I tried Genius Time as a culminating project in my ENG3C and ENG3U courses this fall/winter semester and learned so much about the possibilities of the project, as well as tweaks to make it better for the winter/spring term.
If you’re unfamiliar with Genius Time, please refer to my blog about it here: Genius Time and the Birth of Interdisciplinary Culminating Activities at L.D.S.S.
Many proponents of Genius Time argue that for it to truly be about a student’s passion it can’t be graded, but that didn’t work for me as I wanted to satisfy my culminating activity requirements via this task. I taught students three main ‘English’ skills throughout the project that I evaluated as part of their culminating grade: proper research and citation methods (they created annotated bibliographies), social media tool usage and application (they needed to somehow tie social media into their project), formal oral communication skills for large groups (they presented their work to an audience of their teacher and peers).
Students were also given the opportunity to link their project with another course they were taking, thereby satisfying the requirements of a second classroom teacher’s culminating task. Since the freedom associated with this project was very new to students, only about a third took advantage of this opportunity. However, now that they know the basics of the project, nearly 80% of my students would like to try constructing multidisciplinary projects in the future.
Overall, I would categorize the endeavour as a success. My goal was to engage students by allowing choice and passion to dominate the parameters of their project. All of my 3U students and all but one of my 3C students completed their projects with sufficient effort, which points to the fact that students liked this project and wanted to completed it. My students own feedback via a Google form I sent to them after the project also affirms this belief. Over half of each of my classes commented that this project interested them more than a typical culminating activity, and three-quarters stated they were more motivated to complete it because they were given flexibility and choice regarding topic selection.
What’s more exciting is the number of students who stated that they would continue to work on aspects of this project AFTER it was submitted. Yes, you heard that right; approximately one-third of my students reported that they will continue working on their Genius Time projects at home, for fun!
I was thoroughly impressed with the diversity of topics my students chose to learn about; many blew me away with what they accomplished. One of my students created their own digital portfolio of artwork ; another petitioned the provincial government to save an endangered owl and garnered 600+ supporters from all over the world; one made a video to educate the public about downs syndrome that drew 2000 views on YouTube; many others created their own YouTube channels, websites and Facebook/Instagram/Twitter accounts all dedicated to their topics/passions. Check out a slide show compilation summarizing some of my student projects here: ENG3U Genius Projects; ENG3C Genius Projects.
Although we experienced a good amount of success for a first attempt at this type of project, it was by no means a home run. There were many bumps on the road that need to be smoothed out for semester 2.
I realized some of the following improvements that need to be made, but most came from my students who gave me fantastic feedback in the comments section of their Google feedback forms.
#1 – I need to introduce the project at the beginning of the semester, then allow students to work on it for the duration of the term. This was the biggest student complaint – that they needed/wanted more time to complete their projects. (We began mid-way through the semester).
#2 – I need to add another section to my teaching modules: a lesson on ‘doing/creating/experiencing’. (i.e. moving beyond research to action). Although many students had great project proposals, I noticed that they got bogged down a bit in their learning and struggled to move to ‘doing’ something with their passion (which really is part of the project). I spoke about this, but didn’t actually teach a lesson and model what that could look like. This semester, I’ll be adding this as a lesson, then also adding a specific conference to discuss with each student what that could look like for their project.
#3 – I need to conference more with students as their project progresses. Again, this is a student request. I conferenced monthly with students which is a lot considering I had 30 in each class (it took 2-3 work periods to accomplish one round of conferencing), but clearly they didn’t feel this was enough. Extending the working time of the project to a full semester will help with making this possible, as will the fact that my largest class this semester only has 24 students!
#4 – Students would like to see more examples of what Genius Projects could look like. I didn’t have any examples last term as it was my maiden voyage, but I’ll have many to share this semester which should solve this problem.
#5 – I need to work with my administration to educate more of our staff about what Genius Time is, as well as what interdisciplinary projects could look like in their classes. Many students who completed interdisciplinary projects commented that although they understood what was expected of them in my classroom, they were struggling with knowing how their project satisfied the requirements of their culminating tasks in other classes. I think having time at staff meetings to collaborate with colleagues and discuss student projects is massively important to fixing this problem this semester. Our students clearly want the opportunity to construct authentic, passion driven interdisciplinary projects; it’s our responsibility to ensure we are all on the same page regarding structure and assessment of their work.
Above all else, working on this project with my students has made me very aware of the knowledge and experiences students bring to our classrooms that remain untapped. Throughout last semester, I learned so much about my student’s lives, interests, passions and future plans; I felt like I was seeing them with new eyes. This was a great feeling.
At times, as teachers we see our students via the tunnel vision of our teachable subjects and forget that they are so much more than English/Math/Science, etc. students. I felt like I had a new appreciation for their individual talents beyond my English studies classroom walls. I also learned a great deal from them, which increased their confidence and solidified teacher/student relationships.
Experiencing this project also really got me thinking about the importance and value of interdisciplinary studies. Many of my ENG3C students combined their Genius Projects with tech courses, and did some fantastic work in both the English classroom and shops. It made me wonder…..what would it take to offer an interdisciplinary English/tech course?Then I started thinking about a whole host of other combinations that just seem so natural and obvious: Fitness and Foods, History and Geography, Coop and Tech, English and…well, honestly anything. I think that this is something I’d like to explore in the near future; I’ll be speaking with my administration about the possibilities of offering more interdisciplinary courses at my school. Finland has been working towards a completely interdisciplinary model of education for some time now (Finland – ‘Phenomenon’ Teaching), and it seems to be working. Their education system is highly regarded as the ‘one’ to follow in terms of innovative and effective pedagogy. I’m really excited about this whole concept – but that conversation is for another blog post!
What is your experience with Genius Time in your classroom? Do you have any tips as I move into round 2? Comment below!