One of my favorite quotes is J.M. Barrie, author of an epic story, Peter Pan.

What if school was more than just homework, classwork, and listening  . . . what if learning was an epic adventure.  Some people might disagree with me due to how they were schooled.  But why not?

Every child that sits in your classroom has a epic narrative to show and tell.  How do we engage our students in telling that epic narrative?  From an metacognitive standpoint,  that epic narrative is a story of what they learned and how they learned.  Their story has a beginning, middle, and end. Their story has a plot as if they traveled the hero’s journey and in their epic journey, they are the heroes going through their learning moments and their challenges to find, retrieve, and own something special.

In my STEAM class, the hero’s journey is not only a prevalent theme, it is a prevalent process.  Below is a picture of the hero’s journey from the following TED Talk Video, “What Makes a Hero?” by Matthew Winkler.

Heroes Epic Journey

The Heroes Journey


One of the problems about schools today is that with testing and accountability leading instruction, it is hard for teachers to branch out and be creative with their curriculum.  Though I am fortunate to be teaching a class that is not accountable to state standards but I am accountable to making sure that students who enter my class exit with this sense of having control over their learning.  When you give student the power to control their destiny, you give them to power to make decisions, to measure the pros and cons, and deal with consequences rather than being spoon fed what and how to learn.   Where is the learning in that? Most importantly, how do we facilitate decision making?

This brings up a lot of question and for teachers who instruct in conventional ways these are intimidating questions:

  • What are the implication of giving students this sense of control?
  • What are the implication if we gave students choice of how they learn and what they learn?
  • How do we connect their choices to a common core or NGSS?

In fact, giving them control of their own story is what they want.  In a hero’s journey, we are mentor’s, facilitators, as well as the learners.  We don’t give knowledge rather we guide them to their goal, their passion, and their specialty.  Imagine a school in which every student who graduated earned not only a diploma but a specialty and a passion. That’s real education.  I’ve seen them and I’ve worked in one before.  It was hard work from being the facilitator inside the infrastructure but magical from the outside.

These are questions that I have around give the learners control of their learning:

  • How would school transform if learning is an epicjourney?
  • How would this change curriculum and delivery of instruction?
  • What would our learning environments look like?
  • How would teachers and students interact with each other?
  • What would the norms of interaction be?
  • How would the role of the teacher change?

I have some of the answers to these question as I’m trying this pedagogical shift out in our learning adventures.  But what I’ve experienced is a mix of different results with a common theme of  engagement, ownership, and mastery.


It feels good when you finally understand something, especially if the materials and tasks are challenging.  I remember taking a computer science course in my freshmen year in college when I was 18 (I’m currently 36 years young).  I couldn’t understand most of the concept after learning about variables.  It wasn’t until 10 years later when I revisited that passion and dream to be a game developer and storyteller. After doing my own learning, research, and skill practices,  I mastered the basic skills of designing games and now I am teaching it.  That was 10-15 years of being in the abyss of my hero’s journey.  Through this learning journey,  you finally own a special treasure that you get to use over and over again.  That treasure is finally yours and you deserve it.

Unfortunately, our educational culture pushes the thought of owning the grade vs. the learning.   What is the real treasure in education?  It also pushes that children should learn  all of these standards to proficiency and mastery.  I’ve heard from a variety of students who received a 4.0 GPA who are unable to articulate what they’ve learned with depth.  They are great test takers and criteria meeters but ineffective reflectors and deep learners.   That is problem in instructional design and also an issue of motivation that stems from this notion of chasing and focusing on the carrot rather than focusing on the bigger picture, the learning and growth.

The following question is still unresolved for certain students, families, and educators –  Is meaning of an education for adding status or making money or is education a way to find passion and a purpose so that we are able to thrive in a society that needs our skills and knowledge?  When you shift learning away from the extrinsic rewards, the grades, the punishment, and the points and focus on structuring class on safety, community, trust, and finally mastering a set of essential skills rooted in passion, creativity, guidance, feedback, and iteration, owning that skill is possible.


I remember playing a role playing game, Chrono Trigger, and there was an area where I was fighting a boss.  Every time I used my weapons, I got counter attacked with a powerful attack and every time I use magic, magic was sucked away into the boss so they can cure themselves.  Well that wasn’t fair.  It took me multiple episodes of trying to defeat this boss until I figured out a strategy which was to first level up and experience so that I was able to gain different magic, more lives, and increase in stats.  Plus I get more money so I can buy better weapons and armor that will protect me in this battle.  At the end, I was able to implement a strategy to defeat the boss in the game and move forward with the time traveling story.

How does this scenario relate to a learning journey?  Sometimes it takes more than just guidance to get to a goal. The learner will need to be in place of trying to figure it out with a mentor to provide feedback.  The learner will have to develop this character strength of resilience and the ability the scale out to see the bigger picture and zoom in to analyze and modify the components of a dilemma the learner is trying to answer.  It might take multiple opportunities and mistakes to figure out how to solve the problem but once they  figured out how to solve the problem, they are able to use that strategy in multiple situations.  When they’ve attained this practice, they’ve attained mastery.

To master something also means you have to be passionate and care about what you are trying to master for a variety of reasons based upon your personal motivational drives.  If there was something that you cared about or is an urgent need whether it be, you want to find a cure to pet cancer, you want to find a better way to decrease greenhouse gases, or find a way to pay up a mortgage so that you can live and thrive in San Francisco, you will do the work and travel the journey to solve that personal dilemma until you figure out a process that works for you.


If this idea too radical for you,  I understand and I empathize because I was there until I saw the treasure at end of my learner’s journey.  Their journey toward discovering their passion was full of rocky roads but it was well worth it.  Enjoy your teaching journey!