"We are about to embark on a journey of learning unlike anything you have done before. It's going to be strange at first, but you will find that you have a greater ability to influence HOW you learn, understand WHY we learn and be able to CREATE something incredible by the end...Welcome to Genius Fair"
Who I am Working With?
As I began to think through the possibility of doing a 20time project at my current school, I never considered massive endeavour that it would be guiding 92 students and 10 teachers through this process. As I was to about to "pitch" the idea to the students, thinking about what could be, I realized that for our school this would be different.
Being in an international school there is a level of "we've always done it this way" that we need to push up against. Thankfully, within the middle school there is a principal who understands the importance of innovation. When we had previously talked about doing this project last spring, our idea was to have the entire middle school participate (approx. 270 students). The principal had the mindfulness to have a Beta Test year on the GeniusFair...so let's test it on the 8th graders!
Historically, the 8th grade has had a science focus during the annual middle school academic fair. Ultimately as the Technology Coach I don't have the authority to decide what the students are doing for this project. That had to come from the teachers. I think I sat down with them for 10 minuets before it was decided they wanted to go for a 20time/genius project model, to travel into the unknown.
Henry Ford is quoted saying, "Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently". I really believe that our team of teachers and advisors have this quote as a part of their teaching mantra. They see a burnt out system that needs to be revamped. A failure that has become an opportunity. They are all willing to go through this process for the experience, knowing that the end result is unknown.
The Greatest Question: Why?
One characteristic of truly excellent teachers is a hunger to continue to innovate the opportunity for students to learn. In all honesty, the academic fair was a distraction for the 8th grade in previous years. A majority of the students were only giving "enough" to get a passing grade. It was eating up class time that could have been focused on the curriculum or other processes within the class. Don't get me wrong, I see a great deal of excitement in the parents as they come to see their student's projects and hear the presentations, but the excitement and curiosity in the students has been replaced with a grade focused, minimalistic view. Really, if you think about it, the traditional "academic fair" has been done for a really, really long time. So this was our opportunity to try something new, using the resources and scheduling available to us to our advantage, we are able to embark on this new learning experience.
This school has a unique block schedule that allows students an 45 min advisory period each morning, 4-72 min subject blocks, and a 50 minute music block. There are odd and even days so over the span of two days, students are in 10 different classes (including 2 music classes). Needless to say, a student's (and teacher's) schedule is packed. The one negative aspect of the traditional academic fair was that it was subject specific and was taking up time within a certain subject. Since we didn't want that to continue, we decided to use the advisory period each Monday morning. After looking through the scheduling calendar, there are 26 periods where students will be able to work on their projects... approximately 20% of the advisory time for the school year.
Working with the teachers I was able to come up with a loose schedule of benchmarks that students and teachers will be trying to hit as they are working through their projects. As with any project that you are implementing for the first time, there has to be some fluidity as schedules go. The calendar that we have adopted is not set in stone (and on a Google Sheet for easy quick edits!).
The Pitch to the Students
As all teachers know, no matter how planned and prepared you are for a lesson, there is always the potential that it will flop. In fact, the lessons that teachers feel particularly confident about the student engagement possibility usually becomes the lessons that are the worst. Understanding this, I was confident that the students would be in the same room as me, that was it. My expectations stopped there. As a team we didn't know how the students would respond, what questions might come up, or if there would be a mass rebellion and the students would walk out in protest.
Thankfully, they didn't walk out.
To present #GeniusFair2017 I used a Google Slides presentation. The reason I did this was because of the Q&A chat that is now a part of the presenter view. This allowed for students to ask questions to their teachers who could then post them to the presentation. Feel free to look through the presentation. I created a video bringing pieces together from different passion project ideas. I also took a clip from Josh Kaufman's TED talk on "The first 20 hours-how to learn anything" because we as a team wanted to give the students the simple understanding that they could do anything with the amount of time they were given
There were many questions brought up by students, posted to the google slideshow. Here are some:
Recently I had bought some books via suggestions on Twitter for may daughters. One was What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamata. The book is entirely about what happens when an idea pops into our mind and doesn't leave. There is a part of the story that talks about how the boy wanted to share the idea but he was afraid of what people would think, that they wouldn't like it. When he finally does share the idea, his fears come true, people criticize his idea, and it almost causes him to stop. Until the realization that it is HIS idea and no one else's. That was the point I wanted to relate to the students. These ideas are theirs. Not their teachers, their parents, their best friends, but theirs alone. This thought process is so typical. We can't do an idea if it makes other people feel uncomfortable. We can't do an idea that we are passionate about because it will cause other people not to like us. The fact is, the people who are making the comments are only trying to place their fears and insecurities onto us, which is why we have to push on, because these ideas we have (Check out the whole story below)
Upcoming 20Time Events:
Taylor currently serves as a Coordinator of Innovative Learning for a mid-sized school district in Texas. He is a speaker, writer, and coach for all who are in conflict with the status quo.