My 5th grade class and I completed our first Genius Hour today!
The projects they came up with were as varied as the kids. They actually made quite a bit of progress.
Projects were: learning computer coding, making a mini biosphere, learning about MRI machines, designing websites, creating computer games, designing and creating a dog collar, writing/filming/editing a short movie, learning about Figi by planning an imaginary trip, understanding the parts inside a computer, creating a robot, writing music, designing and building a better violin case, and designing a house.
There was a lot of tech, and then some plain old paper, pencil and tangible materials involved.
They hated to stop when the hour was over. The kids were thrilled to have the principal, George Petmezas, stop by so they could show him what they were doing. The excitement was palpable. When you feel that in the air, it’s easy to see how true learning happens.
There is an educational concept that I’ve been working with for the past couple years, and it has included several conversations with a creative friend, Adam Wayne. It lies at the intersection of Sir Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, Austin Kleon, and technology. I’m doing my best to create a classroom structure that supports internal motivation, passion, deep skill acquisition and rigor…all in an effort to teach curriculum. If I have learned nothing else in my years teaching, it’s that an engaged student internalizes, applies meaning, and invests in outcomes. If people are really engaged, they read for meaning, they write to be understood, they organize material in constructive ways, and they present to convey. All of the things that are frequently taught in isolation can be internalized in an engaged classroom as by-products of natural passion/engagement.
Creating engaging units is relatively easy, but to try to incorporate the power of passion driven study…that isn’t as simple. One of the problems is that kids don’t usually know what they are passionate about. Heck, most adults don’t know what they’re passionate about! Why? Because our schools and our lives are not usually set up to support finding passion. We over-schedule in school and at home. We cram in as many things as we can…we check off skills taught and tasks accomplished on a never-ending list….all the while being graded and then critiquing and judging ourselves and our surroundings.
Developing passion and interest doesn’t happen like that. That comes from safe open space…in the mind and in time. It requires free-floating ideas and connections and emotion. One thought leads to the next…one question leads to the next…one quest leads to the next…in a loose and free-floating way. Passions are often only seen in reverse. You can look back once they are there and see the meandering path that led to them, but that path can not be predetermined, scheduled, or etched…it has to be loosely felt and allowed time to develop. When a real interest or passion arises, the time and repetition needed to practice it to become skilled often comes naturally. Pink, Robinson and Kleon are right… it is like turning our whole system upside down.
This interest has turned into my own passion. It has led me to Project-based Learning, total subject integration, a loose student-driven schedule, a deep ongoing dive into technology…and I continue to meander. Now I am going to try my own form of Genius Hour to incorporate truly self-chosen topics. Learning how to allow this to play out in my classroom is mirrored in my very own quest, and I know one thing for sure…the learning has been lonely but unparalleled in its power.