REAL Passion Projects

Remember when your 6th grade teacher made you do that assignment on that one video game called Plants vs. Zombies? Wasn’t it just terrible? You had to spend time researching about the game design and character inspirations. Then you had to compile the information you uncovered into a presentation of your choice, complete with video game character pictures and descriptions, so you could talk to other people about it. What a bore…said no student ever!

Yesterday we had our first Passion Project presentation of the year, and I learned all about every character in the Plants vs. Zombies video game from a 6th grade student who has been in the ARCTIC Zone for about two weeks. It was actually the first REAL Passion Project presentation for the ARCTIC Zone as a whole. The past two years, we have been completing projects called Passion Projects, but after a bit of reflection this summer, we agreed some changes needed to be made. How can we use the word passion in the title if we are controlling the what, why, and how of the project?

We are still doing teacher-directed projects where we set specific boundaries and expectations along the way. These take place over the course of a quarter, hence their new name – Quarter Projects. In fact, our students are well on their way with their first Quarter Projects now, designing a game that depicts a struggle being faced by our nation at this time. The launch for this project will be on our community game night at the end of the quarter where the games will be tested out and played by a live audience.

Aside from the teacher-directed Quarter Project, students are each working on their very own Passion Project – redesigned this year to provide students true autonomy in how they choose to explore a real passion of theirs. So… they choose the topic, what they want to do, how they’re going to do it, and by when they will complete it. It might take a week, or it could take the year. Currently, one group is designing and creating an actual video game – don’t ask me how, but they’re figuring out the coding and establishing characters, movements, and a storyline. One student is creating his own YouTube channel to offer lessons, tips, and critiques to help others become better golfers. Two students have teamed up to research struggles facing teens in today’s society and plan to offer helpful resources to those in need through videos and other forms of communication. One student is well on her way in designing and building a skate park for her mini tech deck skateboard thing (don’t ask me!) – to scale!

Many might worry that providing such freedom could be dangerous – that it’s wasting precious curriculum time or it’s not rigorous enough. I would argue the opposite. Our students are highly motivated and excited to explore areas of interest to them. They challenge themselves in ways they do not even realize, all the while practicing and enhancing critical soft skills like time management, prioritization, organization, collaboration, and creativity. We should all make time for a passion project in our own lives.


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