Holiday Sandwich

EdSlowChat  In a recent #EdSlowChat on Twitter, Anthony Purcell @MrP_tchr  posed a question regarding what to do with the “Holiday Sandwich,” named for the gap or valley  created during December by the Thanksgiving  and Christmas or Winter breaks.

Frankly, this time of year is exciting for many reasons, but also challenging in terms of keeping students engaged in learning. (Sometimes its even hard for me to stay engaged!) For me, a high school English teacher, I feel like I never want to start another big unit (aka book or play) because this 3.5 week period plays more like 2 weeks in a more (traditionally) productive time of year.Tweet edslowchat

My own answer to this question is captured in my tweet response on the chat. This year some colleagues and I decided to take a chance with a new PBL experience (see BIE for a better explanation than I’ll ever give) for students that involves embracing the learning value in a world of tragedy, change, and challenge. The recent terrorist attacks in France, the ongoing Syrian Refugee Crisis, and the ensuing political and ideological battles in the United states can create confusion and concern in students, and thus become opportunities meaningful learning. This is how I (we) plan to keep kids and myself focused during the “sandwich.” The time can be stretched or condensed based on student work and response, so there’s urgency to learn but not a strict time limitation. I know it doesn’t sound like the most fa la la thing to do, but at a time of year when we all, in some way, consider what’s most important, some perspective building and relevant learning might be a gift worth giving.

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The Illuminati. Sleep disorders. Forced marriage. Just another day in high school.

Sleep disorders. Forced marriage.  Pollution. Sounds like a different kind of talk show, and not normally what you’d expect to be covered in a 9th grade course of study. But it’s exactly what kids are learning about—on their own. Welcome to DaVinci Day, our Genius Hour at Pennridge High School in Bucks County, PA.  These topics represent just a few of the dozens that students chose as part of this year’s DaVinci Day. In its second year, DaVinci Day gives students an opportunity to research and share an interest, passion, or curiosity. While not graded, all students are expected to document their progress and process which culminates in a TED-style presentation to classmates. We also host DaVinci Day @night to showcase student projects to parents and community members. Last year was an amazing success and we look forward to the same this year.

Davinci day

In order to complete their journeys, students need to hone their topic, complete extensive research, and put together a 10-15 minute presentation that highlights their process, learning, and experience. Unlike a traditional experience, students are encouraged to see “dead ends” in their research and process as stepping stones to more learning. In other words, they embrace failure as a vital factor in success. Although the use of technology in our 1:1 environment is essential, the true value of the experience is the journey of learning. This is truly a way to help all students learn about themselves and the world in a completely individual way.

As a team of teachers, this became our Genius Hour as we set out on a course never taken in our collective experiences.  DaVinci Day also “informs” our instruction in the most authentic way as we quickly create lessons to help students be better researchers, information documenters, presentation coordinators, and ultimately, public speakers. Our motivation is enhanced by the authentic tasks the students undertake; student motivation is electrified as topics come from a part of themselves, a part they now share with class, community, and (blogs) the world.

It’s an exciting time of year as we continue to count the amazing moments of learning and discovery that characterize DaVinci Day.  Much of our story is available by following the links provided in this post, including our promo video

Our contact information is on our website. Also, follow our progress on Twitter as #PHSDavinciday takes shape.