Imagine this: Your boss approaches you and says from now on, every single day you’re going to be given one to two hours of time during your work day to work on ANYthing you want. You’re told to really think about what excites, intrigues, or inspires you, and to use this allotted time for this new purpose each day. What would you do?
Students in the ARCTIC Zone are presented with this opportunity every year. Depending on their schedules, they get to devote one or two class periods every day to a project of their choice. As 6th graders, students are often caught a bit off-guard, sure there must be some kind of catch. I try my best to pose a variety of options … “You could build something, write something, paint something, read something, film something, learn how to do something new, organize a fundraiser, plan an event, learn more about something, try to make a positive change in school or in our community! What do you want to do?!”
We always have a few different types of students each year. There are some students who are just not yet sure about or comfortable with stretching themselves or their minds to think beyond creating a PowerPoint presentation or a poster. And there are always a few who see no limits and end up concocting a project idea far beyond any realistic measure. Both are allowed and encouraged to, “Go for it!”
In the end, we hope to coach the first group to think bigger and further. To be more intentional about selecting a specific and relevant audience and to find unique ways to launch to that particular audience. With our help, the goal is for the second group to realize the need for careful and reasonable thinking and planning. We want our students to think and dream big. We also want them to be able to comfortably and successfully navigate the flow of a project of any size on their own. Finding harmony between big thinking, reasonable thinking, and authentic purpose, and relevance is the ultimate challenge.
What amazes me is watching our 8th grade students begin the year with a more solid understanding of what their options include. They come in with bigger thinking but with a more realistic understanding of time, resources, etc. that will help or hinder the progress of their ideas. And of course, as always, the variety of projects is incredible to observe. We have students building a mock volcano, some designing a website to teach young women about their changing bodies, some coding video games, some filming a stop-motion video of a car chase, and others designing a pamphlet to teach others tips for training cats and kittens.
Again, I ask – what would you choose?