Friday, 20 April 2018

Investing in their Passions

This year I dove into Passion Projects with my class.  

Some folks call it Genius Hour.  I prefer Passion Projects.  I get a bit worried that the word genius puts  a lot of pressure on my students to create something that is the "be-all-and-end-all-perfect-project".  That's not what I was asking them for.  I wanted them to pursue something they are passionate about and find a way to show me what they'd learned.  I would be there for advice and help if needed, but mostly this was to be all on them (with a little scaffolding in some places and lots of scaffolding in others).



I'd heard about these Passion Projects through course work, colleagues and Twitter.  I did a bit of reading over the summer on them.  Come September, it was time to make the leap.  And leap we did.  I introduced the idea to them through a fun little PowToon creation.  I told them I was giving them 75 minutes (1 Period) a week on Fridays to work on it.  We did some activities to help them discover their interests and to help them decide what to focus on.  There were interest surveys.  We played some games where they had to complete sentence stems like:  'When I can do whatever I want, I like to..."  They created Popplets.  They discussed ideas with their elbow partners, the two Educational Assistants, and myself.



Then they had to commit to their project and Pitch it to the class.  Things got a bit bogged down here.  They wanted to get into the projects and didn't understand the idea of the pitch, despite lots of examples and interventions.  After a frustrating third Friday of working on these, we had a class discussion, where we collectively voted to toss out the pitch component.  We still needed some way of getting them to commit to and focus on their topic/guiding questions.  Our solution: they would blog or vlog about what their project would be in a minimum of 5 sentences.  Now we were cooking with gas!

Some of them got really involved in their projects.  They were working on them at home, at night and on weekends.  A student working on a Pixton.com Comic Book format on Monster Trucks for her project added all kinds of pictures she took when she went to these events - and lots from the Internet too. One of the girls was doing her project on the St. Thomas Stars hockey team.  She was meeting with the team coaches and players, conducting interviews and even talked her mom into getting her a Chromebook at home, so she wasn't hogging the family desktop to work on her project all the time.  One changed his mind midstream and completely revamped his project.  Two of them needed a lot of support and assistance to create their e-books using the Book Creator App.  One student with a lot of issues at home, and very low attendance, has not been able to produce a lot.  When he's at school, he does what he can.  He might not finish what he started.  And that's okay.

This week, about half of my class finished their Passion Projects.  In the next few weeks, hopefully they all finish, or get to a point where they can present their projects to each other.  It's hard to get parents in for these events, so I will record these and put them in each student's portfolio. You can see their portfolios and finished projects on our Passion Project Website (they were all excited when I asked them if I could share this in my blog.  They are very proud of these projects and the work that went into them).  The completed projects (as of April 20th, 2018) are those of: Deanna, Kalley, Dylan and Connor.

Image from: https://www.success.com/sites/default/files/7_4.jpg


There are no grades in my classroom.  Never really have been.  Everything is guided by the IEP and our report cards have no marks, only feedback and next steps for their individual goals.  (I might be ahead of the curve on the "no grading" trend.)  In their video reflection on the day they finish the project, I've asked them to assess their work skills and their final product by giving themselves a grade of A, B or C.  They will give each other some Peer feedback through FlipGrid.com and I have been giving feedback all through the process, so all that's left after that is to celebrate their success with a party on a Friday in late May.


Will our class be doing Passion Projects again in the fall?   Absolutely!  I will do more reflection on this over the summer and I know I will tweak things a bit, but overall, I think it went really well.  They were highly motivated, engaged and directing their own learning.  A few things I would change?  I need to have more structure for a few of them.  The wide open nature of the product was too much for them and seemed to paralyze them a bit.  When I gave those particular students a framework to go from, they were able to work more independently again.  The pitch portion needs to be scaled down - like I mentioned earlier, a blog or vlog will do in our room.  I thought they would be able to complete these projects within the semester and start a new one for semester 2.  Nope.  It takes time to do these well.  I'm glad I didn't push them to finish quicker, or to cut off their inquiry too soon.  It took almost the entire school year of Friday period 1s to get to where we got.  And that's okay with me, too.

To paraphrase Kid President, and Robert Frost (my apologies to Mr. Frost);
We came to where the road split into two paths and we took the one less travelled.
We wanted to be on the path that leads to awesome.
And we found a whole lotta awesome!

Image from: https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQMxOIKT6ytecwscZbkRYOyd3_2_3_iZz-m5FwNI4ztisb30lB-xQ

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