PSBA Bulletin September/October 2021 September/October 2021 - Page 47

bright ideas

bright ideas

Making room for choice leaves lots of room for growth

By Amanda Daniels

When students are given a choice in the topics they study , they often engage at higher levels than when they are presented with traditional teacher-driven lessons and curriculum . That ’ s just what Colonial School District middle school English language arts teacher Joan Warwick discovered when she assigned a Genius Hour project to her eighth graders .

During the summer of 2020 , while researching student engagement , Warwick discovered the concept of Genius Hour and put together a plan for her students . The eighth graders started by selecting a topic they were interested in and either already knew something about or wanted to learn more . Then they each chose a platform such as a blog , vlog , Instagram or podcast to present their topics to the class and researched how their chosen platform operates .
Through working on their Genius Hour projects , students honed a lot of skills including researching , writing , presentation and speaking , as well as working independently . Warwick points out that the students learned experientially rather than from a book . Many had never listened to a podcast or read a blog before . Of the skills students picked up with their Genius Hour project , Warwick calls them “ endless ,” and goes on to add , “ I teach reading and writing as problem-solving , and this was the ultimate problemsolving adventure .”
For her , it was all about getting her students on board by letting them choose their own topics . She notes , “ It was a way to marry my passion for student choice with my new learning about engagement . I also thought it would be a great way for eighth graders to culminate their middle school years .”
Warwick says she now knows her students better than ever . “ For example ,” she notes , “ I had one student for two years , who I thought I knew pretty well , but did not know she dabbles in finance . She created a podcast for teens about investing . She was so thorough , engaging , impressive and proud of the work she had done . Had we not done this [ project ], I would never have learned this about her , nor would she have gotten a chance to create a podcast .”
Through working on their Genius Hour projects , students honed a lot of skills including researching , writing , presentation and speaking , as well as working independently .
Warwick says her students were much more engaged in their Genius Hour projects and their own topics than in the rest of their lessons being taught through traditional instructional methods .
About Genius Hour , Warwick says , “ This is the type of work students will remember .” She recounts a chance encounter with a former student in a local park . “ I ran into a student I taught in sixth grade . The very first thing she said to me is , ‘ You don ’ t remember me ; I wrote a paper about Condoleezza Rice .’ She is in graduate school now and still remembers that paper because she chose the topic instead of me telling her what to write about .” The eighth grade students in Warwick ’ s class this past year just might remember their Genius Hour projects for years to come as well .
Read more about Genius Hour on the website for PSBA ’ s Success Starts Here campaign , a statewide effort to share the positive news about public education with the goal of raising the understanding of its value in Pennsylvania . B
September / October 2021 PSBA Bulletin 45