Helping Students Find Purpose Through Passion Projects
As a child who struggled with anxiety and depression, I feel empathy for my students who face these mental health issues. Also, as an adult that still faces these issues, I know that it’s not something you can just turn off and on. Anxiety can sneak up on you at any moment. As I grew older, however, I found that focusing on my purpose and passion in life was a huge part of alleviating anxiety. I started teaching middle school 16 years ago, but it was only about halfway through my career that I truly began to realize my purpose. My purpose was to help others find their reason to matter, their own purpose. Of course, I felt this passion in helping adult learners and colleagues, but my true focus was helping my middle schoolers find their purpose through passion projects.
Passion Projects and Genius Hour
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My Middle School Passion
Looking back to my early teen years, there were two things that invigorated me and lessened my anxiety. These things were music and writing. Playing my clarinet in band helped me realize that I could be part of something in middle school. In addition, words were my passion. I wrote stories, poems, and songs. It wasn’t until I was in high school that my passion turned towards nonfiction and journalistic writing. I carried this into college as a newspaper section editor and in adulthood as an English teacher and freelancer.
It was in middle school that I really fell in love with words as a means to cope with anxiety. Today, I look at my students and encourage them to pursue something that helps them fulfill their sense of purpose. Their passion projects don’t have to change their life, but it should fuel their own fire for learning.
Genius Hour or Passion Projects
How do I help my students find their own purpose and passion? Passion projects or Genius Hour is the vehicle for helping students find their purpose through passion projects.
What is Genius Hour?
What’s Genius Hour? It is an hour (or so) per week where you let your students or children explore their own inquiry projects.
First, they come up with a question that can’t be answered with a Google search or single resource. I rarely say no unless something is dangerous, too expensive (these can often be repurposed), or disrespectful. It should be something that makes them wonder or that they care about. Here are some of my favorite Genius Hour questions from past students. How do I start a lawn mowing business? How do I create an original outfit with my own sewing pattern? What skills does it take to be a pilot? What are the benefits of joining different military branches? How can I help elementary students improve study skills? How can I create a working 3D model of a roller coaster?
Next, they start their research. Encourage children to think outside the box, exploring more than just internet resources. For example, if a teen is researching “How do I start a catering business?”, have them reach out to a chef, restaurant owner, or caterer. Expand their knowledge by talking to local business lawyers or bankers. The initial passion project question can expand into “What does it take to start a small business?”
Finally, Genius Hour becomes creation. This is when your kids channel all their research into making something. It may be a presentation on Google Slides, but it could also be the launching of a small business, or creation of an outfit fit to be worn at a fashion show. The latter did happen with a former student!
Learn more about how to start your own Genius Hour in your classroom or adapt for your homeschool.
Genius Hour wasn’t just a time period. In fact, it was a permission slip. With Genius Hour passion projects, you give your students and children permission to explore, create, and channel their passion into finding their purpose. This is beneficial for every learner in your classroom or home, but for children of any age suffering from anxiety or depression, Genius Hour truly gives them a sense of purpose. It has for me, even as an adult.