Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pitch Day 2016

Pitch Day is one of my favorite days of the school year. It is the day when the kiddos pitch their Genius Hour ideas and explain what they hope to accomplish with their project. We hear all kinds of ideas, many of which I had never thought a 13-year-old would be capable of doing. I learned long a go that kids will blow away our expectations when they are given the opportunity to learn what they want. Indeed, we have seen projects that college students would have trouble completing. It all comes down to the students' passions. What is it that motivates them? That passion is what we as teachers must tap into in order to get the most out of our kiddos. Genius Hour does just that.

The presentations overall were pretty good. In the past, the students presented only to a committee of 3-4 adults. This year, because of logistics, the kids pitched to two adults and their classmates. Because students were in the room, it was a bit less formal than in the past. However, that informality did not detract from the ideas that the kids presented. Project ideas ranged from service projects to projects dealing with the arts. Some kids wanted to build and some wanted to code. We have animators, YouTubers and writers. 

Jack, who goes spear fishing every month with his family, wants to design a new propulsion system for a spear gun. He believes that the current system is too difficult and things he can innovate a new way for spear guns to work. Each month when he is fishing with his family, he will test the iterations of his project to see what is working and what needs to be tweaked more. He will post pictures and video to his blog so we can see his progress. 

Halle is an artist, musician and skater. She believes that the price of musical instruments and other items that kids want are way too expensive for the average kid. Her dream is to open a storefront where young artisans can make instruments, create art, make skateboards and other items that they will sell at a low cost to kids. She talked about creating a business plan and raising funds. That is ambitious. Halle may start with an Etsy store while she is working on her bigger dream. 

Destiny had the idea to create jeans that change colors. She will have to learn the science behind that technology and how to work with denim. She may need to learn how to sew. She is fascinated with the idea of customized and personalized clothing and has already talked to Halle about selling her jeans in Halle's store. 

Joaquin is all about shoes. He has lots of shoes and treats them like trophies. His idea is to create a spray that will prevent the shoes from getting dirty without compromising the integrity of the shoe. He knows that there are similar products on the market but no spray is good for all shoes. His will be.

Macy is a musician. She can play music just by hearing it and she plays multiple instruments. She also sings. Her idea is to develop and showcase her talent and create a YouTube channel to document her story. Music is her passion and this project will be a great outlet for her. 

These are a few of the projects that the kids will be doing. In this blog over the next five months, I will be highlighting more of the projects that are in process. As always, kids will be keeping their own blogs to tell the stories of their learning. This promises to be a great crop of Genius Hour projects and I'm excited to see the progress that these kiddos make as the year goes on. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"I Can't Wait!"

Every day, we begin class with a writing prompt. Kids write quietly to the prompt for ten minutes. Often, kids will want to write on another topic. I welcome those decisions. After all, the writing is theirs and as long as they are writing, I'm happy. Last week, one student used the writing prompt time to discuss his Genius Hour project. "I can't wait!" his journal began. "I am so excited to do my project!"

I love when kids are jazzed about doing their work in class. I have talked to them incessantly about owning their work, making decisions in class that personalize the work that they do, and getting more out of the classroom experience because of those decisions. The whole idea behind Genius Hour is to give kids time and space to learn the things that they want to learn, the things that excite them, the things that will make their lives more rewarding. We probably will not have any scientific breakthroughs (though you never know) and we may not have the next Edison or Tesla, but each child has chosen a project that will bring them personal fulfillment along with skills and knowledge along the way.

I have seen the preliminary ideas and I'm very excited for many of them. Some kiddos are going to soar from the get-go. Some kiddos are going to have to tweak their ideas; they just don't know it yet. That is part of the learning process. Many kids have already changed their ideas. When they do, they approach me like they are disappointing me. The conversation that we have is interesting because I tell them that they should never settle on an idea about which they have doubts. Normally they are stunned. These kids are still getting used to the idea that they have the decision-making power for their Genius Hour projects. This power is something that they have to get used to and they will. It is my job to get them comfortable with being in charge of their learning. This evolution occurs every year. In March, kids will tell me, "Yesterday, I changed a part of my project because I ran into a dead end." Right now, however, they don't see themselves with that kind of control. They'll get there sooner or later and I can't wait until they do!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Creating the Pitch Presentations

It is important for kids to learn presentation skills. They don't get nearly enough opportunities to refine those skills in school. Kids are deathly afraid of public speaking as are most adults. In order to get kids more comfortable with presenting their ideas, they must do it often. Pitch Day is the perfect opportunity to work on those skills. Our Genius Hour Pitch Day is on December 13. While it will not be a life and death situation, it is a high stakes event. The very fact that kids will be presenting their own ideas to adults and other students increases the degree of difficulty.

One thing that these kids need is confidence. I am a firm believer that learners who are confident learn more because they are more willing to take risks. These kids are becoming more confident and that is a beautiful thing to see. We have had several class activities during which kids share their ideas with peers so they have already had their ideas validated by other students. Now they have to crystallize their ideas into a 3-5 minute presentation that speaks to the origin of the idea, the plan and the desired result. These kiddos will be ready.

To that end, we spent a block in the computer lab creating our visuals for Pitch Day. Our conversation before beginning was to make sure that the visual was engaging and to limit the words on each slide. After all, we are going to want each student to talk to us, not read slides to us. The art of presentation is to use the visual as a springboard for conversation and not lean on it like a crutch.

The skills that kids will work on while creating and delivering these presentations are many and they are just as important as the curricular skills that we teach them. Proper social interaction, creativity, public speaking, appropriate audience behavior, organization, and showcasing important information are all skills that they will use at some point in their lives outside of school. We have to focus on them as much as we do reading and writing. Our kids will be better for it.