Tag Archives: Passion Projects

The Power to Choose Nothing

“I have a student who says that he isn’t passionate about anything. I ask him what he’s interested in, and what he does outside of school, but the answer is always the same: nothing. What do I do with a kid like that?”

The above snippet was part of a much larger conversation about Genius Hour that took place during an edcamp event I attended this spring. Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% Time, or whatever label it is given, isn’t a new concept, but it has gained momentum as a way to increase student voice and choice in the classroom.  Once teachers begin to believe in the reasons behind Genius Hour, it isn’t uncommon for their good intentions and belief in the basic principles to be tested by a student like the one referred to in the quote above. When a teacher shares their experience with such a student, they are often wrestling with an assumption that lies just beneath the surface of his or her frustration: students in school must do something; nothing is not an option. As I did during the edcamp session, I respectfully disagree. Just as doing something does not guarantee learning; doing nothing does not mean no learning.

After years of experience with an education that relies heavily on compliance and external motivation, is it any wonder that students are wary when a teacher tries to hand over more control (and responsibility)? Student reactions to Genius Hour vary widely, but even the most hopeful, positive student wonders, “What’s the catch?” It is a certainty that some students will not choose a passion because they don’t understand the concept, don’t know how to make the choice, or are nervous about “doing it wrong.” These students can usually be helped with some coaching/teaching aided by resources such as the Genius Hour livebinder. It is the student who seemingly refuses to choose that truly tests the resolve and philosophy of the teacher who advocates for student choice.

I don’t wish to oversimplify, for people and motivations are complex , but in my experience, most students who refuse to choose are influenced by a combination of two factors: disbelief and disavowal. They don’t completely believe that they can choose whatever they want, and they don’t want the responsibility for directing their own learning. The two factors may be mixed in different proportions, but generally they are both present in any student who persistently deflects any attempts to help them. There isn’t a type, but don’t be surprised if the student who rejects Genius Hour and other forms of student-centred learning is a bright underachiever, someone who doesn’t like to play the compliance games in school.

So, it is time to get back to the question of the frustrated teacher, “What do I do with a kid like that?” My answer is, “Honour his choice.” Show him that you really do give him the respect and authority to choose by allowing him to refuse to participate…and then keep trying to encourage him to participate. Make it your Genius Hour project to get to know him without a hint of compliance pressure. I’ll repeat the hard part: without a hint of compliance pressure. Keep the conversation going; keep the invitation open.

As long as we connect the student’s choices to relevant, natural consequences and keep the lines of communication with the student and her home open, then we have created the environment for learning. Perhaps some of the most important learning the student will experience will come from doing nothing. She will learn that you keep your word. She will learn how to build a relationship with an adult. She will learn that you respect her and that she is the one primarily in charge of her education.

If we truly wish to foster independent learners and believe that compliance is not the way to do it, then we must allow students the power to choose nothing.

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Tracking 50 Passion Projects at Once

As my second full year of Genius Hour passion projects begins, I’m trying something new in order to better track each student’s progress. Last year I learned plenty from my students, including that I need a leaner, more agile tracking system in order to assess, encourage, and praise progress. Google Forms to the rescue!

Instead of clipboards and growing piles of paper charts, I created a simple Google Form that looks like this:PassionForm

The form is short and takes students only a minute or two to complete at the beginning of their Passion Project time (I schedule this period once a week on a Monday or Friday). The form can be distributed to students in several ways: email, url (I’d use a url shortener for this), or a QRcode (I use Qrafter Pro, but there are free apps). Most students simply bookmark the form the first time they use it, but some love scanning the QRcode every time because it makes them feel like they are attending class on the Starship Enterprise. If not all the students in the room have a device or access to a computer, they can complete the form on a friends device or take turns on a classroom computer. I’ve even circulated the room with my iPad so that students could complete the form.

If you don’t know how to make or use a Google Form, it is very simple, and @alicekeeler has a very good Intro to Google Forms that will walk you through the process.

Once students complete the form, the real power of Google Forms is at your fingertips. All the answers are sent to a spreadsheet like this:PassionResponses 

Obviously this one is blank at the moment, but once it is full of data, the spreadsheet is a versatile and handy assessment. If you click on the heading of column A (timestamp) and organize the information in alphabetical order from Z-A, you have a list of what everyone is doing (or supposed to be doing) today (alphabetizing the timestamp Z-A puts the most recent answers at the top and the oldest answers at the bottom). I use this information to connect with each student during passion project time and to help some students manage their time. It is a great way to help students to learn over time how to set reasonable goals and manage time independently.

After several classes have passed, I click on the heading of column B (Name) and organize alphabetically by name. This enables me to look at one student’s progress over time. Are they making progress? Are they accomplishing their weekly goals? Do they seem to recognize their progress (or lack of)? This helps me to identify stragglers and strugglers much earlier than I have previously, and all the information is on one spreadsheet in Google Drive instead of a pile of paper charts in my desk.

If you’re tired of treading water in a sea of paperwork, Google Forms may be the tool for you. It is very versatile and can be used in many situations. Some teachers use it to get to know their students, others to organize events or collect information from parents. Start with a simple form, and I think you’ll quickly see the power and potential of Google Forms.


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