Friday, May 5, 2017

Passion Projects 2017 - Reflection #3

We are now on week 6 of Passion Projects in my class, and I wanted to take this opportunity to write about the experience of students who are have some struggles with the freedom this project affords them.

Our routine is to work on Passion Projects each Friday (if there is no school on a Friday, we work on Thursday instead) This regularity of scheduling allows students to plan for what they need to bring into school, work on things at home over the course of the week and report in their journals on Fridays, and predict when they will need to have tasks accomplished.

On Thursdays, I ask students to fill out a brief check-in page in order to let me know how things have been progressing with their projects, and to remind them that they need to bring all required materials the next day. As part of that check-in page, I ask students to mark on a line how they are feeling about their project - the responses can range from "Awesome" to "Meh" to "HELP!"

Weekly Check-In Page

This check-in page has been a great help in identifying students that are treading water rather than making significant progress. I go through them and schedule conferences with any students who are hovering in the "Meh" range (or who have indicated that they need HELP! - although nobody has felt that desperate yet...)

The "no unfortunately" was a red flag for sure!

This student changed ideas after the first week, and hasn't
seemed all that passionate about his new idea

This student turned things around without much prompting from me

At this point in the project, some students are recognizing that they have chosen tasks that they are not feeling passionate about any more. What seemed like a good idea at the time (using a new crocheting set, for example) has lost some of its lustre. The check-in page gives me a heads-up that someone needs to have a quick conversation and might need a nudge to get going in a different direction if they have lost their passion for their initial idea.

Out of 25 students, only 2 have found themselves in this situation so far (the third person was just feeling a bit overwhelmed and was able to get back on track with little difficulty). The vast majority of my students are engaged and excited on Passion Project work days, and work independently for the entire hour. The two exceptions are students who might have needed to reflect a little more on what really makes them excited before settling on their project idea.

I am still learning Spanish as my Passion Project alongside my students. If you want to take a peek, here are the links :

Week 1 - Why I Want to Learn Spanish
Week 2 - Progress So Far
Week 3 - Plateau

Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions (or if you are also doing Passion Projects with a group of students!)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Passion Projects 2017 - Reflection #2

This week's major assignment in the world of Passion Projects was creating a 60-Second Pitch. Students presented their pitches to the class, and their peers had an opportunity to ask them questions and to assess whether or not they think that each individual is on the right track to begin their Passion Project.

In order for a student to get the "green light" for their project, at least 75% of the class has to give them their approval. I used ZipGrade and bubble sheets that were numbered 1-25 (each student was assigned a number in alphabetical order) At the end of each 60-second pitch, students either coloured in the Yes bubble or the No bubble for the corresponding number, depending on whether or not they thought the project was thought through enough. This app made it very easy to determine how many people had voted to approve each project - doing it all by hand would have been painful!

I chose to "yellow light" student #2 as I also had
some questions about his project. A short conference later
and his idea was clearer and ready for the green light.

This worked really well, and most students were given the green light by their peers. A couple of students got the yellow light (between 50% and 75% of peers voted to approve their project), and nobody received a red light (which would have been less than half of the class voting to approve) I was worried that students would simply green-light everyone, but that turned out not to be the case. I was able to have short conferences with those students who received the yellow light, and helped them to clarify their ideas a little more.

So far, I have seen huge amounts of motivation during this project. Students are conducting independent research, helping each other by asking good questions, arranging conferences with me as needed, spending time on the project outside of school time... All in all, a very successful start.

I do anticipate that some students will eventually hit a wall in their project, and I am hopeful that it will be a learning opportunity for them. If they can learn how to deal with failure, how to persevere, how to be flexible in thinking and planning then I will consider the project to be a success overall.

I am doing a Passion Project alongside my students. You can find my Learning Spanish blog below :

Week 1 - Why I Want to Learn Spanish
Week 2 - Progress So Far
Week 3 - Plateau

Friday, March 24, 2017

Passion Projects 2017 - Reflection #1

This year, I have decided to introduce my grade 8 students to Passion Projects. I have been wanting to do this for a while, but I wasn't sure I was "ready". And then I realized that doing Passion Projects could be my own learning experience. It doesn't need to be perfect, or ready, or complete. I just have to dive in and get started. This is terrifying, but necessary!

Over the past month, I have spent time putting together a website for my students, reading blogs by other teachers, and gearing up to begin this endeavour. I chose to get going just after March Break, so that there would be a clear starting point.

One of the things that is most important to me in doing Passion Projects with my students is to really give them an opportunity to explore what they are passionate about. So often, students are told exactly what to do, exactly how to do it, and exactly what they should take away from the experience. In preparing students for the future, I think it is so important for them to learn to navigate new experiences, tap into their interests, and deal with obstacles on their own (with support as they deem necessary)

The idea of "failing" is so engrained in our students these days that, many times, they are afraid to even try. I hope that this project will allow them to see that they can try something, modify it, retry, re-modify and eventually get something out of the experience. I also hope that students will come away from this project feeling that their passions and interests are just as valid (if not more so) than what is taught in a traditional classroom.

So far, my students have been working on choosing the topic for their Passion Project. Some of them had ideas right away, while others are having a difficult time thinking of something they want to explore. I think that students are so often told what to do, they aren't sure if their ideas are valid. I'm hopeful that they will come to class next Friday (our official "Passion Project Work Period" each week) with an idea that they are passionate about. I want to avoid choosing ideas for my students, or steering them too much - this should be an opportunity for them to open themselves up to new learning experiences.

Along the way, I plan to complete a Passion Project with my students. I don't want to ask them to take on anything that I don't value myself. I have decided to learn Spanish as my primary Passion Project this year. I will also be blogging about the experience of integrating Passion Projects into my classroom, and updating/creating materials as I go - I'm calling this my "mini" Passion Project.

I have obtained a lot of resources from various sources, and plan to share what I create as well.
Notable sources include :

If you are/have been integrating this kind of learning experience into your teaching, I'd love to connect with you! Drop me a comment below!