Monday, January 20, 2020

Relationships, Motivation and Passion Projects

The concluding project or activity in our co-taught Physics class is a Personal Physics Project. Students are given one 84 minute class period a week for about the last seven weeks of class to work on it. They can pick anything they want to do as long as it falls into one of these three categories:

1) Learn to build/make something
2) Carry out an experiment
3) Deep research

All the projects involve some of the NGSS Science and Engineering standards and students are required to maintain their digital portfolio documenting progress, maintaining notes/research, reflection and creating a product to share with a community audience. There are multiple opportunities to connect with teachers to have questions answered and have thinking pushed. These check-ins have been fun for me this year. After one check-in with a student I learned she was struggling to find a good, final resource. Twenty minutes later she was FaceTiming with my cousin who was in Switzerland. I was able to hook another student up with an emergency room RN for a FaceTime interview. Helping students connect with experts is very rewarding for me.

One student, James, initially picked deep research on dreams. I'll admit it, I talked him out of the topic for a couple of reasons. First, deep research isn't an area that he's going to excel in. Reading and writing are not areas that he lists as strengths in his Learner Profile. He's excited and passionate about wrestling and video games. And second, he enjoyed the Sphero Chariot building project we completed in November so much and wanted to do something like that again. James must have deep respect for me because it took very little nudging for him to switch his topic. We were still early in the project when he switched his topic to designing his own video game controller. He made up for lost work time quickly. In fact, I've never seen that level of motivation from him.

He determined pretty quick in the process that he might not have the background knowledge or time  to actually design and build his own video game controller but determined he could learn to 3D print one from plans that he found at Thingverse in the amount of time that he had. He independently connected with our FabLab specialist, Mrs. Berna and set up a time to go meet with her to get the 3D printing going. Over break he sanded down his pieces and came back to school ready to keep working on it (this was not a requirement, in fact we are told not to assign homework over breaks). He came back to school, with his pieces in hand, asking if we were going to be working on our projects and expressed disappointment when we worked on the sound and light units. I finally begged him to stop carrying around the pieces because I was afraid he'd was going to lose or break one. James was so motivated to work on this project that he got the written portion completed a full week before it even needed to be drafted.
All that's left is to bring the "guts" of a controller to school and assemble. He had a four day weekend and it wouldn't surprise me if he completes this part on his own at home. On Thursday, of this week, he will bring his x-box to the showcase night and allow visitors to play video games with the controller that he 3D printed. He will confidently answer questions about his process, set backs and what he learned by 3D printing. Participants will not only have the opportunity to speak with him and play his game but also explore the interactive Thinklink he has been working on.

Here are my three big takeaways...
1) It does matter if students like me. I believe we work harder for people we like and I want students to work harder than they realized they could. Cultivating positive and meaningful relationships with students is so important.
2) When students are intrinsically motivated they are successful. Success looks different for everyone. For James, his success looks like being able to independently follow through on contacting a staff member, making multiple appointments in the FabLab, voluntarily working on school work outside of the school day, not losing anything related to this project and meeting project deadlines.
3) All students have the opportunity to excel when they given the opportunity to design their own learning. Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% Time...whatever you want to call it has a place in all classrooms at all levels.

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