Dear Students and Parents of 8th Grade Kipling History Class,
I hope you are as eager for some warm temperatures as I am. I wanted to write to introduce one of the unusual projects we’ll be doing this trimester in History class.
In 2012, I began giving my students a unique learning experience called Genius Hour. This is a major project-based-learning assignment that spans the entire trimester and encourages students to pursue a creative interest.
Before I get into the details of the project, I want to explain why I am so excited to have students participate in this activity. For over 20 years a trend in education has been gaining momentum that suggests the role of the teacher ought to shift away from an industrial model where the teacher stands in the front of the classroom to dispense knowledge through lectures, and the students sit to consume the information. Rather than being the “sage on the stage” teachers increasingly ought to play the role of the “guide on the side.” In this role, the students play a much more active role in how the content and knowledge is acquired. In this model, teachers provide resources, ask questions, and suggest projects for students to explore their content. There have been times I have played the “sage on the stage” role this year in History class, but the Genius Hour project is one place where I will be the “guide on the side.” Put simply, this is a student-centered project rather than a teacher-centered project.
Another crucial element in designing this project is the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About what Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. I can’t recommend this book enough. You can get a taste of it by watching this video in which he argues for providing employees more autonomy in business. The book explains why the same principles apply to education.
How does Genius Hour Project Work?
At the beginning of the project, students will begin brainstorming ideas for a project proposal. This will be a project where I insist students work alone. While brainstorming, I will encourage students to focus on something they are passionate about and want to learn more about. They will be challenged to “Make an Impact” with what you decide to research. Brainstorming is time where anything goes. I will share various stories, ideas and motivational possibilities students can use as they formulate their own project proposal.
Once the student has an idea of what project they want to pursue, they begin writing the proposal. This is how they will “pitch” the project to me and the rest of the class. In this proposal, students will answer the following questions.
- What is your topic and project?
- Who is the audience for this project?
- Why is this project worthwhile?
- What do you expect to learn from this project?
- What IMPACT will you have to show at the end of the year?
Each week every student is required to write a blog post where they discuss their progress. They write about what happened over the past week, what they learned, what challenges they faced, and what they anticipate in the future.
The most powerful thing about personalized learning and raising the bar of motivation is an audience. I would like to see each student utilize an adult audience who can help guide and inspire them along the way. I hope parents will play a role in offering advice, provide informal leadership, and follow the progress blogs. As we go along, I will be asking parents to help share insight and responses to students’ posts about their projects. This is the most powerful part of the entire process, an authentic audience. Believe me, it is much better than an audience of one, their teacher!
Genius Hour Days
Students will have one day a week for Genius Hour to work on their projects. If students need to be off-campus to work on their projects, they are welcome to do that on weekends or afternoons and use the scheduled class time as a productive period, meeting period, or writing period.
The Final Presentation
At the end of the year, each student will give a five-minute presentation to students, teachers, and community members where they will show off their work and the impact they have made. This will be carefully written, choreographed, and rehearsed to produce the best presentation they’ve ever given. These TED-style presentations will be delivered and recorded in the classroom. What is a TED talk? Check out a great talk on Making a Difference Now, Don’t Wait. You can also check out information from last year’s presentations at Kip History – Genius Hour.
How is the Genius Hour project going to be graded? Extrinsic motivators like grades tend to discourage the innovation and creativity I’m looking for in this project. Still curious? Revisit Daniel Pink’s Drive for more on this. I want them to be inspired by the project itself, not by the grade they’re going to get on it.
With that said, the parts of the project they will be required to complete are as follows:
- The Proposal (Is the proposal on-time, and does it address the research question appropriately?)
- The Blog (Do the posts meet the required length, address the required topic, and is it submitted on-time?)
- The Impact (Did you successfully move from idea phase to impact phase, and do you have something to show at the end of the year?)
- Productivity (Are you spending your 20% time by actively and passionately working on your project? If not, we need to quickly adjust the project so you are working on something that is intrinsically motivating. This is less objective, but if I see students not being productive, I will intervene.)
- Final Presentation (Does your presentation meet all of the required elements?)
What if my project is a failure?
In this class there is a place for perfection. Specific dates and factual information for historical events come to mind. The Genius Hour Project is no such place.
The world’s best entrepreneurs embrace failure. There is even a conference on the topic of failure where people can, from the conference motto… “Embrace Your Mistakes. Build Your Success.”
The only truly failed project is the one that doesn’t get done. I want students to strive to make an impact on someone by the end of the year, but I don’t want the quest for perfection to lead to an incomplete project. I want students to follow other famous failures in history and see failure as an opportunity and not an end. You can help with this at home. It is a mindset that, just like other things that need to be mastered, takes practice. Let your children hear that you are behind them and you are excited to see what they accomplish.
For creative projects like Genius Hour we are trying to innovate, failure and roadblocks will happen, what we do to respond to them is how success is to arrive at the end of the road. This Genius Hour project gives students a chance to learn from roadblocks. If you feel that your project is a failure, I want to hear about it. What did you learn about it? Watch Kathryn Schultz’s TED Talk: “On Being Wrong.”
Don’t strive for failure, but don’t be afraid of it either!
I am very excited about all of the different things we’re going to be doing in class, including continuing to analyze history from a different perspective. But I can’t wait to be amazed, surprised, and inspired by the innovative projects students will produce in the Genius Hour Project. If you have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or better yet, leave a comment below.
Mr Eric Kipling