Freedom for Experimentation = True Learning

“When experimentation is seen as necessary and productive, people will enjoy their work.” –Ed Catmull

Editor’s note: The original publication of this post can be found on Janelle’s blog.

I had the privilege of working with a very talented teacher in Crowley ISD (TX). He teaches Computer Technology, Computer Maintenance, and Futures in STEM at the district’s career and technical high school. One of his goals over the semester we worked together was to implement Genius Hour time for his students, loosening the reins and opening the door to empowering his students to drive their own learning.

It was a huge success.

Using Google Forms to facilitate student self-assessment on their experience and their learning, he has already had many asking when the next project could begin. After “turning in” their products of learning, several had already begun plans for continuing the work they started. Truthfully- how often is it that high school students want to keep working on their school projects after the due date has already come and gone?

When he and I debriefed the experience, his response to me was excited and at the same time almost wistful: “Wouldn’t it be great if every day at school could be like Genius Hour?”

It would be great, and I honestly believe it could work.

In a well-designed Genius Hour experience, students would still be held accountable for their learning. It’s just that now they would have a say in how they go about learning it. With this approach, teachers would still ensure that the state standards and curriculum were being learned. It’s just that now they would collaborate with their students to shape exactly what the path to learning would look like.

The difference is that our students would be utilizing critical and creative thinking skills like never before. They would be highly engaged, since they had voice and choice in the subject matter. They would be working on real-world application to the knowledge, skills, and concepts they acquired during their study time. Teachers would be available to teach personalized mini-lessons in the moment they were needed. Students would see that taking risks is not only accepted but encouraged as a way to learn and grow.

How much of that takes place in a teacher-centered classroom?  It’s the freedom for experimentation that leads students to take ownership over their own learning.

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