Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Genius Hour- Where Passion and Standards Meet

This work incorporated the following Common Core Standards: 
RI 8.4, RI 8.7, RI 8.10, W8.2, W8.4, W8.6, W8.7, W8.9, SL8.4, SL8.5

Like everything I try in my classroom- I usually try it small-scale to see how it goes and build from there. The goals I had for trying out Genius Hour included a desire for student-led learning, making sure the CCS (Common Core Standards) were being addressed, and doing something for our community- thus the passion project was born.
Student goals included the following:
·         Select and research a local non-profit/charity- they had to find out about the charity and the issue with which the charity is involved. For example- Northern KY Hates Heroin- the non-profit and the issue of Heroin abuse in Kentucky.
·         Create a speech with a visual – The speech had to explain the non-profit and the health/societal issue as well as their service learning plan.
·         Proper citations for a minimum of two sources/1 visual had to be included.
·         Practice presentation skills and the integration of a visual
·         Present the speech
·         Blog about your process and progress.  (We used Kidblog)

My goal was to have classes vote for the service learning project they wanted to do; however, snow days and administrative restrictions made it impossible for us to pursue the projects we wanted to do. What we decided to do instead was to create informational mini-webpages about the issue and non-profit and we used HSTRY to do that. Our goal would be to tweet and share the links to these presentations to share what we learned and to possibly assist these non-profits in getting more support.

I’ll present a pictorial view of our process below as well as some of the student blog posts and HSTRY links to their projects- but I did learn some things along the way myself.

  1.  Start early and get approval for whatever you THINK kids might want to do ( no easy task when my students planned everything from a dance, to a car wash to a penny war). But I’m hoping that if I put in for at least 2 fund-raising events for charitable purposes and leave it open with explanation, it will be approved in advance.
  2.  As noted above, some projects were… well, a bit much. Putting restrictions on what students could or could not propose for their service learning plan probably would have eased some of my stress.

What surprised me? I thought since I was putting parameters around their project- it had to be a local non-profit or charity- that students wouldn’t be motivated, but I was wrong. The passion and work they put in equaled any project we’d done all year and in some cases, surpassed it. I saw students crying during their presentation about Alzheimer’s only to reveal their grandpa had it. I never would’ve known otherwise. Another student- her mother had diabetes and suffered from it terribly- she was so passionate she convinced the whole class, hands down, to support her project plan. Yet another young lady shared within her speech presentation for Northern KY Hates Heroin, how a family member had died from a Heroin overdose- none of us knew.

 Consistently, students would call me over to tell me over and over facts they learned preceded by “I didn’t know that….”  They worked before and after state testing when our school was one of the last in KY to be released. When their project plans were shot down by admin. I thought- Great, now what? There’s no way they’ll want to work on their HSTRY project this late in the game- but, again, I was very wrong. They spent hours in class not just creating but sharing their projects with one another.

In the end, we created our HSTRY timelines to share to the world but we also gathered items for Operation Christmas Child and canned food for our school district’s food pantry. One hundred and thirty  eighth graders were interacting with the world, sharing what they learned, and helping others all at the same time- most importantly, they became much more aware of the issues our state faces and grew closer as a class when they learned that many of their peers had family members who suffered from such issues as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even addiction to drugs/heroin.

Students had to create a project plan before they were permitted to research or begin their speech. 

Below- Student Speech Presentations- just a small sampling of the non-profits students chose to learn about and to share. 

          Below- Some Blog posts ( as students created their speeches and following speech presentations: 

(If you click on the image- it will open to a  larger size) 

Below are some of our HSTRY project Timelines: 

I should note that you will likely have to create an account with HSTRY to view these- it is free to join. However 
below are snapshots from two different student project pages done on HSTRY

You can find the student  project 
plan and my HSTRY rubric HERE. 

What are your students passionate about? Give them set time to explore that passion and you’ll be amazed at what you learn about them. Whether it’s a project that involves something they love or one that involves service learning (or both), Genius Hour/Passion Projects can incorporate the CCS, motivate students and can make learning a collaborative rich experience.