To keep American innovation strong, we must instill in students a passion for new ideas
Empowering Students to Pursue Their Passions, Google-style
Independent student projects yield impressive results
"How many of you think that you have uncovered something in your Freshman project that you'll want to do the rest of your life?" Over half of my ninth graders raised their hands and I was moved to tears. YES! This is why I teach.
The Freshman project wasn't my idea. Google lets their employees use 20% of their time to work on any project they choose. (Over 50% of their products come from this 20% time.) When I saw Dantae Thrash's video in Evansville Indiana this past summer, I realized that they had hit on something in Evansville's public school systems. For senior projects, students are required to spend 100 hours on a project of their choice (that the school has approved), and students like Dantae are finding careers and passions.
I decided to do the same thing in my Computer Fundamentals class. Students have 30 hours of class time to spend on a personal-interest project that they create with my guidance. The results are beyond anything I could have imagined. For example:
@Apps_for_Autism -- A student is Tweeting and writing about apps on mobile devices for children with autism.Kindle Kids Corner -- One student has taken the role of student editor for this leading blog covering books for kids on the Kindle.Five websites -- We have three churches and one civic organization that have my students as their webmasters.An album -- One student is a gifted composer, he's recording an album.A farming consulting job -- Another student is the son of a farmer. Using GPS coordinates, he's mapping the movement of wildlife and planning how the farm should adjust plantings.A virtual world tour of the school -- Another student is using Jibe to create a virtual 3D tour of our school.A video series about medical equipment for children -- The daughter of a local pediatrician is creating videos and posting them to YouTube to help "de-scarify" the medical machines in the office.Skype lessons for the elderly -- Two students are training local retirement home staff on how to help residents Skype with their families. Patients with dementia can see their families face to face daily.
Determining whether a student is well educated involves more than just standardized test scores. In addition to traditional education models, we should move forward by having all students create portfolios of work that they've produced by pursuing their passions. Students should graduate from high school with more than just grades; they should find that there is excitement in work and they should have time, space, and mentorship in developing their individual talents.