As we begin the final quarter of the 2017-18 school year (I know, it’s hard to believe), I find myself reflecting on the past ten weeks of school. It was a tough quarter for the kids. Perhaps it was the time of year, the weather, or the false-security of “having been through it all before” that threw them off during third quarter, or maybe it was the mandatory independent passion projects. At any rate, it was not our best quarter in terms of meeting deadlines and reaching goals.
I was feeling somewhat deflated. Success requires setbacks. Development requires disappointment. I know that, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear a student, through her tears, express to you how disappointed she is in herself. I needed the reset button Monday morning, to start a new quarter, as badly as my students did.
I needed something fresh, something different. I decided to go back to the basics. As they wandered into Humanities on Monday, I presented my students with a 100-minute passion project, identical in every way to their quarterly passion projects, crammed into two class periods. After choosing a topic of interest to them, they dove into the LAUNCH cycle phases, asking questions, conducting research, and navigating their ideas to create a final product and presentation that would be ready to launch to the class the next day.
I had no idea how it would turn out. I knew it had the potential to be great, but I also knew it could be a total disaster, only broadening their aversion to passion projects after such an unsuccessful experience last quarter. I felt an energy in the room that had been missing for some time. Their natural curiosities took over, and the flow of creativity was astounding. I was amazed as I watched them get to work.
I ask you now, what would you do? If you were give 100 minutes to ask questions about a topic of interest to you, explore those questions, and create a product and presentation that displayed what you learned, what would you create in that amount of time? Perhaps I’m way off, but I imagine a lot of PowerPoint presentations and notecard speeches outlining the details of your research would be common responses.
Here are just a few examples of what my students created …
- One group explored the topic of music and wrote a song to express what they learned.
- A group interested in theater wrote a skit to depict its earliest existence and its lasting impact on the world.
- Another group wanted to learn to bake an apple pie from scratch, so they plan to lead the class in a how-to demonstration, but NOT without presenting them with a freshly-baked apple pie they plan to bake together at one of their houses!
- One boy, who chose to explore the effects of cultural differences on worldwide holidays and traditions, created a card game for the class to play.
- A group with questions about the existence of stars used a cardboard box to create a “space helmet” for others to wear and see the locations of various constellations.
Numerous times throughout the 100 minutes, and in every single one of my classes, I had students ask me if they could continue to work on their projects or practice their presentations at home that night. THIS is was “homework” should be! You mean to tell me you are SO excited about what you’re doing in school right now that you want to put in some extra time at home? Oh, you don’t feel quite ready for your presentation tomorrow, so you want to put in some practice time at home to make sure you’re feeling fully prepared? By all means – give yourself some “homework!”
To top it off, as I write this post from a coffee shop booth on my surprise day off due to inclement weather, I just replied to my fourth student email asking if they will still be able to present that projects tomorrow, despite losing today. On their snow day, they’re wondering about their Humanities presentations! There is power and beauty in allowing students to use intrinsic ambition to guide their learning. Sometimes, you just need to go back to the basics.