Monday, June 01, 2020

Summer passion projects for students

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in June of 2020 and is re-posted here with permission.

Dear Readers, this will be the last concurrent monthly posting of Kathy’s Katch. Perhaps it will be back in another form at some point. I appreciate the support of Discovery Education, the DEN, and the readers of this blog from its inception in September of 2012. #loveyouall

Back in the day, employees of Google could pitch an idea to their supervisor to be able to take advantage of the “20% Time” program. This program allowed engineers and others to spend 20% of their work time on a project they were passionate about. Many of these projects turned into important components of the Google products. I used to love Google Labs, which included prototypes of the ideas being developed. It was so exciting to see some of them “graduate” from Google Labs and become part of the Google product. Others were great tools and it was sad when they did not make it.
One great thing for education came out of the 20% Time projects. Cristin Frodella, who worked in marketing, realized using Google products would be perfect for teaching and learning and she created the Google Teacher Academy during her 20% Time. Many of us attended these useful trainings to become Google Certified Teachers. The program launched in 2006, and I became a GCT in New York in 2008. I was an instructor at the Academy as well as a participant to get my certification.
Here is a photo of the instructors for that 2008 Google Teacher Academy. It was a super team of very smart educators, all of whom you will likely recognize since they are still active in the edtech space!
The Google Teacher Academy had two components. There was this formal training session in NYC, but afterward, each GCT was required to complete two passion projects using the Google toolset and share them in a spreadsheet with all of the other GCTs. My two projects were “Google Goodies: a series of online screencasts for teachers and students for various aspects of Google Apps” and “Google Tips and Tricks: a weekly note to all teachers and students (grades 6-12) with ideas, tips and tricks for using Google Apps”.
I loved working on my projects! I was free to investigate what I wanted to research and create. The only caveats for these projects were they had to use the Google tools and be useful for administrators, educators, and/or students.


Fast forward to today and we know many teachers have adopted this same idea of giving students time during each school week to investigate something they are interested in. This model is usually called “Genius Hour”.  Meshelle Smith has written a great overview of how she implemented a weekly one-hour Genius Hour at the fifth grade level. I feel her model would work at any grade level!
She created a scaffolded model that served to outline the parameters for the goals of the projects without taking away the student choice of the content. For four weeks, the students explored ideas, spent the next three weeks narrowing their topics, and then spent most of the school year researching and creating each week. The last four weeks of the school year was set aside for presenting their projects to the class and to the “real world”. In addition, to keep the students on track, every five weeks they had to submit a “mini-project” about their research to show they were moving towards the goals they had set for themselves.
As with any project-based learning, students needed to keep a journal of their ideas, discoveries, failures, and questions. Meshelle also facilitated collaborative group sessions to allow students to bounce ideas off one another, brainstorm solutions, and help decide how they were going to present their project to the “world”.
I have created a visual overview of Smith’s scaffolding below.


What about extending this idea of “Genius Hour” to summer vacation time for students? Since summer is much shorter than the school year, perhaps students can dedicate 2 hours in a row, per week for 10 weeks, to a passion project of their choice. Or maybe they want to investigate two areas of interest, for 20 hours per project, and call them Snack Projects.
Here are some guidelines for these ideas.


One great site for students to research and learn more about a topic is Discovery Education. With a huge library of assets across the subject areas, students can easily find a topic to research, learn more about, and watch videos. They can create their project using Discovery Education assets or using the notes in their journals, gleaned from their research on the site, to create their project elsewhere. There is more than enough information in the Discovery Education content for both a Snack Project or a Passion Project!
First, I decided to be a 7th grade student who was interested in writing a book of poems for a passion project. I knew I liked listening to poetry when my ELA teacher read it aloud and also when I was assigned poems of different genres to read for class. I was unsure of what type of poetry I wanted to write, so I did a simple search in the ELA subject area of Discovery Education and narrowed the content to grades 6-8.  I found 540 resources to investigate which included videos and video segments, images of famous poets, lesson plan activities I could do, an interactive Haiku Builder, and Studio Boards that teachers all over the world had created to help their students learn more about poetry.
Secondly, I decided to be a 10th grade student who wants to pursue meteorology or fire fighting. I wanted to complete two Snack Projects, investigating each topic. After I conducted a search on “meteorology” in Discovery Education, I got 283 results including videos and video segments, readings in the Science Techbook, instructional images to learn more about weather, and some resources from practicing meteorologists about their career paths.
When I conducted a search on “firefighter”, I was presented with 89 results for the 9-12th grade levels. There were videos and video segments about fighting fires, firefighter equipment, and new firefighting technology. There was also a 26-minute podcast entitled “Stuff You Should Know Podcast: How Wildfires Work”.


The idea of having students working on passion projects over the summer is interesting to think about. With some structure for the time they spend and good online resources for research and information, students can explore their passions to learn more about them and then share their findings with others.
Do you have students working on passion projects in the summer? Do you provide them with some guidance? Do you have them using Discovery Education resources for these projects?