Chapter 8: Empowerment
# One of the ways Solarz turns this talk into action is by providing time for students to work on their own passion projects. Similar to 20% time projects, this is a window of time saved for students to work on an individual interest that might not be explored in school. While teachers obviously still keep their students accountable, and some form of final creation is expected, students get to follow their bliss and research a topic they are curious about. This has the benefits of increasing student interest in school, giving real-life situations and applications to research skills, all while empowering students to take charge of their own education.
It sounds amazing, yet Passion Projects are also a tall-order. I have difficulty seeing how this project could fit into my teaching task. As many English schools in Montreal are bilingual, elementary teachers here often have an English or French counterpart. I teach in French to my grade 1 while my partner has the grade 2's in English. We alternate every day, and split our Fridays. Which brings me to my next obstacle- my students are young. and I wonder how worthwhile tackling this big project is. By that, I mean that I wonder if it's worth the effort, when many of students are still learning some of the basics (writing sentences from left to right, for example). They are also learning a second-language (sometimes this is a third or fourth language for some kids).
All this to say, I think I better head back to Chapter 1 and give myself a pep-talk. I am starting to sound like a naysayer, and that's not me! That is not what I want to put out to the world, and I don't want to be that type of teacher!
While jumping into passion projects at the return of winter break would be too demanding and stressful, I've committed to another project that will allow me to get my feet wet. As I have the pleasure of working at an IB school, I will have the joy of witnessing the grade 6 exhibition this year. Exhibition is the presentation part of what is essentially a Passion Project. Small groups of students work on an area of interest for a few weeks, connecting their research to cross-curricular themes. Like in Solarz's examples, students begin with a central idea that they have generated.
So where's my commitment?
Every group is assigned a (volunteer) mentor to meet with once a week. Some are teachers, others are members of the community that have a link to the group's central idea. I've signed up as a mentor to a wonderful group of smart girls, and I'll get to assist and guide them in their passion project (if you're curious, the central idea is humans worldwide are connected through sport and athletics).
I am looking forward to seeing what Passion Projects look like in my teaching environment, and transferring my learning to my own classroom. Paul Solarz, I think your book found me at the right time in my career, and I am so thankful for this exciting adventure I've embarked on. A student-led classroom has the benefit of both making students feel like they matter and empowering them in their own education, all while freeing me up from the shackles of traditional teaching. No, my practice hasn't changed overnight, and as with any learner, I am sure it will continue to change (dare I say, improve) over time. This book gave me solid prompts to try in my teaching and made for great discussions in my emerging tech class. I encourage both new and not-so-new teachers to give it a look, and start your pirate journey.
To buy the book for yourself, click here.
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