Passion Projects in Kindergarten and First Grade

Kindergarteners and first graders explore their “wonderings” in Lindsey Danhoff’s classroom. Lindsey gives practical advice for passion projects with younger aged children.

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Enhanced Transcript

Passion Projects in Kindergarten and First Grade

Link to show:
Date: May 9, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Lindsey Danhoff about passion projects.

Well, you’ve heard a lot about passion projects, but maybe not for kindergarteners and first-graders like Lindsey is doing!

Lindsey, what do passion projects look like with younger kids?

Lindsey: Sure!

We start with “What do you want to know? What questions do you have? What do you want to know about?”

Generate their wonderings

The students have generated their wonderings and from there, we have started to look at “What does research look like? What does it mean?”

We’ve created a list of the different ways you can investigate your questions. You can investigate through a book. You can find some videos online on YouTube. You can ask experts.

From there, students have been using time in class, and we’ve also partnered up with our media specialist. She’s helped the students find books in the library, and she has also helped them learn some ways to navigate ways to share their knowledge through Google Slides or Wixie.

It’s really happening organically. They are using time to research and create a presentation of what they know.

Vicki: Awesome, now let’s go back. “Generate their wonderings.” I love that!

How do they generate their wonderings?

Lindsey: I think that’s something that, first, it comes natural for first graders and kindergarteners and I was blown away by the topics they were wondering about.

I was blown away by the topics they were wondering about

If I hadn’t asked this question, I never would have known that someone in our classroom was wondering about Braille. Another person in our classroom really wanted to learn how to speak Spanish. Another student was wondering about albino animals.

Just asking them really unleashed a lot of different topics that I didn’t even know they were interested in.

Vicki: Do they write those down? Do they share these with you verbally? How does that work?

Lindsey: What I did was I told them, you’re going to have a chance to learn anything that you want to, and then we watched a video from Kid President about how the world needs you.


When we know something, we have the responsibility to share it with others. “What are some things that you want to know more about, that you could share with others?”

And so we just started generating a list on a chart together, and it really didn’t take much effort at all, because I feel like they already had these genuine wonderings inside of them, and they just needed the time and the space to have them pulled out.

Vicki: I love that.

Let’s go to your second point: you have the kids investigate.

Name some ways your kids investigate their wonderings.

I guess in some ways they’re wandering through their wonderings (laughs)

Lindsey: Totally!

I think this whole passion project was definitely more about the process than the product.

I think they are learning more along the way, and that’s what’s important.

Have the kids investigate

They have been using the ChromeBooks in our classroom to do Google searches. I’ve been amazed by the videos that they’ve been finding – one student was curious about origami, and she was able to find a YouTube video that was teaching her to do the origami that she was interested in. I have a picture of her to document that she was folding along as she was watching this video.

I think a lot of them went to the public library, because I communicated this to parents, “These are their wonderings, and this is how you can help,” reading books from the public library.

Then they even started to go the library and find books for their friends. One girl brought in books and she said “I know so-and-so is studying this type of animal, so I picked up this book for them.”

They even find books for their friends

It’s become a community effort in helping each other grow and learn and find the answers to their questions.

Vicki: Awesome, so then they share what they learned. Are they presenting these presentations to each other to share it, or how does that work?

Lindsey: Yes.

It’s been very open-ended with very little parameters. The only parameters were “You just have to have a clear topic” and then, when you’re presenting, make sure you include four facts.

We generated some of the ways we can share our knowledge. They came up with a whole bunch of choices. You could make a video. You could make a Google slide. You could make a Wixie. Maybe you make a model out of clay. Maybe you make a book. A poster.

They made a choice about how they would like to present their knowledge

They signed up, or made a choice, of which way they would like to present their knowledge. We’ve had a wide variety of different showcases being presented to the class.

Vicki: Okay, call me clueless – what’s a Wixie?

Lindsey: Our library media specialist knows more about this. You create digital pages to a book that can then be presented as a digital book.

Vicki: Ah, okay. So, in a year — we recorded this in April — you have been teaching first grade this year. How much time are you spending a week? How many presentations have your students done by now?

Lindsey: I would say we started it around January or February — it hasn’t been too long — I would say about thirteen students have presented so far, with about half of the class left to go.

Like I said, there are no parameters, you can present whenever you feel like you have asked all of your questions. Students are just letting me know, “Hey, I’m ready today to present.”

“Hey, I’m ready today to present.”

Then we allow for about fifteen minutes a day for a passion project presentation. Students have been working in class, they’ve been working during indoor recess, even when it was snowing out.

They are working once they have some of their work done for reader’s workshop where they are getting on their computers and investigating that way. They are reading their books during readers’ workshop. It has kind of folded into our day, we’re not really setting aside time for it, but it’s become organically a part of what we do.

Vicki: Lindsey, what is a mistake that you would like teachers to avoid with doing passion projects for younger kids?

Lindsey: I would say one mistake is a couple of them have been curious about mythical things such as mermaids, and so they’ve really struggled with finding research and information about mermaids. I think, in the future, I would try to steer them towards a topic that I am positive they will be able to find a lot of information on.

Vicki: There are all these mermaid conspiracy theories – I think Jelly Barker posted on Facebook the other day, that somebody said he’s a mermateer(???), and she would look good in a mermaid tale. I’m like, “What?!”

Lindsey: (laughs)

Vicki: There are some very strange people out there.

Lindsey: Yes. They’ve even admitted, “I’m not finding very much information” or “I need some more resources.” In the future I would like to find a way to navigate that.

Vicki: Some teachers would say, “Oh my goodness! If I did this, all my kids would goof off and hang out or throw pencils at the ceiling.” Would you agree?

Lindsey: I would completely DISAGREE.

They have been asking every moment of time, “Can I work on my passion project? Can I work on my passion project?”

Our computers have been being used for testing and they’re saying, “When is testing going to be over? I want to work on my passion project!”

They are highly engaged, and they are very motivated.

They’re even finding their own ways to relate it to math so they can squeeze in their passion project during math time. They are highly engaged, and they are very motivated. I’ve been able to just sit back and facilitate questioning and watch them ask questions and take learning beyond our classroom.

Vicki: This is intriguing. You said they are figuring out how to use math in their passion projects. Give me an example.

Lindsey: For example, one student was interested in the history behind mathematics and has been researching how math started out with the cavemen and women and there is actually mathematical writing on caves. She is just finding any way to work on her passion project.

Vicki: That is so cool! I know this is shocking to some teachers, isn’t it?

Lindsey: Oh yes, totally. This is totally an experiment, and I went into it as an experiment. But when you let go of control and give it to the students, it’s truly amazing what they can do.

Vicki: I love that, and we’ll end with that: “When you let go of control, and give control to the students, it’s amazing what they will do.”

“When you let go of control, and give control to the students, it’s amazing what they will do.”

I believe passion projects belong in every classroom!

Students need to have a reason they want to come to school, they need to have things they are excited about and learning should be exciting!

And we can do this in all of our classes. We can have wonderings. We can help them investigate. We can help them share their learning. So let’s do it!

Lindsey: Absolutely!

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Lindsey Danhoff is K-3 teacher and learner who strives to inspire young and adult learners to be curious about their world and feel empowered to change it. Lindsey considers herself a teacher of the contemporary and strives to the integrate content areas with big ideas that jostle her and her students. She believes that the creativity in all of us can lead to world changing ideas and agency and works to unleash the creative talents of her students and colleagues.

As a change maker herself, she is passionately co-leading a grassroots movement in order to spark a systemic cultural shift towards an innovative model of education. She holds a MEd in Early Childhood Education, BS in Human Development and Family Science, and a minor in music from The Ohio State University. Currently, she teaches and learns in a first grade classroom at Evening Street Elementary in Worthington, Ohio.


Twitter: @LindseyDanhoff

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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1 comment

Monica Corredor December 14, 2021 - 8:11 pm

This was a great podcast bearing in mind the importance to promote inquiry in the classroom. Doing activities that motivate students to know more about something they really like, is a nice way to lead them to investigate while they are learning. Also, making connections is very interesting because the children can know that everything we learnt is related one to other. So, developing this kind of projects from early ages is the best way to get in the future, adolescents involved in a dynamic environment of inquiry, in which they are motivated to learn and look for more by themselves every time.


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