Students Answer the Question: What Should School Be Like?

Group of cheerful students looking at the camera.

Recently, I asked students in my class to blog about what they think school should look like. The following bullets attempt to summarize what students believe school should be like.  The students I asked are 9th graders, generally at an honors level. I tried to capture as many ideas as best I could. Many ideas deal with teaching and learning, while some ideas address other topics.  Eye-opening to say the least!

  1. School should provide real-world skills
  2. Tasks should be authentic as opposed to a test
  3. School should be focused on learning not testing
  4. There should be choice for students to study what they want
  5. School should work to fix real-world problems (Kohn anyone?)
  6. High school should start later (they researched this!)
  7. Seating should be comfortable and variable
  8. Education should be personal and based on interests
  9. There should be more physical activity as part of class, but no more gym
  10. There should be room to be creative in many ways
  11. School should be fun
  12. Focus on learning, not grades and tests (and worksheets—many mentioned worksheets)– so you can make mistakes that won’t hurt you
  13. There should be less homework because how can we be involved in activities (like everyone tells us) when we have hours of homework every night?
  14. School should help you be the best person you can be
  15. There should be more interactive and engaging activities in class that involve discussion

I should also note that almost every student talked about the disconnect between standardized testing, most classroom tests, and the stress and strife caused by both. They stated that this doesn’t really relate to learning.

I learned a lot, I hope you did too!

7 Reasons to Do Genius Hour: Our Lessons from High School

For the third year in a row, a group of amazing teachers at Pennridge High School have undertaken the monumental task of crafting a Genius Hour experience we call DaVinci Day. Inspired by Genius hour and many other movements and initiatives that place passion, purpose, and creativity at the heart of the student experience, DaVinci Day allows student interest, curiosity, and passion to drive the learning. Each student (we’re close to engaging 180 freshman this year) spends regular time throughout the semester pursuing their area of choice through various forms of research and action. This culminates with a TED-style talk in various classes where each student presents their journey. Some students, usually most of them, attend and present at our DaVinci Day @Night where we invite students, teachers, parents, and community to listen and learn. To say the least the experience has been, and is, unbelievably rewarding for teachers and students. So much is shared, so much is learned, and so much is gained beyond the measurement of any test or grade. The following reasons to do #Geniushour are not so much persuasive reasons as they are the repeated lessons we’ve learned by doing our version of Genius Hour in high school:

  1. This is the truest form of student-centered learning. When given the chance to pursue anything they want, students amaze us. After their own realization that we’re serious, they dig in. They study an array of topics that range from taking action against modern slavery to helping each other cope with stress and anxiety, and everything in between. Where is that in the curriculum?
  2. This transforms our classrooms to give students what’s really relevant. As teachers in different disciplines, we find that students now want to truly do great research, create meaningful presentations, and become skilled presenters, because this is so important to THEM. This is not to mention learning things like resilience, tenacity, grit, and empathy along the way.
  3. When passion drives, creativity flourishes. Students continue to amaze us with their ingenuity and problem-solving. There is no other place in a normal curriculum for the powerful questions asked as part of this journey, and no other way to find answers than by sparking passion and creativity in kids.
  4. When the learning is meaningful, grades don’t matter. DaVinci Day is not graded. It is shared, expressed, evaluated, celebrated, and painstakingly worked on, but not graded. If you want to see intrinsic motivation at work in a grade-hungry, GPA-driven culture, just try it. Again, it’s transformative!
  5. DaVinci Day is not a competition, so the collaboration, empathy, and genuine interest in each other’s work places positive pressure on each student to do their best. As part of our classes and curriculum, we study the usual range of math, social studies, science, and English. Even with our best efforts and practices, engagement can be mixed. I’ve never seen students pay attention and show genuine interest like I have when they share their learning and stories.
  6. DaVinici Day is a catalyst for accelerated skill mastery. Want students to be better writers? Ask them to blog about their pursuits. Want students to research deeply? Let them find what inspires them. Want to help students build confidence? Let them discover themselves by pursuing their own passions.
  7. We’ve found the “it” for transformative practice. Of course, the answer was simple: let the kids drive, and everything else seems to fall into place. As teachers, we’ve learned to leave the stage to the stars, and support, coach, mentor, and teach in ways we never considered when we stepped into this business. Naturally, we guide them and help them do their best work, but ultimately they succeed on their own merits and desires. We’ve yet to be disappointed!

If you get a chance, check out our DaVinci Day site, and more importantly check out the Genius Hour site (our greatest inspiration)– Thank you Angela Maiers!

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.

DaVinci Day: An hour of genius!

 Inspired by Genius Hour, 20% Time, and other personalized, passion-driven ventures in education and industry, DaVinci Day at Pennridge High School offers students an opportunity to allow their interests, passions, and curiosities to drive learning. When we envisioned and began this endeavor, we hoped that students would embrace an opportunity to choose an area of inquiry and learning. We hoped that students would see this as a significant shift in business-as-usual. We hoped that much of what students would invest their time in would, in many ways, be more relevant and meaningful. All that we hoped for is happening, and more.

As we told the students about a culminating TED-style presentation they would give to share their findings, the blogs they would create, the time we would devote to this, and the skills and experiences they would be garnering along the way, we, as teachers, began to shift some of our normal classroom planning in light of DaVinci Day. We began to wonder about incorporating more multi-media presentation and speaking opportunities, finding better ways to search and research by digital means, discovering the value of blogging, and harnessing the engaging power of their own passions by connecting them to existing classroom experiences and curriculum. It’s clear that this is not just a renaissance about student learning, but a challenge to us as educators to really do what’s best for kids in preparing them for their future. Creating this has become our DaVinci Day, our hour of genius. We’re learning too. Everyone learning, developing skills, engaging in something of value. The Mona Lisa of education. Priceless.

Please visit us on our DaVinci Day Site or at #PHSdavinciday. Your feedback and suggestions are welcome!

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