Most middle school students have interests outside of the regular classroom that they either already know a lot about or would like to learn more about. This was the starting point for the Genius Hour project for the eighth graders in Mrs. Warwick's English Language Arts class at Colonial Middle School (CMS).
"It's about becoming a genius in something or, if you're already a genius, teaching what you already know," said CMS Eighth Grader Marcus Laffredo, who was working on a blog that documents his experience of learning how to cook.
Encouraging student choice
The students chose their topic based on their own passions and interests. Eighth grader Mackenzie Smith was learning sign language to speak with her cousins and her grandmother in Florida. She's intrigued by the different letters and explained that the hardest part was discovering how people use a different sentence structure when signing. For example, "what is your name" is signed as "your name what."
"It's something that you want to learn, so you're actually connected to it and have a reason to do it," said Mackenzie. "If it's something that the teacher or school provides, you're not really interested in it as much. You're kind of forced to learn about it."
For Aidan Loftus, the Genius Hour project meant researching and sharing what he knows about fishing.
"I'm looking into new techniques, ways to get better, the ideal weather, good lures, lures for certain applications (like different lures work better in ponds than rivers)," he said. "For trout fishing, I'm trying to figure out how trout eat. They don't move that much, and they sit really deep in the water, so I want to look for a structure that's down deep and cast in there."
Developing a social media presence
However, the Genius Hour project isn't simply a research project. The students are also developing the skills to be a social media "influencer." For class, the students will share their work as a Google slideshow, but the eighth graders are preparing the components they would need to create a vlog, blog, podcast or Instagram account based on their chosen topic.
"It's a pretty robust project, if you see the requirements. There's a lot that they have to do," said Mrs. Warwick. "Each piece requires some research, some writing, some art, and some skill, like making the videos. I really wanted to give the kids the opportunity to be creative."
For example, if the student wanted to share the information as a blog, they needed to create four posts: one multimedia post and three 300-500 word posts, as well as an "about" page. For a vlog, they needed to prepare a trailer and cover art for their channel, create a profile pic or logo, write a channel description, and edit three four-to-eight-minute videos.
"Kids really know a lot of stuff outside of school." added Mrs. Warwick. "Now they have the opportunity to show off something that they love and get a feel for how they can share their knowledge as a lifelong learner."