WEEK 7: Passion Projects, getting started

February 21, 2017

I’ve been alluding to something called Passion Projects. Some call it Genius Hour, while some prefer 20% Time, but it’s all the same type of thing. The main premise is you deciding on a subject you are passionate about, something you’d like to learn about, developing a project around it and devoting 20% of your classroom time each week on that project, that learning.

First, let’s get the idea down of what we mean by passion.

OK, that gives an idea of what passion is, but how is that a project?

As Kesler points out in his video, you should start with a driving question. A driving question is hard to define, so let’s start with thinking of a passion project in two types:

  1. One in which you teach yourself something (French, crochet, cabinet-making)
  2. One in which you solve a problem.

The second can be divided further:

  • educating others
  • calling people to action
  • planning an event
  • raising money for a purpose
  • recognizing or inspiring others
  • designing a better way to do something

So a driving question should be one that is not answered with “yes” or “no”, but at length, the length of your project, actually. A few examples:

  1. How can I use a favorite game/cartoon character to teach algebra concepts or the history of WW2?
  2. What kind of weekly interaction could I come up with that could raise the spirits of nursing home residents?
  3. How could I raise money (several ways?) to donate to the homeless shelter, Sought Out Ministries, so they can keep the doors open? What’s my goal?

What do you want to know more about? What would you like to learn to do? Or what wrongs would you like to right in your community? One way to put that question is, “What breaks your heart?” The question must be one that will involve research and end in a product or service or learning that can be shown or demonstrated. What kind of question can we start with?


1. We will use “backward planning,” deciding on what we want as an end product, then planning how to get there. Will there be a product, like a video, a book, a website, pieces of jewelry? Will there be an event like a benefit fundraiser, a trip, a portfolio, a show? Will there be a model of a building, a campus, a robot? Then, how do you get to that point?

2. One component that will help you is having a mentor. Depending on what your subject area is, you’ll need to decide on and contact someone to be your mentor. A mentor would be someone who is a professional or expert in the field you are seeking to learn about. This person will be a contact for you, someone to give you ideas, help you consider ideas you may not have thought of, make contact with other people you may not have thought of, someone to check in with. In short, this person will help you to reach your goal and motivate you.

Your mentor does not have to live locally. In this day and age, you can communicate through social media or by phone or even by Facetime or Skype. For instance, if you wanted to explore some area of medicine, find a doctor who might mentor you. Interested in interior design? Perhaps a professional designer or an instructor from a university could help you out. Many adults would welcome the opportunity to mentor a student interested in their own career choice.

3. You’ll keep your learning transparent by posting your progress to your blog weekly. It’s helpful to post photos or videos to show folks where you are in the process. YOU WILL NEED IMAGES THROUGHOUT YOUR PROCESS SO YOU HAVE THEM FOR YOUR FINAL PRESENTATION. Tell your audience about obstacles and how you surmounted them. That’s part of the learning process.

4. Start brainstorming. If you feel compelled to say, “I don’t know what I’m interested in.” STIFLE IT. Brainstorm anyway. So many students say they hate being told what to do, what they have to learn. They wonder, “when am I ever going to need this?” Well, this is your chance to explore something YOU want to learn, something relevant to you. Use it.

Need some ideas? Here are lots from York School:

Where will you find your passion?

Need more samples? Here are some good TED talks from GrossPointe, a high school who does Genius Hour projects and presents as TED talks at the end. Once you connect to this one, you can scroll through and look at more of them.

You can also look under the student tab of this site to see some examples from previous semesters. Take into consideration, however, that although part of the assignment is to post the presentation to your blog at the end, many never did it.

Keep thinking!


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