School from Home: Project-Based Learning
If keeping your kids on task and engaged with schoolwork from home is proving to be a challenge, you aren’t alone. We recently surveyed families and found that keeping kids focused was at the top of parent concerns right alongside establishing a routine. Just as school-aged kids can often struggle with homework completion during a normal school year, the challenges are magnified right now at home. If you’re a parent living through this pain right now, here’s something that can help: project-based learning.
Like adults, kids often engage more authentically with project-based work that they feel connected to on a personal level. Finding those connections without the in-person presence of a teacher to help create context makes it all just a little (or a lot!) harder for many of us right now as we try to make sure our young scholars are continuing to engage with learning.
How are your children spending their time?
Depending on grade level and the number of weeks your student has been learning from home, you might be encountering varying levels of work assigned by teachers and varying levels of work completed by your kids. Assignments from school might be non-negotiable for many students, especially high school-aged kids who are receiving credit and, in some cases, preparing for high-stakes tests such as AP exams, being taken this year from home.
If your personal situation at home is one of optional assignments or work from school that’s finished quickly leaving your student bored or going on autopilot on a device, here’s a self-directed project almost any age child can enjoy: Genius Hour. It’s relatively easy to get started and best of all, there’s no grading at the end!
Project-Based Learning That Gets Kids Motivated
Genius Hour (sometimes known as 20% time) is a concept implemented at some innovative companies like Google in which employees take 20 percent of the work week to pursue projects of their own interest. Many teachers in recent years have adopted the practice as a way to increase engagement among students by giving them time to explore a project of their own choosing while connecting components of the project to scholastic skills connected to research, critical thinking, reading, writing, and presentations. Teachers set certain requirements to keep the expectations high and then provide resources and guidance along the way.
How does Genius Hour work?
Here’s a quick snapshot of how Genius Hour works—followed by a few details and some helpful links to help you get your child started:
- Choose a topic you’re interested in.
- Form a guiding question to focus your study.
- Decide how you’ll show what you’ve learned.
- Look for resources and start learning.
- Present your project.
Choose a Topic and Create a Guiding Question
An important part of Genius Hour is forming a question to focus and guide a student’s study. To maximize engagement and focus, kids should choose a subject they would genuinely like to explore. Topics are wide open and do not need to relate directly to any current study from school, so your child’s topic can connect to current interests or a new curiosity.
Genius Hour for Young Kids
For young kids, a topic like weather or pets could, with parent help, be focused by a guiding question like “How do bodies of water impact weather?” or, “What animals make good pets?” Younger children might connect most readily to subjects they’re learning about at school such as weather, rocks and minerals, or farm animals.
Genius Hour for Students
Older students should be able to come up with many areas of interest that might be spurred by what they’re learning at school or topics entirely of their own choosing. A young student musician, for example, may be interested in a particular musical genre like hip hop or jazz. She might then form an essential question to focus her study along the lines of “What are the influences on today’s most successful hip hop artists?” A student interested in physical fitness or a student missing their sports practices might pose a question for study like “What home workouts are best for keeping fit for my sport?”
Decide How to Show What You Know
At the end of this project, students create something—a slideshow on the computer, a drawing, a diagram, a photo series, a song, a poem, a video, a podcast, or a poster—to show their learning. Creating an artifact allows students to synthesize their learning in a creative way. And that artifact can be as broad and varied as the materials as the student has access to. Anything works. High tech or on paper. The medium really doesn’t matter, because the learning occurs as a natural part of the process.
Track Down Resources and Start Learning
Equipped with a topic of interest and a guiding question, your child can begin exploring resources from right at home. Researching online is an obvious first step—but consider some other avenues too. You can also point your child toward movies or documentaries connected to both topic and guiding question. And who knows, you may also have some useful books or magazines around the house too. Other options beyond going online for research include conducting interviews on the phone or through video conferencing. Help them think beyond the screen, at least for starters.
As for resources online, many museums now offer virtual tours of their collections. While we can’t travel there in person, the Smithsonian National Museum of National History offers a number of virtual tours online, and the National Park Foundation will take you on a virtual visit to the national park of your choosing.
Is your young athlete missing sports? Local gyms and community centers may have exercise and workout programs online for kids who’re interested in fitness-related topics. Likewise, most pro organizations currently have added content on their websites like the official site for Major League Baseball where you’ll find history, videos from past games, and even mascot origin stories.
If your child is interested in exploring the world, National Geographic Kids has an abundance of online resources. Older kids can explore magazine and newspaper websites as well and many currently have free access right now. In addition, video learning from YouTube can be a wonderful resource depending on age, access, and parental guidance.
Internet safety for kids
As with any work your children are doing online, now’s an excellent time to remind them how to be particularly safe when exploring resources online. They’ll want to watch out for fake apps, risky links, and sketchy downloads as they always do—particularly now as hackers have cued into the increase of schooling at home going on right now and are looking to take advantage. A comprehensive security solution will help them look after their safety and privacy.
Share What You’ve Learned
Once your child has spent time reading, viewing, listening, and learning, it’s time to create an artifact to show what they’ve learned. See possibilities listed above, because the final step in the Genius Hour project is to share the learning.
Usage of video conferencing
Anyone at home can sit in on the audience and even an audience of one works just fine. If you like, you can invite other friends and family with a quick video conference so that they can participate too. This offers kids a great way to connect with extended family members like grandparents or even their friends from school. (Imagine a few parents getting together and having all of their kids present their projects and then hanging out for an online chat after that …)
During the presentation, students share their topic, why they chose it, their guiding question, their artifact, and what they learned. In the classroom, a teacher would then engage students in a reflection of the process from start to finish. You can do something very similar by following up with questions from the audience, whether they’re in person or online. This is a wonderful way to close the journey and for everyone to gain something from the process.
Duration of Genius Hour
Genius Hour is highly adaptable and can take a few days or several weeks. It can be low-tech or high-tech depending on resources and preferences. For kids with time on their hands and parents who want a little extra focused learning and engagement, this project just might fit the bill. Check out this article to learn more about Genius Hour in the classroom.
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