Holman students pursue learning about what interests them
Holman students pursue learning about what interests them
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
While checking in with eighth-graders in her English language arts class, Holman Middle School teacher Jessica Smith encountered a student who changed his mind about what passion project he would pursue in her class. He was worried about how his classmates would react to his original project idea because it involved sharing something personal, something he created. While acknowledging his concerns, Smith encouraged him to stay true to his passions and to be himself.

The check-in was part of a unit Smith and fellow teacher Maegan Bowersox called the Genius Hour Project.

“You get to work on anything you want,” Smith said, describing the unit. “There’s two feelings (students) have - absolutely scared or absolutely excited.”  

Bowersox and Smith developed the Genius Hour Project as a way to personalize learning for their students. The main idea of the project was to give students the opportunity to pursue something that interested them, to learn more about something they were passionate about. Students chose a goal, activity, event, interest or concern; set measurable goals to monitor their progress, along with a method for demonstrating their progress (such as a website, blog, video or podcast); found resources and research on their topic; and created a final presentation and/or product to demonstrate their learning, show how they’ve grown and outline next steps to continue learning.

Students had total control over what they learned, Bowersox said. They planned, managed and paced their own learning with weekly reflection and check-ins with their teachers.

“This project is about you learning something you’re passionate about and who you are as a learner,” Bowersox told her students. Each week during the project, students reflected on what they learned, what challenges they came across and what they accomplished. They shared these updates in a format of their choosing for teacher and peer feedback.

A quick survey of students in both classes exposed a wide range of passions and interests: acting, becoming a rapper, coding, creating a YouTube channel, fashion and the different styles Holman students wear, food and culture, gaming, growing your own fruits and vegetables, the history of athletic shoes, the history of basketball and the origins of soccer and “how it became famous.”

Eighth-grader Kamryn Jones said he wanted to investigate megalodons, an extinct species of shark, because he wanted to “explore all the places no one has been, the deepest parts of the ocean.”
Another student wanted to learn how to be a nail technician. Smith said one way she could demonstrate her learning was by creating “a website and it could be her practicing her nail techniques each week.”
The culmination of the project involved students creating a product to showcase and explain their learning journey. Students presented their product to their class at the end of May. The product was an original, creative piece that explained, demonstrated or showed what the students did, made or learned. Students could choose a physical representation, such as a magazine, essay, poster, infographic or physical product, or a digital presentation, such as a video/movie, Google slides, online diary or vlog or business plan.
Smith said the whole process has been scary and exciting for her as a teacher, too, but in a good way.
“It’s sparking creativity in me, too,” she said.