Last year was a complicated one. Online schooling was new to everybody and it took a lot of adaptability. It also made it harder for teachers to connect with their students. That is why finding ways to better engage with them is one of the priorities of Nido teachers in 2021.
“Our focus this year was to hone in on engagement for students. In the last year with distance learning it has been down,” says Beth Yates, MS Language Arts Teacher.
That is how Passion Projects came to be. The initiative lets 7th graders work on something they are excited about and learn several skills —such as researching and the art of narrative— along the way. “Normally, they are compliant, but now they are excited. Super excited,” says Ms.Yates.
The idea was inspired by Google’s Genius Hour, a program that allows employees to devote 20% of their time to a topic that is not part of their regular tasks. Something cool that usually they don’t have time for.
So how does it work? First, students need to identify their passion, which needs to be approved by their teacher. Then comes the planning and research of the project, which later they put into practice and adjust it if necessary. The whole process and progress of their journey is recorded to create the final product that will be shared along its learnings with their class in whatever medium they choose: a video, podcast or a presentation, among others.
“We thought about what skills can we implement so that students learn what we need to teach”, explains Ms.Yates. “We took this thing that kids want to do and learn how to do it well, instead of telling them what to do.”
And students value the liberty to explore topics they are passionate about. “I like the freedom of choosing what you can do. You can choose what you want to practice or who to contact. Not everything is planned out for you,” says Emma, who is learning animation.
There is a wide variety of projects among the 150 students that are participating. Each one can select one of three paths: a project with a specific goal, for example learning to play “Fur Elise” on the piano or how to bake a cake. Others are digging on a topic of study, researching the theories of the origin of the world or why people like certain foods and what effects they have on them. And another group is exploring unknown outcomes, such as what happens if you practice 15 minutes of yoga every day.
And despite being something they want to do, it’s not all fun and games. “Even though it is something that you like and you choose, you are still working,” says Matilda, who is practicing yoga to see how it affects her mentally and physically. “The most challenging part is committing to do it everyday but I have to if I want the project to work.”
- middle school