20time in Science Yields 100% Engagement

Otherwise known as GENIUS HOUR in my 7 th grade Life Science class. This day each week has become my students favorite day. If a week goes by and we are unable to have our hour one week, they are disappointed. Students, parent, other teachers and staff, administrators, school board members and even our superintendent have come back to tell me this educational opportunity created more learning than anything else I have done in my 17 years of teaching.

I needed to be creative in how I used this time. This was " out of the box".There is too much to teach in my curriculum. As a middle school science teacher and only having the students 50 minutes a day, I had to create a time to do this. A time where students could research, create, and present the information. They would also need help guiding and focusing to be sure topics were applicable but not restrictive. 

Our school year is divided into trimesters. I created a genius hour( 20 %time ) for each trimester where students researched a topic they were interested in and were passionate about. Here is how the year lined out.

Trimester 1-In our regular curriculum we are learning about the body systems. For their 20% time they had to select a topic to research by posing a question about anything they have wondered about the human body. Topics varied but many studied illness and diseases they had heard of that a family member had or they themselves had. An few examples were macular degeneration, what causes asthma, how are scars form. Others posed topics about particular body systems including how eyes see color, what in the brain causes autism. After researching, and making a google presentation, students shared with the class. On this assignment we rotated around each persons chrome book rather than making individual presentations. 

Students spent 2-3 minutes and then moved to the next seat where another presentation was seen. Trimester 2-our regular curriculum consistent of genetics, heredity and DNA. For 20% time students selected a genetic disorder to research. Their time spent researching was directly tied to curriculum. Not only did they learn about a specific genetic mutations, a new appreciation for people with disorders was created and empathy was taught, although not by me! How powerful it is to have students discover this empathetic side of themselves.

Trimester 3- we end our year studying plants and animals. Students selected an endangered animal to research. Through this they also learned what we as a society are doing to cause this and what we must do for the future. They learned about the animals but also the impact humans and society have on them. Once again, through their passion for the topic, they became empowered to see what changes need to be made.

Since this our Social Studies teachers have now created a 20 % project for their classes. Our Leadership class is calling it their Passion Project. It is common core...we are allowing students to think, research, solve and have ownership in their learning! 

Carol Paquette

Matilija Junior High

Ojai, California