Thursday, November 1, 2018

Tips for Managing Passion Projects

Before beginning passion projects with my students, I had so many concerns about management. I loved the idea of student interest driving our learning, but I had so many questions:

  • How do I manage students working on so many different topics?
  • How much time should be dedicated to passion projects?
  • What does a schedule look like for supporting each group? 
  • Can I ensure rigor and application of skills?
  • Where is the balance between student-centered learning and chaos?
I can’t give a definite answer to a lot of those questions because passion project management depends a lot on the learners and the nature of their projects. I made a lot of in-the-moment decisions throughout the process. Here are a few tips I can offer from my experience.

The Process

I like organization, so the ambiguity of passion projects was daunting. I really liked the idea of using a design thinking process as guiding steps for our projects. I read about a design thinking process called the LAUNCH Cycle, and I thought it was student friendly and just right for our needs. The process follows these steps:

  • L Look, listen, learn
  • A Ask a ton of questions
  • U Understand the topic
  • N Navigate the ideas
  • C Create a prototype
  • H Highlight and fix
  • LAUNCH the product to your audience

Beginning Together

We voted as a class and decided on our first topic that we would investigate together. Working on the same topic allowed me plenty of opportunity to model thinking and reading strategies- tying our work closely to reading standards. It also helped me to realize the amount of planning involved in supporting student groups during the research and creation phases of our process. Moreover, I was able to monitor student understanding and gradually release responsibility to students.

Working together gave us a positive shared experience that we could refer back to. Students enjoyed our first project so much that they anticipated their next passion project with enthusiasm.

Goal Setting

Managing various groups of students researching different topics was a challenge during our second passion project cycle. I quickly realized the power of setting specific goals for each day of work. These goals gave my students direction and helped them to remain more focused when I wasn’t directly working with their group. For teams that struggled with remaining on task, it also helped to give each student a specific job for the day. Knowing that I would check the progress of their work was the accountability they needed to remain focused.


I also shared a Google Doc with students so that each group could communicate with me daily regarding their needs. I set up a simple table with a row for each team. Student groups typed me a few sentences letting me know what they needed from me to move forward the next day. When I noticed trends, I met with multiple groups all at once. Other times, I was able to have students who had mastered certain skills support other groups.

Blended Learning Saves the Day

You know I love blended learning. Creating online lessons and resources essentially allows me to create my own digital co-teacher. When I had student groups wanting to create digital projects including websites, blogs, presentations, and video games, I knew just how to support them.

I created short screencast videos on topics like finding images labeled for reuse, embedding videos, and designing projects that are easy for an audience to understand. I also provided links to tutorials for using Scratch, Google Sites, and Google Slides. Teaching these basic skills in a blended environment freed me up to support students as they created the content for their projects.

Prioritize Skills

I also learned how important it is to continually find relevant resources for students. As each group began researching their topic, they refined the focus of their project and they needed specific information to move forward. For our first two passion projects, I curated credible resources for my students. We will learn how to evaluate sources later in the year and I simply didn’t have time to pre-teach and monitor the progress of that skill yet. I had to continually help students find new resources as they moved through their research.

Ask for Help

Managing so many groups was made easier because I have a wonderful co-teacher. I also wasn’t shy asking for additional help. Our director of virtual and blended learning stopped by from time to time to see our progress and lend a hand, and our instructional coach popped in while we were working on our projects. Two former students chose to help out in my classroom as part of their reward for awesome behavior, and they provided excellent peer support for my students.

Take the Risk!

I learned that allowing students the freedom to direct their learning and own the process is messy. It’s not clear cut and I couldn’t plan far in advance. Those conditions are really about me, though. If I’m trying to create a student-centered classroom, then I need to let go of some of my planning preferences. In the end, I took the risk of trying and it was worth it!

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