Passion Projects (also know as Genius Hour or 20% Time) is a concept where students (or employees at a company) are given a sizeable chunk of their time to explore ideas and learn about things that interest them. Many tech companies do this and some amazing innovations have come out of this. Schools have also been doing this a lot lately, allowing students more choice in what they learn (which, if you haven't figured out by now, is one of main themes driving the transformation of my teaching practice). Most are underpinned by three main rules, or ideas: 1) Everything must be driven by a question or questions, 2) Research must be involved and 3) Results must be shared.
Last year, after seeing a lot of people discuss and share how Genius Hour worked in their classroom while at ISTE, I decided that I would try this with my year 2 students. I took a lot of the advice from the teachers that I heard and found a lot of resources. We made an attempt. My students came up with some topics that they wanted to learn about and then they chose groups to be in. We thought about what we already knew about those things and then tried to find out new things. But the enthusiasm died out. The children didn't seem to get anywhere and due to lots of other things going on, the projects were all forgotten and abandoned. I didn't give up, but at the time, I was unsure of how to move forward.
At the GAFE summit in Auckland this year, one of the first presentations was about Genius Hour, or 20% Time. Seeing as I had tried this before I thought I should go along. I'm glad I did. It helped me see some of the mistakes I made in my first iteration: not properly setting up driving questions, overly planning things, allowing students to be less accountable/responsible for their learning. So I made some changes before I tried it the second time.
This time around, we discussed questions a lot more in depth. We didn't start with a topic, but rather, I had students ask lots and lots of questions. We worked on phrasing these as open ended questions. I also stole may ideas from Simon Ashby's presentation at GAFE: having children display their questions in class, on their blog, etc, having students fill out a slide to keep track of their weekly progress and the aforementioned time spent on what he called ideation. I have also been trying to not give templates or much direction to students beyond telling them they need to record what they do and keep track of what they learn. A further addition from the presentation was that a fourth thing was needed for all of the projects: A purpose. So why are the students wanting to answer this question.
So far, I have had a lot of success with the initial stages for my students. They have spent a good amount of time making questions that are big and that need to be researched. Here are some of their driving questions:
There is already quite a lot of buy in and the students all seem genuinely excited. I've had some interesting conversations with some students and it has actually led to real-world applications of things they need to learn (for example, one group wants to test which car shape is the best and that has led to a discussion of what a fair test is, and no doubt, we will be discussing whether or not their test was fair as they progress). So I'm quite pleased. This has also opened up the door for some other types of learning (for example, some students will be contacting some experts and I will work with them on their letter writing skills).
I'm obviously not the only one advocating for student choice. I've done some very quick digging and found some other articles online that discuss the benefits and give some advice. There are many more and I'll share them as I share how this process goes. Try these for starters, but if you know any others, please share).