Saturday, August 15, 2015

Transforming Busy Work into Purpose-Driven Learning

Nothing frustrates students more than mastering a concept and then being given more of the same work to do. Once students master the learning for the day, what they do next will either kill their passion for learning or inspire them to learn at higher levels than ever before. As educators our job is to create real learning that transforms mundane busy-work into purpose-driven learning. 

From Mundane to Meaning

“Meaning drives motivation for any learner.” (Ferriter. P 3).  In Bill Ferriter’s book, “CreatingPurpose-Driven Experiences” (CLICK HERE), he illustrates how authentic learning experiences push kids far beyond the limits of a traditional curriculum.  But more than that he illustrates that “succeeding at meaningful work depends on mastering competencies that modern employers are looking for”.  That means that the 4 C’s must be embedded in our students' work:  Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.

In Ferriter’s class, his students extend their learning by using project-based learning (PBL) as tool for doing meaningful work that matters beyond the classroom.  In his classroom, he leverages the 4 C’s to create PBLs that have real-world connection, academic rigor, structured collaboration, student-driven environment, and multi-faceted assessments.  In other words, the work that his students do is a learning/service project that serves a two-fold purpose:  helping people glocally while helping students individually.


One project that Ferriter’s class used was microlending.  Microlending is “making small loans designed to extend independence to people living in poverty”.  Ferriter showed his students the statistics about global poverty. Then he showed the kids how Kiva could address this issue, and finally, he challenged students in groups of five to brainstorm a plan to take action.  To date, his students have made “75 loans totaling over $25,000 to people in over 60 countries”.


Another example of purpose-driven learning that Ferriter’s students engaged in this year was leverage the use of blogging to raise awareness.  His 2nd period class began a debate over the NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his efforts to ban sugar in drinks over a specific quantity in the city.  From there the #SugarKills blog began.  Instead of just debating the topic, which is a great extension activity, the students were challenged to use their information for a bigger purpose, awareness.  The students wrote about the effects of obesity. They shared health statistics and made it their personal mission to educate the word about making healthy choices.  The great thing about this great example of PBL is that the kids didn’t think of it as project-based or learning.  “The elements of high quality project-based learning mean little to the #sugarkills gang, however.  They aren’t interested in academic rigor, structured collaboration or multifaceted assessment.  They only care about doing work that matters.” (Ferriter. P 46)

What will your kids do this year?

If we want all kids to learn far beyond the learning objectives, we must stop settling for keeping them busy or simply engaged. The pathway to authentic learning lies first in engaging kids, and then in creating purpose driven learning projects that inspire, motivate, and ultimately empower every kid to pursue his purpose in life. After all, that is the ultimate goal of any type of learning, to transform kids from consumers of knowledge into game-changers.


  1. Hey Pal,

    Glad that you dug my purpose driven learning argument. The way that I see it, we lose our students when we divorce them from the world. The truth is that when kids see that they can have an impact on the world around them, they have a legitimate reason for the learning we are asking them to do. Projects like purpose driven blogging and Kiva lending allow teachers to deliver the required curriculum while empowering kids to be change agents at the same time.

    For me, the word "empowering" is the key. All too often, we focus on "engaging" kids. That feels phony and false to me. It means making boring lessons more interesting. But "empowering" kids means helping them to see that they truly are powerful and can drive change in the world. The context for learning goes from "being ready for the test" to "being ready for the world."

    You might dig these slides:

    Anyway...glad you dug the book and hope you are well!


    1. Bill,

      Thank you for your thoughts and for sharing this book with us all. I totally agree with the concept of empowerment, and I think the pathway to empowerment starts with engagement. We must engage our students with meaningful work before they will want to be empowered to on that work. Have a great day.