Every year after final presentations, I have the kids write reflections about their learning and their projects. I think that reflection is a key part of learning and I want the kiddos to experience that learning as much as possible. Kids were to reflect on their project experience and also on themselves as learners. When I read the responses, I am always struck by how insightful and honest the kids are about their projects and themselves.
The one word that I read over and over in the reflections was "regret". Many of the kids regretted that they didn't put their best effort into their project experience. If they were to do it over again, they would do more, do better, do differently. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking, "Then why didn't you?" When I reflect on their words, I understand why. This Genius Hour experience is probably the first time in their lives that they participated in a project like this. Genius Hour projects are not teacher-directed projects with a list of "to-dos". In Genius Hour projects, kids have to do it all. They imagine the idea, do all of the preparations to complete the project, and then work on the project to completion. Kids have to do projects like this over and over to practice independent learning and decision-making. They will not be hugely successful the first time out of the box.
Nearly every student said that they wanted another shot at their Genius Hour project. They wanted to do better. They wanted to succeed. I explained to them the concept of "good failure" but so many kids at this age believe that any failure is bad failure. They have not made the paradigm shift yet. It will take constant practice in this type of learning environment in order for their learning to change. Evolving into problem-solving learners is what these kids need in order to thrive in high school, college, and the work force. It is also necessary in order to get the most out of their lives.
Many kids really did get it. They used the semester to discover their talents, how they learn best, and what their interests are. The kiddos got jazzed up about the possibilities of their project and their learning. It was awesome. Their reflections talked about being able to choose according to their interests and talents. They talked about their futures and what they may pursue or accomplish. They talked about next year and what they might do in their own time to further their project ideas. Some even talked about growing their project into a program here at school. These kids understood the idea of Genius Hour early and made the most of it. These kiddos can also serve as models for some of the others who struggled.
It is always a challenge to run a Genius Hour program in class. The struggle to get kids to unlearn and relearn is real. This type of learning is normally different from anything they have ever experienced before in school. We coach, we cheer, we encourage, and we help. We never direct. We never make the project ours by making decisions for the kids. They have to make the decisions; it is their project. We stick with the projects all semester and by the end, kids begin to understand the learning they are undertaking. They start to see that they can make their own decisions and design their own projects. They take command of their learning. That is our goal, and most of the time, whether the project itself succeeds or not, we reach that goal.