In a 21st Century classroom students ought to be given the opportunity to explore their own interests.
This semester I am having my students work on an extended twelve-week Genius Project. The idea of individualized study originated at the Google Company, which allows their employees to work on projects of their own interest 20% of the time each week. Approximately 50% of their best projects, such as Google Earth, were created during the Genius Hour. In education, this type of project is often called 20% and is gaining popularity among schools on any level.
To implement a successful Genius Hour Project in my Spanish II and III classes, I created very specific guidelines for my students. On the first day of school this semester I gave them the option not to participate at all with their class. I needed for all my students to “buy in” to this activity. Rather than work on their projects each Friday, the classes that opted out would just take a test. Thankfully, all four of my Spanish classes agreed to participate in the Genius Hour Project. On the first Friday, my students had to list 16 things they liked to do in their free time or over the summer. They had to narrow down the list until they identified their topic of interest. A convenient way to accomplish this was to use March Madness brackets. Next, the students had to tie this topic to the Spanish language or culture in some way. Finally, they had to present their ideas to the class for approval.
We have now completed week three of our Genius Hour Project, and I am utterly amazed by the projects they are tackling. Some students are planning projects that deal with Hispanic food, such as opening Spanish restaurants and cafés or creating original menu items based on existing Spanish recipes. Other students are coding. They are creating an original video game with a Mayan village, for example. Others are building web based businesses: a tour boat company in Puerto Rico, trip packages to Costa Rica, an informational site on travel to Cuba, and a language tutoring service. Other students are exploring Hispanic art. They are creating original pieces of art and furniture based on Hispanic themes. Other students are exploring Hispanic music and are working on an original dance, rap songs, as well as a percussion and a guitar piece. These are just a few examples from one of my classes.
At the end of each Genius Hour, my students fill out a journal page, indicating their successes, failures and goals for the next Genius Hour, which is then graded by me. I strongly believe that giving them the opportunity to pursue their own interests once a week allows me to work harder with them during the rest of the week. It gives the classes a sense of community and inspiration I have never experienced in my 30 years of teaching. This project truly provides my students with a bigger purpose for their foreign language study. It allows students to use the Spanish language for a real purpose outside of the classroom in an area of personal interest. Teachers who are considering in this type of project can find more information at http://geniushour.com, where Chris Kesler is offering a free webinar to help them get started. May the geniuses in our classes be revealed!