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So What'cha Want?

On Tuesday of this week, I was lucky enough to attend The Elmbrook Educational Foundation Circle of Friends Luncheon. The EEF does great work for our district awarding scholarships to high school graduates as well as innovation grants for learning within our district. At this event, several innovative educational practices were highlighted. One that tapped into something I've been considering was the incorporation of a Genius Hour at one our our elementary school. The poster below explains it better than I ever could have.

It was exciting to see the work that these elementary students were able to accomplish from choosing a topic all the way to presenting their learning. The students were able to communicate eloquently about the process of learning. The idea that it is not always linear and that it can lead to bigger questions and new understandings.

Sometimes I feel like when I teach a topic, the students are learning it because they have to and may not be seeing the connection to its importance.  I love those days when I am able to make the learning exciting and meaningful by bridging that gap to their personal interests or spark a curiosity.  So, would they be engaged in learning if I gave them the chance to choose a topic that is meaningful to them?

Our AP exam for Physics 2 was yesterday.  So, today I introduced our Personal Learning Project to one of my classes.  Now some may call this Genius Hour, but since we’re working on a different timeline, I’m doing some rebranding.  But, I’m relying heavily on the work of Gallit Zvi and Denise Krebs as it appears at The Genius Hour Guidebook. You can hear Gallit speak to the process in great detail on the I am me podcast.

Since today was day one, we had to start with why we are changing things up and what are learners being asked to do.  After 12 weeks of my dictating content that had to be learned, it was time for a transfer of some power.  I have been looking to make the purpose of this education meaningful for students.  So what is meaningful to them.  What would they choose to learn about?

I wanted them to be given a wide range of ideas from which to choose their topics.  This is not just physics.  This is not just science.  I want students to not be limited to content knowledge.  If interested, I wanted them to be able to focus on a skill they struggle with.  Having just read up on growth mindsets, I wanted to make this be possible route.

Before, I let them think about what they would like to do, I tried to frame the different areas of focus.

To be honest I had no clue how to guide students through this process. So I went back to the guidebook  The focus of day 1 was brainstorming. I took a brainstorming tool from The Genius Hour Guidebook and made some slight additions. Students were released to complete the following brainstorming form.

Students were to focus their thoughts into 3 potential learning ideas.  After this, they were to use help from their peers or me to start deciding which one goal they would choose as their focus.  

One of the keys to the process will be having deliverables and making students accountable for them. So today’s deliverables were the brainstorming sheet and 3 potential areas of interest.  Tomorrow, we will narrow the focus and come up with a quality driving question.  
After my initial presentation, we took some time to go over some questions I had them submit via a Google Doc.  Here are some of them:

How much guidance will we have?
Can we make a PowerPoint to present our findings?
What other constraints are there?
What if I get bored of my idea or can't figure out what I want to do.
Are we graded on the amount of learning? (How will this be graded?)
If my topic is the act, how to I display my results?
I don't have any at the moment, but I can guarantee some will come up as I progress in the project
How should we research our topics?
Can it involve me building something if it practices physics skills, such as a physics engine?
When is the project(?) due? Is that like a final project? or we are going to do more?
What resources can we use
What about sports and improvement in those aspects? Or maybe Sports Science?
What are some examples of things that we could use as our end result product?
Can we work on this outside of the given class days? Or is it supposed to minimize stress outside of school?
Can the project be about anything?
What are some things that we could do to learn about different topics.

So what type of ideas did students generate today?

So how did students feel about being asked? Here are the responses I got from my class. Several of them responded that they "didn't know, yet."

I don't know yet
I'm not sure how this relates to physics but I appreciate the opportunity to better ourselves and/or create a research project.
I really like it and think that it's a great idea. I really feel like I can improve in important areas
This is a really interesting opportunity and I think it will actually help us find something we may be passionate about
Great way to experience something new
Worried that I don't really have anything I'm passionate about
Little nervous but exciting
I love the idea of learning something new that we feel we need to learn.
I think it's very unique and a great opportunity to learn and do something that you are actually interested in
I like how we can hear our own project towards our personal interests. We can choose a topic that will really benefit us and will actually I interest us
I am really excited, and there are a lot of really cool things I want to do, but I have to keep it realistic.
No idea whats going on.
Good idea
It's pretty cool
I'm extremely excited to start
I like it, it's pretty great
This sounds like a fun and open project.
I am excited about it.


The next step in the process will be deciding on a single topic, posing a question, and starting to find resources.

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