Pursuing Summer Passion Projects


An incredible amount of information can be learned from books, including books that can be read on smartphones. Books, however, are often viewed as competing with smartphones. The good news about smartphones (which is not to imply that all news about smartphones is good news for children and adolescents) is that smartphones can be used to gain knowledge and proficiencies in many domains. These proficiencies are not the typical social media updates, such as a teen influencer’s recommendation for the newest look in eyeshadow or what predicament a movie star finds themselves in. Rather, these topics are related to the domains of music, art, cinema, architecture, history, botany, interior design, geography, and so on.

Pursuing a Summer Passion Project

Using smartphones to discover and learn about new topics doesn’t happen naturally. By setting the task and structure for learning about something of great interest to students — a passion project — teachers can support their students’ learning over the summer.

The available information on smartphones can be overwhelming, which is why educators need to demonstrate how to use apps and websites to learn something new. Let me demonstrate by citing one of my passion projects over the past two years: learning German (the language of my early years). Yes, there are many language learning apps, but buying these apps can be costly. I have found free resources such as children’s programs on YouTube to be especially useful. For example, every conceivable topic is presented on the children’s program, Die Maus (The Mouse), including architecture, space travel, and current events. In addition, I have found free books to download and apps to assist with my pronunciation. Through my local library, I stream German movies (again, movies for children) that have been useful in learning German.

Students can get ideas for a passion project by interviewing friends and family about areas in which they have used apps and websites to develop expertise. Has someone learned to play a ukulele? To edit movies? Before students depart for the summer, they should have topics identified for their passion projects. They should also be given demonstrations on how to identify appropriate resources.

One final step is essential for the success of a summer learning project: scheduling a time for sharing the outcomes of passion projects. Research has shown that the best way to ensure effective summer learning is from follow-through by educators. Periodic check-ins over the summer through emails or even the class website where students can share their successes and challenges can greatly help. But knowing that there will be an opportunity, when school resumes, to share the expertise gained from their passion project can support students’ immersion in summer learning.

About the author: Dr. Elfrieda (Freddy) H. Hiebert is president and CEO of TextProject, a nonprofit that provides resources to support higher reading levels. She is also a research associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Hiebert has worked in the field of early reading acquisition for 45+ years. She is an author for Savvas Learning Company’s myPerspectives® and myView Literacy™, as well as an advisor on SuccessMaker.

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About the Author

Elfrieda Hiebert

Literacy Author, President & CEO, TextProject