We learn throughout our lives, but we’re only in formal education for a fraction of it in the beginning.

The way we learn throughout our lives is a constant cycle of self-reinvention and leaving the old things behind. It’s deeply human. If we empower our kids now with some hands-on experience to learn like they’ll learn for the coming century, they can be our most deeply invested partners in what that future looks like past this interruption of COVID-19.

The main priority right now amidst the disruption and uncertainty of COVID-19 is to keep our families and our communities safe. We’re in uncharted territory for how our communities look, and out on the other side we’ve got the opportunity to re-evaluate and redesign our new normal.

This process is just a starting point. It gives you enough to put the process through its paces for a couple of cycles and to find how it might help you, your family, your school, or your community.

We can take it much deeper, and in many directions. If this resonates with you, then once we can all be in the same room again, I’d love to talk more.

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What do you mean, “Learn like a Hero?”

THE HERO’S JOURNEY

Identified by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book The Hero with A Thousand Faces, the Hero’s Journey documents the path commonly taken by heroic figures in global mythology.

Nothing huge, just the deepest connection of our psyche to the old stories and lessons that have forged our civilisations.

This is the Hero’s Journey. It’s a common story in almost every world mythology. Its roots are from a time long before the civilisations that spawned them ever had a chance to meet each other. It describes the path of an ordinary person living their ordinary life in their ordinary world to become someone who conquers adversity within their world and within their own character, becoming a bigger, wiser, stronger version of themselves.

A Hero.

(it’s also the plot to every movie you see behind this text. You know this story well.)

When we take the important steps in this journey and deliberately walk through them as learners, we’re treading a familiar path. A path that’s deeply human, and highly compatible with the tools and processes of the modern world.

As a journey of heroic learning, we’re going to weave a story that follows five important steps.

SOUND FAMILIAR?

It sounds familiar in a learning setting because we’ve seen it all before. Here are two examples of a cyclical learning framework we know and love mapped to the Hero’s Journey.

Stanford d.school Design Thinking

Kath Murdoch’s Inquiry Cycle

OUR CORE NARRATIVE

For our Hero’s Journey learning cycle, we’re going to give each step a simple name.

There are many pragmatic and logistical considerations at each stage (and they’re accounted for on the planning tool I’ve linked at the end of the page) but without this core pathway through the story, they’re little more than tickboxes on yet another curriculum document. There will be plenty of time and attention given to the curriculum once school goes back full-time. This is a chance to try something a little different because we believe that a little different can be a lot better.

These heroic learning projects can be as small as baking a loaf of bread for the first time, or as large as designing and building something your community needs, but the process is always the same. Here’s what it looks like:

Inspire or present an opportunity. Learners engage voluntarily or through a tap on the shoulder..

Support is provided to get started. The emphasis is on change in the learner, not the mentoring itself.

Iterations of a project. Test & make mistakes, the learning resides in overcoming them.

The learning comes to life, the project becomes real, tangible and valuable.

The learner returns to their “normal world” wiser and stronger to move forward.

HERE’S EACH STAGE IN DETAIL:

(The listed resources are available for download as a toolkit here, or again at the bottom of the page.)

Real things are interesting, and play is powerful. School STEM programs love to talk about “real world problems,” but not everything is a problem.

Focusing mainly on “problems” can limit our scope, and it risks imposing a level of urgency (and responsibility) that can inhibit playfulness. So remember, real things are interesting, and play is powerful. Problems can be incredibly powerful inspirations for projects, but there’s an art to invoking them through a proper Call to Adventure. Let them come up naturally.

Show, don’t tell. This entire process is deeply constructivist and constructionist (learning by doing and by making), rather than being self-directed instruction (having knowledge passed down). In simple terms, it’s designed to help learners learn how to, not learn about.

In your early conversations with the learner, it’s important to shape and guide their inspiration towards doing, making, acting. Something to show, rather than just tell. The learning will absorb them more completely and will stick with them for longer if at the end of it they have something to show for it, and a story to tell about how they did it.

What are they already interested in? Start as close to home as you can. Harness their existing interests to try to turn them into opportunities to make something they don’t yet know how to. Find and exploit curiosities, and provoke some kind of “do you think you could do something like that?” response.

If you’re stuck, there’s a website linked in the Resources section that’s an absolute goldmine of fascinating starting points.

A One-Line Plan. Turn the inspiration into a broad plan. I want to VERB a NOUN for PEOPLE/PLACE so PURPOSE.

A One-Page Plan. This is a rough map of how the learner thinks the project will play out. It will be riddled with potential errors, and it will change. Resist the temptation to insert your experience here. The really powerful learning is in the learner discovering the errors and making the changes for themselves.

Line Up Their Thoughts. Take stock of existing knowledge and existing blind spots – this positions the learner to get the greatest benefit from their Mentor in the next stage.

All these tools and details are listed in the Resources section.

*All the printable tools are available for download at the bottom of the page. Anything linked to the web is underlined.

The Kid Should See This – For a nudge of inspiration, this is a brilliant curated collection of videos, organised by categories. Their thing is to collect videos not necessarily made for kids, but perfect for them to see. Real things are interesting.

Project Based Learning Canvas:  This one’s for the adults. The Core Narrative helps you to plan ahead for where each stage of your child’s learning goes in a broad sense, and the Practicalities layer helps prompt you to pre-empt the parts where you’ll want a ready answer.

One-Line, One-Page Planner – A canvas to help Learners align their project’s Why with their How and What.

Line Up Your Thoughts – The canvas is handy, but all you really need is some scraps of paper, some colours to write with, and a line on the floor. This helps the Learner to rationalise their certainty with their uncertainty, and to give them some direction to approach their Mentor.

Flipgrid: I’d love to hear what you’re inspired by, and hear those One Line Plans. Join the community and share them here.

“These are your first steps.” Think Obi-Wan to Luke, Gandalf to Frodo, think Moana’s grandmother, think Morpheus to Neo. This Mentor’s role is to give the Learner just enough to get started, but not enough for a full walkthrough.

Learners learning, not teachers teaching. This is not a braindump of everything the Mentor knows, or a step-by-step set of instructions. This is about the Learner knowing their purpose and asking some big questions, and the Mentor understanding deeply enough to pass on the mindsets and knowledge that will help start the journey.

Yes, they will make mistakes. More on that in the next step. The biggest idea of the entire process is that with each cycle, their skills grow. This goes for the specific skills they pick up along the way, and their broader skills as a learner.

Provide them with a little boost that they wouldn’t have otherwise had. It could be a conversation with someone that knows what they’re doing (we’re working on a way to help facilitate this), it could be a gift of tools and resources.

It’s even more helpful if the learner’s left with a pinch of uncertainty – some questions that are just out of their reach to work out for themselves left unanswered.

Conversation Canvas – As my grandfather would say, you’re here for a good time, not a long time. Help the Learner come to grips with the really important parts of their project as they prepare for their conversation with a Mentor. It leans hard on their One Line Planner, encourages them to take a really critical eye to their sense of certainty, and it invites them to keep their enthusiasm front and centre.

Flipgrid: If you’ve had a chance to help a learner connect with a Mentor figure, we’d love to hear how that conversation went. If you’re looking for someone with particular expertise, leave a message here and we’ll help point you in the right direction.

You can’t get it right until you’ve got it wrong. If you nail it first time, you either got lucky, or you could have taken the idea further. Either way, the result is less fun, less satisfying, and the Learner has less to be proud of.

Devalue “finished.” It’s not about being “finished,” especially not quickly. That’s for schoolwork or competition. This isn’t schoolwork or competition.

Build Resiliency. Taking a few runs at it, making some mistakes, and working out how to fix them builds resiliency.

Constant Reflection. Journalling is essential. It encourages reflection, and cultivates metacognition. Reflection is helpful to keep this project on track. Metacognition will help the learner to recognise what their own mind is doing as it learns, which helps all their future projects stay on track.

This is going to look different from project to project, and the planning canvas from the earlier stages should provide a rough overview. Not a comprehensive plan, more like a mudmap.

The Learner should expect to pivot, and expect to find some dead ends.

You should expect the learner to keep going.

If you can only commit a small amount of time to help your young learner each day, focus it here. Use the journalling canvas as a conversation guide, and help them unpack what’s happened in their project over between the end of their last effort and the end of this one. If possible, capture bits of this on video. There’s a video check-in space in the Resources section.

Heroic Learning Journal Canvas – It’s simple enough that you can make your own, but keep a copy of the original on hand to help guide your conversation as you debrief the Learner after every effort.

Flipgrid – We’d love to see what Learners are up to! We’ve created a space on Flipgrid to use for some video journals.  Access it here.

Make It Real – Find a way to share what the Learner has created. Help them to find some kind of audience or user. This elevates their efforts above the “it’ll do” threshold.

Avoid Show ‘n’ Tell – If possible, make that sharing process useful. Refer back to the original One Line Planner. If the learning process was about making a cake, telling people about a cake you made is nowhere near as good as sharing a slice.

This will look wildly different for every project. Let that original One-Line Planner guide you.

One-Line Planner – Refer back to the Learner’s original intention. Use this to help them design and guide how they share their efforts with others.

Flipgrid: Time to share! Show us what you’ve been working on, and tell the story of how it came to be.

Carry it With You – This experience should serve them moving forward. Help them find ways to use it.

“Pass On What You Have Learned.” – The Hero’s Journey is pretty individualistic, unless you bring a sense of generosity and community spirit with it.

Over multiple project cycles with a group of learners over time, they can assume the role of Mentor for their peers.

There’s not really a process for this, more a mindset.

“Pass On What You Have Learned.” – The Hero’s Journey is pretty individualistic, unless you bring a sense of generosity and community spirit with it.

Help support the Learner to look for opportunities to help others learn on a similar path, or to put those new skills to use, or become a Mentor for others.

An Eye on the Horizon – Keep those eyes, ears, and hearts open for opportunities to embark on the next journey of Heroic Learning.

Heroic Learning Journal Canvas – A few days after the Learner’s had a chance to share their efforts and relax back into their “normal world,” take that debriefing conversation for one last spin. Ask them to take a big-picture view of the Doing, Learning, and Problems boxes, then really give them some space to address the Gut Feel.

Flipgrid – I’d love to hear those final reflections, so I’ve created another space on Flipgrid if you’re willing to share. Access it here.

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