As my learning activities continue at the 2014 Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute (CMK14) I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about young 21st Century connected learners who come to our classrooms with special talents or unusual interests.
Often our classes include students who discover especially interesting topics, and these kids learn more and more until they develop expertise in the area. Sometimes the students go even farther with a subject, developing a passion and spending enormous amounts of personal time looking for more to learn. Last year at my school a fifth grader demonstrated, over and over, his passion for aviation and his all-consuming interest continues to thrive.
Cam Perron is just such a learner (watch his TEDTalk).
Cam spoke to us at CMK14, explaining how for years he has spent enormous amounts of time identifying players from the professional Negro Baseball League. These teams began playing ball in the 1920s and played their last games in the late fifties and early sixties.
This young man seeks information on the baseball veterans, researches their histories, discovers newspaper stories, calls players to talk on the telephone, connects them with one another, and much more. He began making baseball cards for some of the players, many of whom are seventy-five years or more. Cam is passionate and compassionate when it comes to this topic. He played a huge role in establishing the yearly Negro League Baseball players’ reunions which have occurred for several years now. Despite his age Cam shares his interest with the confidence and competence of an expert, and with passion, voice, and joy.
The baseball research activities began when Cam was 12 and continue into the present (he is now a student at Tulane). As a part of his work he discovers, connects, and constructs incredible amounts of old and new knowledge — for himself and for others. In the process, he’s figured out how to seek and evaluate information, how to work and collaborate with people who are, initially at least, unfamiliar, how to share information, and how to doggedly pursue his goals even when at first he fails or discovers a dead-end. It’s clear how much he loves to learn, and it’s a privilege to hear his voice and understand more about one student’s passion for learning.
Cam possesses the required skills to thrive and learn — effortlessly? — in a digital world, and while he continues to pursue his interest and seek information about the professional players in the Negro Baseball League, his skill and determination will serve him well no matter what he pursues in the future. Because of the advanced ages of the men he is identifying, connecting, and celebrating, Cam knows he is working against a deadline. He needs to retrieve as much information as possible before these men reach the end of their lives, after which their personal narratives will be lost. Funnily enough, I heard him comment, as an aside, that his university, Tulane, will not give him community service credit for this amazing work which actually changes the lives of former players.
How can we educators and parents ensure that these students, so passionate about their subjects, thrive and grow when they appear in our classes? Can we nurture children and support (and honor) their special interests and passions, helping them build a learning scaffold that serves as a secure foundation when they pursue other topics?