How did we get here?
This process of producing a GeniusFair has been one of growth and realization as we consider the commitment that is involved. Within any middle school, time is so valuable. What we are finding is that this time, these 25, 50 minute blocks are so important to our student's learning. The Bad Idea Factory brought new insight into our student's thought process, especially in relation to creativity. The Pitch showed us our students ability to articulate and present ideas of what they wanted to do. In thinking through the projects that students are working through, there are three categories that I can come up with: The Problem Seekers, The Passionates, and the Laggards.
The Problem Seekers knew the nature of their project the moment we announced that we were doing this for academic fair. The Problem Seekers are the students who have had an experience, understand some unique piece about life that belongs to only them. Though their ideas my not be completely new, to them, they want to figure it out, find the problem and come up with an answer. Some projects that fall under this category is:
-Examination of Color theory
-WW2 in Hong Kong
-Concussions in Soccer
-Law Enforcement- from start to finish.
The Passionate connect more with the artistic side of everything. Erwin McManus wrote, "We are both works of art and artists at work." There is not a more true statement about this group of students. These are the artisans that are exploring their personal passions for no one else but them. We have students learning new languages and instruments. Students experimenting and designing new foods, latte art, video game storylines, and scientific breakdowns of their favorite sports. The passionate students are the ones who are embracing the idea that passion is not given, rather it comes from hard work, determination and a love of learning the subject in front of them.
This group was by far the most CREATIVE group of the three. Yes you read right. I'll admit there were (and are) some projects where the advisors are going to have to really challenge the students beyond their self expectation of this project. The Laggards are the students who spend to much time letting their teachers, parents, and the internet tell them what to do. That being said, they have also set themselves up for great projects. Students that fit into this category may have chosen a subject they know a little about... for example on student is going to "learn the guitar". There is already some prior knowledge so I challenged her to join our school worship team and perform. She was very hesitant to do this because it was "embarrassing". I asked her what was the point of learning guitar if you weren't going to perform? She saw the truth in my question and (with some encouragement) will hopefully have an experience that she had not ever expected.
Though the Laggards are the students most on our radar, their projects have great potential. Some ways that we are working with the students are:
-weekly checkup on their progress, making sure they are working toward small, attainable goals rather than big general goals.
-Take student's pitch and expand it- Rather than simply "creating a board game" challenge the student to create a board game for a specific people group, age, etc. Give their idea some focus based on their own culture, passion and ideas.
How did we get all of the Pitch's done?
The advisory (homeroom) schedule in this school allows for 6 teachers to have groups of 8th graders in the morning. During this time each teacher (along with my help) worked with the students and collected the information from the students. Students filled out a worksheet that helped them determine their project. Teacher's would look at the idea, ask questions and provide feedback on their idea. The information would be collected into a google form for records sake (and help with the division of work groups).
It's easy to say that "no" was not a common answer from teachers. It was our goal to not shut a student completely down. If a student wanted to do spray paint art, we were all for it. If a student wanted to create a "poo gun" (literal idea) we were concerned but encouraged them to roll with it. (Fortunately, this student, when realizing at the end of this process they would have to talk about a "poo gun" in front of grandma and their peers, decided to go to a different direction.
No matter the group of students that we are working with, we want them to be innovative. To decide on a topic and follow through on it. I truly believe allowing these students to choose a passion they want to grow in will greatly impact their ability to learn over this same amount of time with me lecturing.
Now that the pitches are done, advisory groups are going to be formed and the real work begins.
Keep an eye out!
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.