This week I have watched the ACEC conference twitter stream from the sideline with more interest than any other with several students from my school attending as part of a Digital Leaders group. A great opportunity to listen to presentations, tweet thoughts and questions and interact with teachers and keynotes.
They have done a brilliant job of pushing ideas and reflecting genuine student voice and have also been excited by the various learning opportunities showcased at the event.
20%PROJECTS: Donating 20% of your time to solving a problem relevant to you. Can turn into something big; next best thing #ACEC2014
— ACECDigitalLeaders (@ACECDLs) October 3, 2014
After hearing about this idea over 2 years ago, I developed Passion Project time in my own teaching and had our faculty run the projects with students over a term. This year as part of a different team we have implemented this concept into a “Big Idea” project with our entire year 8 cohort.
The concept remains the same, students can work independently or in groups on a project of their choice. There are expectations to develop a proposal and present/share findings or experiences upon completion.
Whilst I treasure and value these opportunities for students, I also wonder: how long can we keep adding this into our week as an extra though? How can we justify to students that this learning is different to their classroom learning? How much does that devalue what they are doing in each subject?
“Ok in this ‘special’ time you can learn about things that interest you and are meaningful to you, in any way you like, but the rest of the time, it’s just stuff you have to do!”
My argument here is not that we ditch these projects. I found it was a great stepping stone in my own experiences of supporting students to complete very different projects but on a similar time frame. I have learnt a great deal in this time including how to scaffold and lead discoveries and push students to ask and develop their own questions.
I am suggesting that instead of keeping these projects or times separate from our everyday school experiences, it should just be part of our everyday learning in classes. Why can’t kids be involved in ‘real’ and meaningful learning experiences in all their subjects?
Instead of adding another subject/lesson into the timetable, shouldn’t we be looking at what is already happening in classes and working on how we can make that more meaningful?
Shouldn’t this kind of learning be more like 80% not 20%?
When I introduced the concept of Passion Projects to our team, I described it as an opportunity for our students to learn and explore ANYTHING they wanted. This may have been a little intimidating, as I was immediately fielding questions of how we could possibly support our students to learn completely different concepts and showcase them in completely different ways. Most of our students need significant support to complete anything out of routine (we work with students with a range of physical and intellectual disabilities) so these questions were fair and justified.
Fortunately I work with extremely passionate staff, but most fortunately they are willing to hear me out and give things a go.
One of the plans we set in place was to group our students with an adult mentor based on the category of their interest. This was very successful and meant we could support our students on their passion of choice and they could learn from each other as they worked to problem solve and manage their projects.
Reflecting on this process has me wondering why we wouldn’t facilitate the same opportunities for staff.
What if at the beginning of the year, we;
1. asked “what is it that you want to learn?”
2. grouped people into PLCs regardless of their experience/faculty/position but based on their learning interest and
3. allowed them time to support each other and direct their own learning
I wonder then if the word “Professional Development” would continue to be a dirty word?