ISS CHALLENGES Winner Dave Sheppard: Passion Projects Meet Master Class

“What new practices should schools keep or implement as a result of our experience with online learning?” We recently posed this question to educators around the world through our innovation platform ISS CHALLENGES. The response was tremendous, and we’re excited to share the winning ideas with you.
In this feature, Dave Sheppard of Shekou International School shares how exploring passions can empower both students and teachers.

Passion Projects Meet Master Class


What is it that gets YOU through these difficult times? What is it that you turn to when you are feeling depressed, anxious or stressed? Chances are you have kept your sanity like the rest of us; by digging into your passions and unleashing your creativity. Most of us have experienced first hand the power that being creative can have on our mental health. It’s time that we empowered our students to do the same.

Passion Projects (aka Genius Hour or 20% Time) have been around for a while and there’s plenty of research to show how they benefit students. ( So why limit it to a project? Why not think bigger?  Why not a Passion unit or even a Passion curriculum that utilizes a blended learning approach to connect students to experts? 

After exploring their passions independently, students could learn remotely from curated expert videos and assignments and then connect with their experts using video conferencing technology like Zoom. They could also connect with other students pursuing similar passions from around the world. This gives students an authentic audience to share and reflect with. 

A shared bank of Master Class style videos from experts all around the world would allow us to easily connect our students to experts and pool resources. Better yet, an online portal would allow students to connect with each other. 

Passion projects don’t need to be limited just to students, either. It is important for teachers to pursue interests that keep them mentally healthy and sound. Schools can devote PL time to teacher passions and genius hour-style learning. Dancing, baking, photography, creative writing…the possibilities are endless. What is your passion?

*Special thanks to Megan Kuemmerlin for this idea!

Why is this idea important?

From PBLWorks:

“Teachers who often assign creative, project-based activities are more likely than other teachers to say their students display a range of learning and development goals, including building self-confidence, utilizing their unique strengths, and developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

What key tasks would need to be completed to get a prototype up and running?
  • Enlist passionate mentors to work with students
  • Build out an online space to house “lessons” or for students to connect
How easy would it be to grow this idea across multiple schools or contexts?

The most difficult part will be convincing others to give up time that has been devoted to other curricular areas. However, with a few brave classes leading the way the results will be undeniable and student passions will become a valued part of every curriculum.


What might be the tangible outcome/s of your idea?
  • Students will be empowered to take control of their learning. They will develop new skills, learn from experts, and be able to share with the world.
  • An online platform will be created for students with similar passions to come together and connect.
  • Most participants will end up with a revamped curriculum.

Thank you to Dave for sharing this idea! Keep an eye out for other ISS Challenges winners, plus continue to share your own school initiatives and inspiration with #ISSedu.