Encouraging students to embrace their passions

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What is a passion project?

A passion project is something you work on (often outside of your chosen path of study or occupation) that gives you satisfaction and happiness and puts you in a state of creative flow. It’s what you do to escape it all. It can be a tiny or significant contribution to the world. In education circles, it is also referred to as Genius Hour or 20Time. 

Can “Genius Hour” work in a secondary classroom?

My passion for Genius Hour started at our district’s annual tech conference in 2017. I learned of it earlier, but it wasn’t until I came across resources created and curated by A.J. Juliani, Buddy Berry, Laura Randazzo, and Don Wettrick that I became truly inspired. But, was it feasible for students to guide their own learning on a topic of their choosing for several months?

A schedule change had me preparing to teach seniors for the first time in eight years (!). The situation seemed primed for some serious inspiration. A potential battle with “senioritis” was certain to be in my future. I began to ask myself if a passion project (what I came to call it, in tribute to my late father, who was the most passionate teacher I had ever known) could work in my high school classroom. I started wondering what this could look like for me and my future students.

Blogging in the secondary classroom

Early on, it became apparent to me that blogging would be a vital part of both the planning and the execution of any sort of long-term project. I needed my students to plan (using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge questioning), execute, assess, and reflect. Kidblog was just the product I needed. It was easy to set up and simple for my students to use on a weekly (if not daily) basis. Before long, I was posting a weekly accountability assignment, and they were responding, including pictures and graphics as well as leaving praise and questions for their fellow classmates. We continued to blog throughout our entire second semester and used Kidblog to publish a final blog post as our overall project reflection. 

Showcasing our passions

After working most of the second semester on our projects – doing extensive research, and utilizing mentor experts – the seniors exhibited their final projects to the school and public. The students showcased foods, woodcrafts, photos, hobbies, presentations, and much more. Former students have commented that they have continued to explore their passions after graduation, either as a hobby, as philanthropic work, or even as an occupation. One student brought his boat (set up in the parking lot, of course) to demonstrate his efforts in eliminating the Asian carp invasion of local lakes and rivers. 

A student’s impact

Emily M. chose to plan a wiffle ball tournament for a student who was diagnosed with cancer as her passion project. She spoke about her experience:

“My greatest strength in planning this project has been being organized and managing my time. Throughout this whole time, I was working part-time, attending track workouts after school, maintaining all A’s, and keeping up with school involvement. Coping with these obstacles are all things that I had to learn quickly and provided me important life lessons!

My project has helped changed TJ’s family in a tremendous way. I was able to help them financially, and demonstrate they had support. I received a lot of feedback from my project. From my social media to the newspaper, to presenting a speech to community leaders, I have been noticed, and my effort has been seen by a wide variety of people.”

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