It is a wonderful thing to be in the position of being in awe of my students. Last year, I dipped my toe into the Genius Hour concept by having my sixth graders complete a mini-research project on the topic of their choice. They truly enjoyed this process and presenting their findings, so I knew I could push it further this year. After learning everything I could from Joy Kirr, Paul Solarz, and Angela Maiers, I took the plunge on Genius Hour this year—with a twist.
I threw out three questions to my students: What do you want to learn how to do? What do you want to create? or Who do you want to help? and told them they could combine any two. Because of the personal nature of the projects, I chose an alternative name for Genius Hour and they became Passion Projects.
I had greatly underestimated my students’ capacity for wanting to make a difference. Many chose to combine learning a skill with helping others or society. The variety of the projects and their causes was impressive.
Among their many projects are:
- learning to crochet to make hats to donate to premature babies in hospitals
- making and selling cupcakes to raise funds for scoliosis research
- designing and building a vertical planter for urban gardeners
- learning to crochet to make blankets to donate to a women’s shelter
- research recipes and making organic dog treats to sell to raise funds for the Humane Society
- writing and directing a video on how to prevent bullying
- learning how to knit to make baby booties to donate to churches
- researching and building a model of a “green” home with a living roof
- holding a spaghetti dinner to raise funds to make hygiene kits for the homeless
- designing and building locker items to help peers be more organized
- making bracelets to sell to raise funds for a local animal shelter
NOTE: Although I didn’t allow for any monetary transactions at school, I was a bit concerned that several students would need to raise funds from friends and family for an organization close to their hearts. I generally don’t promote the idea of asking families for money, but I hadn’t anticipated that so many would choose to want to do so. I will be soliciting feedback from parents at the end of this project in December and may make adjustments next year that don’t involve money, but for now the parents and I are extremely impressed with their initiative. Many come from privilege and it is touching to see them realize this and want to give back.
My students are beaming with pride when they share their success with me. For example, Ella held a spaghetti dinner that had over 100 attendees and raised almost $2,000! She had estimated she would raise $800 to make the hygiene kits for the homeless and ended up being able to also purchase socks and laundry soap. She was recognized publicly at her church and her peers clapped for her when I shared this at school. She was most excited when she and her fellow congregants were able to distribute the kits. Madison, who has scoliosis and is raising awareness and fund with her project, make $120 with her first batch of cupcakes and is looking forward to her next batch. She is taking what was a life-altering diagnosis and making it into a positive.
The generosity and huge hearts of my eleven-year-old students has blown me away. They are setting a great example, exploring their passions, and feeling a real sense of accomplishment. What more can a teacher ask?
image courtesy of: freedigitalphotos.net