Genius Hour, Ed Tech and Your Library Media Specialist – Perfect Together

Genius Hour, 20% Time, Tinker Time, Passion Projects — all teachers should incorporate it into their classrooms. It is magical and after experiencing it, there are ways to make it easier and more enduring for students. Personally, the title Passion Projects suits me just fine because think about it — how often do students get to learn about their passions while they are in school? When work doesn’t feel like work, count me in. 

Why 20% Time/ Passion Projects?

Mark Gura, author of Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School, says since students need to be given time to develop their creativity, that teachers can make creativity the goal for instruction. He explains that the idea 20% Time emerged from major companies like 3M and Google to give employees 20% of their work week to explore and research their own ideas.  Gura further explains that  when students “follow their own curiosity and passion  [it] results in innovation, in creative ideas that ultimately satisfy the inner drive and intellectual need of students as they develop numerous skill sets, including  . . . the roles of problem solvers and solution generators” (145).  Many great innovations have been a result of 20% Time like Google Drive. 

Is it PBL, IBL, CBL, or DP?

The answer is “all of the above.” Depending on the area of focus for the project, it will illustrate one or more of these student- centered learning strategies:

  • Project – based learning – Students select their own focus, identify their approach to investigating it, and define their own way of communicating and demonstrating what they have learned.
  • Inquiry – based learning — Heather Wolpert – Gawron from Edutopia wrote a great in- depth article about it.  Indeed, it is not just “research.”
  • Challenge – based learning – Students tackle real world problems and create solutions based on their own research. Stephen Noonoo from Edsurge also calls this community- based learning in his article “What’s the Difference Between Project- based and Challenge – based Learning, Anyway?”. I love the idea of out students helping their school and community, don’t you?
  • Design Process (and Building) –  Students are presented with a problem, which they research and brainstorm solutions. They then create a prototype and test it. The results are communicated and reflected on. ScienceBuddies.org creates an awesome blueprint for the design process on their site. 

Implementing 20% Time

This past year I had the pleasure of working with a teacher as he incorporated 20% Time into his classroom.  He was super inspired by A.J. Juliani’s free online class about 20% Time and decided to spend a trimester on  the project, allotting each Friday during class for researching their passions. Students could select any topic, investigate it, and make a presentation about it by the time the thirteen weeks were over. As a result, students produced some truly remarkable projects, and some which, with a little more time, would have improved the overall research and design of the project and presentation. Making some mental notes, here is what we came up with for next year:

  • Students submit a written agreement about what they will work on , one in which they personally define its relationship to the overarching work and goals of the class. To assist students in picking topics, I have used Kelly Hilton’s Google Slide hyper doc presentation on how to select topics and focus their own projects.
  • During the project, students can keep learning/ activity journals via Edublogs or Seesaw and agree to make presentations to the class periodically on what they’ve done. Periodic presentations do not have to result in grades, but a rubric can be designed to give students some feedback.
  • Get your school library media specialist involved with the process because he or she can be a valuable resource for the students. During the passion projects at my school, I either helped students find reliable resources or helped them with the technology they wanted to use to demonstrate their learning.
  • Primary sources are truly  a much needed  flair when students are researching passion projects.  If you’re a fan of the movie Office Space, the more flair, the better. I have LOVED using the site Nepris to contact experts in a field via Skype or a Google Hangout. The interview is KEY in passion projects because students need to be able to communicate with people involved in the area they are researching. If Nepris is not an option, contacting an expert via email and asking if you can send them four questions to answer may be an alternative to a Skype. 
  • If you do not have a school maker space to which students have access, perhaps your town or public library may have one. Encourage students to go because they may learn something new and cool!

Ideas for 20% Time Projects

What is the goal of the project? As a result, the student should emerge with new knowledge, which, in some way, betters themselves, their classmates, and/or, more importantly, their community or the world around them. Here are some great ideas for projects:

  • Write a book, nonfiction or fiction — do it as a graphic novel or an ebook to be posted online.  Barbara Slate offers a comprehensive guide to graphic novel creation and there are many great ebook creation websites for students such as: Story Jumper and Canva.
  • Start or update a blog that documents and publishes findings and thoughts on a theme in the news or a subject of interest.
  • Create how- to tutorial videos and post them to You Tube.
  • Write up recipes, food or other products. Aggregate these into a book.
  • Create a movie by writing a script, then filming and editing. A documentary works well for this project.
  • Raise money for a cause you care about– research and identify that cause. Create a series of public service announcement to educate people about that cause.
  • Curate a list of resources relating to a theme of interest — list names, give explanatory annotations, and rate items included by a rating system you devise
  • Research the back stories if items in the news or a controversial issue that relates to a theme. Write up results in a blog.
  • Establish and maintain a digital scrapbook of images and captions relating to a theme of interest. Create a website which documents the rationale for this collection of images.
  • Have students create a Breakout or “escape room” for students to learn about the topic of study

Want to Learn More?

These resources should help:

20 Time in Education 

Joy Kirr’s Livebinder on Genius Hour

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