Sunday, April 3, 2016

Focus on Kids

My last couple blogs have been focused on my learning and struggles to improve my transparency and become connected.  This week, I'd like to shift back to kids (way more my comfort zone!) and update my genius hour project progress.

The project:
I am very proud and excited about this project.  I am teaching this course (Science Fiction elective) for the first time, and I completely reworked the curriculum this summer.  My project is two-fold.  After reading a few shorter selections of sci-fi, I had student choose an area of interest (passion) to research.  The only parameter is that it had to relate to sci-fi, but that really means anything since sci-fi has such broad applications and appeal.  After the research and presentations, students are going to write their own sci-fi short stories.  They can use their research in their stories or they can draw on the "experts" in the room to help with the “science” in their stories.

I had several checkpoints with students during the research process:  topic proposal, rough draft outline, 1-1 conferencing in the lab, and small group coaching on public speaking and visual aids.  I have had many moments of being very nervous about what will (or more will not) happen, but at each juncture, the students surprised me.  Their topics were diverse and interesting, and they were invested in the work.

I confess I wasn't sure on the "genius/passion" part of the project initially.  I felt maybe the kids had just picked topics just to pick them.  But, during the small group public speaking coaching sessions, I actually saw the "passion" moments happen.  Several students were clearly nervous and unprepared, but when I started to ask them about their slides and project, they would hit on subject and just begin talking, deeply, smoothly, passionately about their subjects.   They forgot they were "presenting" and just spoke from the heart. It was tangible and amazing.  It confirmed my commitment to this project.

One additional twist I threw at the students was that I planned to live-stream their presentations.  This set off a flurry of panic and apprehension, much more than I had anticipated.  It offered a great opportunity to talk frankly with the kids about how most of them were not really motivated by what their teachers thought, but if they had a real audience, they cared more.  They didn't like it, but they agreed.

Once presentations started, again (as always) the kids amazed me.  I had worried my time limit (10-15 minutes) was too long, yet almost every student made time easily.  I have shared the links with parents, and I know a few created accounts and watched their child’s performance.

Concerns & Adjustments:
I had a plan to use a spreadsheet to track sources and daily work progress that I did not follow through on implementing.  I think this (in some form) would be a good addition, and I will look to add this next time.  I also had initially planned that students would turn in a formal outline of their presentation; I also let this go by the wayside.  I worried the kids had too much on their plates; however, after seeing their presentations, I think this would have helped a few of the weaker presentations become stronger.

I admit the pressure and expectation that I felt when I posted the upcoming live stream events and saw that event get retweeted out was extremely scary.  Yet, it all went smoothly, and I believe it to be a successful learning moment for myself and my students.

As with any new project, I made a list of “Do” and “Don’t” for next time.  In fact, I have passed the course on to be taught by a colleague this quarter, and I have shared my perspectives with her.  She will put her twist on them, and this strength in sharing will ultimately make the project even better.  


  1. I REALLY like how you have made your students Passion visible in this post and the strategies you used (asking questions about their ideas/slides) that made it come out. I would be interested in your Do/Don't list!

  2. As I get further into planning the Grand Challenge class, I will be picking your brain a lot more. Despite my passion for passion-based learning, I really have minimal experience leading it as a math teacher!