Monday, October 20, 2014

Lights Academy Update -- Fostering a Joy of Inquiry

We are over two months into our school year and have reached one of the first challenges in establishing our new Lights Academy learning program at Lutheran High School. To explain what is happening, let me provide an illustration.    
I know someone who lives overseas that is overwhelmed by what they find at grocery stores in the U.S. Where they live there may be just a few choices for an item, such as cereal. However, when they shop in a U.S. grocery store, the number of choices are astounding -- so many that it becomes stressful to make a decision. When I shared this thought with my class, one student spoke up about how having so many choices is "awesome."

This is similar to the issue I am experiencing with project based learning within Lights Academy. There are some Academy members who embrace the opportunity of choices. They love having all these options for inquiry. Despite this attitude, others are challenged by these same choices, finding it stressful and overwhelming, struggling to figure out what path to choose.

With these students, I do not seem to have done a good job instilling the joy of inquiry for learning's sake, not for the sake of a grade. There are so many fascinating questions to explore, but for a subset in the Academy, this is stressful. They are used to having all the expectations created by the teacher and then fulfilling them with excellence. They are struggling to break that mindset. In other words, "doing school" is so ingrained in their experience that it is difficult to explore the joy of learning simply for its own sake. They are used to pleasing others in learning and not exploring for their own learning pleasure.

I want EVERY Lights Academy student to love learning and inquiry, to be excited to have the chance to follow their interests and passions. Choice is something to embrace, not something to fear. I will working to better support and communicate this to the group. I will be seeking ways to help all Academy members to embrace this joy in the coming weeks.

If you have any helpful thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to share them as a comment to this post.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Dave. Not to sound overly simplistic, but it's almost as if the challenge/struggle you cited is at the core of your purpose behind Lights Academy: to go "beyond the standard school curriculum..." It doesn't surprise me that this would be a struggle for some! If student's are able to only experience this freedom of inquiry, but also capitalize on the limitlessness that exists with this approach (coupled by the guidance and structures you have in place), I believe you will have made significant strides towards reaching your goals for this program.

    Keep on, brother! I'm inspired by your heart for challenging the norm, and rest assured that heart and pure motivation is likewise contagious with your students.


  2. You’ve hit on something really important here, Dave. Having choices to make is really at the heart of self-directed learning. If you don’t have choices to make, then you aren’t self-directing. And, if you can’t self-direct, then learning and work in the 21st Century is going to be a real challenge.

    It seems your concern is addressed in the 21st Century Skill of “Initiative and Self-Direction” – one of their Life and Career skills. The site has many good resources. I’ve added links to some of them in this Diigo bookmark list at I’ve added some other possibly useful links there, too.

    Keep at it on this issue and don’t give in by narrowing the choices, or making the choices for the students. Model your thirst for new learning, frequently offer encouragement and appropriate rewards that are earned, and keep the students focused on long-term goals.

  3. Great stuff, Dave. I think this kind of inquiry needs to be incorporated more into all classes. Hopefully that would make these situations less intimidating and increase a joy for school in general.