This year I decided to try many new things, but one of the most significant was to give up class time to something called Genius Hour, or 20% time. I have posted on this before, but I think it is still something new enough to necessitate a brief explanation. The concept comes from google and 3M, very successful companies that thrive on creativity. The basic idea is to provide employees with time to work on projects they are passionate or curious about. How does this fit into education you might ask? Well, I, like many others have found students, especially at the high school level feel uninspired and forced to learn things albeit at times, reluctantly.
The project aims to provide students opportunities to learn what they are interested in. To provide class time to explore their passion or curiosity in a safe manner free from grades and negative consequences.
The day I rolled this out, about 2 weeks into the first term, I thought students would be excited, astounded at the freedom, and almost uncontrollable in their enthusiasm to learn something new. This was the exception, not the rule. There were some who were absolutely excited, but what was most surprising was the reaction where students continued to ask me what should they learn about. They wanted me to assign them a topic. I was almost shocked at this reaction. I thought they would be busting with ideas, and challenged to only focus on one project.
Students struggled with choosing topics for a few weeks, some longer. I think students struggled with the freedom to choose anything they wanted. This was something new to them, at least something they didn't experience with regularity to know how to handle such intellectual autonomy. I have found this aspect of the project very interesting. It never dawned on me that they would struggle with making a choice. I found examples of other projects and shared a plethora of potential learning opportunities. This satisfied many, but there were still some that I don't think have bought into the project completely.
My final sales pitch came after seeing the video below about a 30 day challenge. I even told my students that I attempted one for exercising everyday. It started just before Thanksgiving, and was met with epic failure. I have exercised since then, but with no real regularity, and the scale tells the tail of my dismal failure! So after the new year I will again start my challenge and work to vanquish my nemesis. I shared the video and my failed story with my students and saw the light bulb go on for many of them.
The complete results of their efforts will not be known for a couple of weeks, but I wanted to write about the transformation I saw in them after introducing the 3o day challenge. Students were excited about the possibility to do something, to try something, and to know they could fail. All of these ideas were presented with the original genius hour project, but for some reason the idea of a 30 day challenge sparked something in them. I have a student who is working on learning to juggle. This has been a great project because he has brought the tennis balls to class and at the beginning of class, demonstrated his progress, and he is making remarkable strides. I have 2 other students who are rehabbing injuries, and chronicling their journey to recovery. Others are working on improving their eating habits by removing fast food from their diet, or preparing healthier food choices at home. Students are connecting to this project, and although I would love for it to be connected to academic learning, I am excited to see their enthusiasm for learning.
I have been inspired by my students, and even at this point, I know some of them will fail to produce a quality final product. However, this experiment was designed to spark the interest, creativity and passion of my students. If some of them didn't jump into this term, maybe seeing other's projects may be the catalyst for their own innovative spirit to take flight. I will post some of the results after January 15, 2014.