Passion projects and Genius Hour are becoming quite popular. I know I have been dabbling with them for several years now. I think on the surface, many teachers are seeing them as ways for students to have fun while learning and to be able to think more creatively. There is a paradigm shift where Genius Hour will eventually just be known as SCHOOL.
The Move to Higher-Level Thinking Skills
Many districts across the United States continue to be focussed on sets of skills followed by testing of these skills. Some places are slowly making the change over to a set of higher-level thinking and interacting sets of skills that ideally would cross over all curricular areas and into life. The big idea is not the acquisition of many skills. Students need the skills to navigate the curriculum in deeper ways using the most essential skills and emphasizing critical thinking and creativity.
This way of thinking about education allows more access for all learners. Rather than having to differentiate curriculum, teachers are able to plan lessons with a universal design for learning (UDL) lens.
As professionals, many teachers spend time observing the students’ work and can see clearly that they know certain skill sets. Maybe it is in their journal writing. Maybe it is in center work or even in discussions with other students or as a whole class. It’s there. Some teachers cannot move forward with certain students due to so much testing rather than gathering many forms of evidence of learning. It does need to look exactly the same for each student (aka the standardized test).
Challenging Students in Their Learning
Moving students on from where they are currently and challenging them laterally increases their learning capacity and also prevents boredom! We all know that boredom in the classroom can cause students to engage in behaviors that can disrupt learning and the learning of others in the classroom. One way to begin to learn about each individual is to ask them what interests them. I created this fun Brain Lift the Flap to make it fun for kids to showcase their “smarts”. You can grab yours here.
In simple terms, the BIG Idea is defined as “what is it that we really want students to learn”? For example, if we teach children about money and counting coins, the ultimate big idea is that students will learn financial literacy. We teach students to read, write, listen and speak. The big idea is that we want students to become effective communicators.
The curriculum is evolving in many places to reflect this “new” way of thinking. In Finland, schools are successful because of many factors. One factor is that they have gone against the evaluation-driven model. The national curriculum is only a set of “broad guidelines” – The BIG ideas.
Finland and British Columbia
Here is a great link from Business Insider on why schools are so successful in Finland.
In British Columbia, the model is quite similar in terms of moving towards big ideas and not over-testing. The new curriculum is being developed incorporating the big ideas and breaking some of them down into subsets. What educational developers are calling CORE COMPETENCIES are being woven into all academic areas in order to promote the development of the Whole Child.
Inquiry learning, genius hour, passion projects, and project-based learning all aim to address these very important qualities of the modern-day learner. Our classrooms are moving towards this mind shift and instead of having an “hour” to do this kind of work, it is slowly becoming the norm in some classrooms. But the process is slow. Change is slow.
Developing Thinking Skills
Thinking skills develop in a safe environment where students are shown that making mistakes is part of learning. Thinking out loud strategies will help students begin to think more critically – especially if they are able to discuss their ideas openly with a partner or small group. Creative thinking is not only in the Arts. Creative thinking can be across all disciplines. Reflective thinking is effective in helping kids and adults process and make decisions based on their experiences and lessons learned. Journal writing has long been a way to be reflective. Classrooms are now using class meetings to help students be reflective. Mindful awareness is also being taught to help students reflect and react appropriately.
As education moves forward with changes to society and technology, our students’ skills need to change, develop and move forward too. When teachers can teach the BIG ideas and spend more time differentiating and facilitating the learning of all students, it is then that learning can occur.
There is no place for over-testing and packing so many skills into one set of curricula where the teacher isn’t able to cover it all effectively and without a great deal of stress. We want students who are critical, reflective, and creative thinkers, socially responsible and aware, who have a sense of cultural identity, and who are effective communicators.
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