Monday, April 30, 2018

Passion Projects: Design Your Own Version (Part 1)

Until recent changes in the educational systems, few of students' interests and ideas were taken into account when the curriculum was designed. As a student, were you ever asked what you wanted to learn about? Even an inquiry-based curriculum, such as the IPC (International Primary Curriculum) or the PYP (Primary Years Program), which allow for student input in the curriculum, have failed to let students be the drivers of their educational journey.

Enter "Genius Hour"...

Genius Hour is a concept originally created by Google, Inc. The idea behind Genius Hour was to let Google employees explore their passions for 20% of their workload, as long as it was perceived to benefit the company (Google). Sounds pretty simple, but the results of this experiment turned into a fantastic avenue for Google employees' creativity and ingenuity. Several of today's successful Google products, such as Gmail, Adsense, or Google News, have been the result of Google's Genius Hour efforts.

The success of this idea has been infectious- many companies started their own version of Genius Hour, and recently, the education system has seen risk-taking teachers and administrators trying to implement these ideas into their own teaching load and curriculum. Genius Hour in schools, has been given different names ("20% Time", "Passion Time", "Passion Project", and more) and looked a bit differently, but was based on the same premise, that both the students and the institution benefit from pursuing their unique passions. Students choose something they wish to learn about, embark on a research journey, and end the "project" with a presentation and/or a product.

In this three-part blog series, I share my own journey and outline some ways educators could offer their own version of a personalized learning opportunity for their students. More specifically, in this first post I provide readers with general information about how to begin their journey, and share a presentation to introduce teachers to Genius Hour- including the process, timeline, suggested frameworks, and more. In the second and third posts, I get into the nitty-gritty of each component of the Genius Hour project: finding time in the curriculum, creating a realistic timeline, grouping students, determining acceptable projects, using appropriate research and design frameworks, using a platform to host, guiding and supporting students, using mentors and experts, presenting, and finally, ending this fulfilling journey with presentations and a celebration.

Yes, there is quite a lot to think about when one wishes to embark on such a journey. I am hoping you find this blog post series as a starting point that would help you conceptualize and create whatever works for you and your students.

So… Where do I Begin?

Embarking on a "Passion Project" Journey...

Last year, I decided it was time for me to explore what such project-based learning could do for my students' education. I did a lot of research and found an incredible amount of information about how Google's Genius Hour was reincarnated in different educational settings. I found frameworks, timelines, philosophies, project examples, presentations, and more. It seemed that everything I needed was out there for me to use. But the more I dug in, the more I realized that my idea of Genius Hour was a bit different than each of the documents and experiences I've found. What I needed to do was to pick and choose, to synthesize the information I found valuable, and to come up with a unique product that would fit my needs, my school's philosophy and my students' individual personalities and learning styles.

You will need to do the same. I recommend you read on to get an idea of what you should look out for, get some ideas, and create your own version of Genius Hour.

How to Start:

Follow the numbered points below to learn about Genius Hour/ Passion Project and to slowly set up the supporting structures that will accompany your students' journeys. 
  1. Get yourself familiar with what's out there. Spend some time searching the Internet for examples of "Genius Hour", "Passion Projects", and "20-Time" at different schools and in different levels. 
  2. Get organized. Create a folder on your computer and a bookmark folder to save and store useful websites and files, so that you can refer back to them throughout your planning and teaching. 
  3. Make sure you know what you are doing and why. Create your own "Passion Project Manifesto"- Explain to yourself why you are doing it, what the benefits would be, what essential knowledge and skills your students should gain upon completing the project, etc. Another very important thing to think about is the guidelines for projects (see below). This will be helpful when you are asked to explain what you are doing and why, as well as when you evaluate the work you and your students did at the end. 
  4. Start planning. Think about where this experience can take place in your workweek. Create a tentative timeline: Break the process into clear steps, and make a list of helpers and mentors you could rely on to support student learning. 
  5. Start creating! Now it's the time to start creating content for your students. This can be a long and tenuous process, so I will be sharing with details how I decided to design my passion project experience. 

Getting Everyone on Board

Creating a personalized learning experience is not an easy task. It requires not only to find the time and plan it well, but also to convince others that instructional time is not being wasted. Once you create your manifesto and outline your plan (with as many details as possible), test the waters with colleagues whom you feel safe with. Remember, being innovative does not mean you have all the right answers- it means you are stepping out of your comfort zone to plan and create experiences students would benefit from! It will not be perfect the first time, but it is completely worth it. If you take this seriously, you will realize that on your own.

I created a sample presentation you could use to get a better understanding of what a Passion Project looks like. You can feel free to adapt it to your own needs and share it with colleagues, parents, administrators, or anyone who wishes to learn more about what it is and how it can be done.

This is the first part of a two-part blog entry about passion projects. You can find the second part here.

I hope you find this blog post useful. I would appreciate any feedback and/or suggestions right here in the comment section or through a tweet to @EduRonen. This is a learning journey, and any input is important. Thank you!