It’s really fun to see the students own their learning. That’s something that we all talk about in schools — that we want students to embrace the sense of empowerment, that learning is equitable. We all can learn. We can all do it. It’s just about taking the time. All of these point to that. All of these point to, “You can be what you want to be, if you’re intentional if you’re willing to pay the price, if you’re willing to step up.”

It changes the nature and dynamics of any community where it gets applied.

Vicki: Have you made any mistakes as you’ve implemented purpose-driven learning?

Mistakes Michael Made When Implementing Purpose Driven Learning

Michael: Good question. I think at first, I didn’t keep it up. The first year I rolled it out, it was like, “Yeah!” I’m going to use this!” and then I fell back into some of my old language. I didn’t infuse the language into my responses with students, and like anything, a level of intentionality produces such great results.

So, if any of you want to try to use purpose-driven learning, which I strongly recommend, know that it’s a commitment. Make sure that you’re going to try to use these in your written responses to students, in your one-on-one collaborations with them. Ask them to reflect and use these words. “Tell me one of the words that you brought to this project. Tell me one of the words that you still need to work on.” Make sure that’ you’re intentional with it.

So my biggest mistake was that.

Vicki: So, tell me how you’ve used one of these words this week.

An Example of How He’s Used the Words This Week

Michael: Oh, man! Confidence for me is big. I’m really trying to get my sixth graders to shake off that… I don’t know… So many kids will say, I think I failed the test,” when really, I have a room full of B+ and A- students. “You wouldn’t fail the test. You might not have gotten what you wanted. But you didn’t fail it.”

So, we’ve been working as a class on confidence. One of the things we’ve done is, when they give a response in class — and this is going to sound really old school, but it’s cool to see — when I call on a student right now, working on confidence, they have to stand up, they have to answer in a complete sentence. I tell you, it’s so cool, Vicki, the person standing up — you can just see a physical change. They have the right posture. Their diaphragm’s engaged. The rest of the students respond to that student in a different way because they become a focal point in the room.

We’ve been doing this now for a couple weeks. Just this week I asked, “How do you feel this affects your confidence?” And all of them have said, “We respond more articulately.” They apply the vocab in our units — as opposed to being slouched in the chair, mumbling and answer. It gives them time to compose themselves as they get up and give their answer. It’s been wonderful.

A Favorite Word

Vicki: Do you have a favorite word?

Michael: The word I use probably the most in my classroom is focus. I really think that that unlocks the rest of these words. But to be honest, I use a lot of them on a daily basis. But focus is the one I probably use the most.

Vicki: Is there any way that you help kids learn to focus, besides just saying, “focus”?

Michael: Sure! I build in some intentional tasks. You know I do a gamified class, which I obviously love. (laughs)

Vicki: (agrees and laughs)

A Challenging (and Perhaps Controversial) Way to Teach Resilience

Michael: At the beginning of the year, I do a training camp so they understand my rules in the class, they understand the subject matter, and they also understand my gamified classroom. What I did in that training camp was build in activities that tested them on these words so that we could apply them, and then we could debrief and talk about these words.

My favorite story was about the word “resilience.” In the training camp, they had to use these Kapla blocks to build these ever-growing structures. Halfway through build time, there’s a giant clock on the wall, and it’s ticking down. They’ve got to do this, they’ve got to meet this requirement. I took out a golf club and went around and I knocked down everybody’s builds.

Vicki: (laughs)

Michael: These blocks don’t snap together. It’s like Jenga blocks. They were like, “What are you doing?!??!”

And I just leaned in, and I said, “What’s the goal here?”

And they were like, “Resilience!”

And they got back to it. And when we debriefed it, a lot of the kids used other words, too. They said, “WHile this was teaching us resilience, we wanted to be frustrated that we got knocked back down to Square One, it required us to apply our best efforts to be extra focused because we only had half the time to meet the build requirements!”

Vicki: (agrees)

Right? And it was just awesome to see them live through that and learn from that and grow from that and feel what it feels like to reset, but still have all the same pressures of the due date requirements.

Vicki: It kind of blows their mind to have a teacher do that, because yeah, we want to be supportive and encouraging. But the simple fact that you knocked their blocks down — “OK, he’s here to teach us something.” Sometimes it may be hard or frustrating, huh?

Michael: Yeah, they did not see that one coming. And at the end of that lesson, I always have to tell them, “I’m never going to do that again.”

Vicki: (laughs)

Michael: I have group build challenges throughout the year, and the next two build challenges they sort of hover over their building as if I’m going to knock it over.

Vicki: They’re looking for the golf club, huh?

Michael: They are. “Aww, man! He’s going in his closet. Watch out!”

Vicki: So teachers, we’ve talked about keys to purpose-driven learning. Michael Matera is a “must follow.” I remember when I first learned about his realm of nobles and how he’s completely gamified his whole classroom. I do this completely in my keyboarding. I am the Game Master in that particular class, and it’s so powerful and it’s so exciting.

But this… Being intentional… Intentionally choosing your words… I’ve even seen some research on the importance with SEL (social-emotional learning) of schoolwide, selecting the same choices of words, and the power it has when you’re consistent in reinforcing the kinds of things that we really believe are very important for student to learn.

Thank you, Michael, for being with us!

Michael: No problem! It’s my pleasure, Vicki. Anytime. Happy to share.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford


Bio as submitted

Michael Matera is a middle school teacher, author of Explore Like a Pirate and Speaker

. As a gamification guru and moonshot thinker, Michael transforms the traditional classroom into a high-energy environment where active student engagement is paramount. Helping educators learn about the power of a gamified immersive learning environment is Michael’s passion. Learn more and connect with Michael to come to your school or event on Explorelikeapirate.com

Blog: Explore Like A Pirate

Twitter: @mrmatera

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.


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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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