Stanford's Dr. Brigid Barron Makes the Case for Interest-Driven Learning

Dr. Brigid Barron of Stanford On December 17th, Citizen Schools at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto hosted a spectacular WOW! celebration, featuring a student apprenticeship showcase and Citizen Teacher awards ceremony. The event’s opening reception featured a presentation by Dr. Brigid Barron, Associate Professor at Stanford University’s School of Education, about her research on project-based learning and out-of-school time.

Through her work at Stanford, Barron investigates adolescents’ learning ecologies across diverse communities throughout Silicon Valley, with a focus on their technological fluency development, and a goal to understand how to create more equitable learning opportunities.

During her presentation to Citizen Schools, entitled “Interest-driven Learning across Settings and Time,” Barron argued a strong case for Citizen Schools’ mission. According to research, youth in grades K-12 have 6.5 to 8.0 hours per day of discretionary (non-homework) time; that is, the majority of learning is happening in informal learning environments. Family activities, other extra-curricular activities (e.g. lessons, camps, sports, etc.), and a growing number of digital environments and resources form the spectrum of out-of-school opportunities.

Barron’s research and main message resonated with Citizen Schools’ staff and supporters in attendance: While test scores are important, a student’s interest, passion, and purpose are essential. Furthermore, increasing students’ exposure to resources, mentors, inspiring projects, and opportunities -- in school, but also in libraries, museums, clubs, and digital spaces -- will result in interest-driven learning.

Interest-driven learning is at the heart of Citizen Schools’ apprenticeship model. Each year in the Bay Area, over 300 volunteers from corporations and community-based organizations serve as mentors for and introduce students to a variety of industries, professions, and skillsets. Our students have any number of experiences during a single semester, from building a solar car in their classroom to pitching their own tech-start up concepts to real-life company executives. The consequence, as Barron argues: students are staying engaged and learning more.

Read more about Dr. Brigid Barron.