P-Day 2015

One of the current buzz words in education is Genius Hour…aka 20% Time…aka Fed Ex Day…etc.

If you were doing some kind of self-directed learning in your classroom before the buzzwords hit twitter you might feel some pressure to give your “normal” class time a new name to fit in!  I admit, a couple years ago we did do “20% Time” and then went back to what we originally called it — P-Day, the P stands for Passion.  I know, there are classes know doing Passion Projects, but ours follows a few different “rules.”

Links to other posts I have written on P-Day:

P-Day Pitches

P-Day 2014

P-Day Intro for students 

Way back when, I had a day before vacation and I had nothing planned for it.  We decided to do what we dubbed a 45/45 day.  The kids researched anything they wanted for 45 minutes and had 45 seconds to share what they learned.  From there it just grew bigger and bigger until it was every Friday of a five day week and we picked a day near the end of the year to share.  At some point someone dubbed the day P-Day.  I know there are now books being published about Genius Hour, there are flow charts, check lists, and even rubrics being shared to “guide” the students.  We could never write a book because we have no rules.

Kind of…

Maybe one….”share something you are passionate about with the class in June.”

They are guided along the way, but each kid is so different and their interests and levels of independence are so different that there are very few blanket policies that we follow.  We do at some point all make hands!




All the pictures in this post will enlarge when you click on them.

Sometimes kids pick a topic right away in the fall and stick with it right through to June.  Sometimes they explore 50 different things and don’t pick one until a couple weeks before we share.  It is the scariest thing I do as a teacher.  It is the one thing that I do that makes me feel most like a failure…and a minute later it is my most successful thing I have ever done.  There used to be more rules, and I see some of the same rules that we had cropping up in other teachers’ versions of Genius Hour.  It used to be centered around some grand question,  have to be shared with the world, have an impact on the community, etc…  I dropped all of those simply because I thought of what moves me.  What moves me is doing something for me first.  Changing myself first.  Diving into something just because I think it’s cool and not because I am trying to contribute something to the world.  I think if your learning follows a natural process it automatically will turn into something that is centered around a deep question and the results will impact the world.  It just might not happen he first time a kid is ever given the chance to explore anything they want and I am ok with that. They are 12 and 13 and have never been given the opportunity to self-direct their learning.  They have never been trusted.  Learning is personal first, global second.  I don’t know what the subliminal message is when we teach that we should only be doing things for a greater good.  It’s right up there with people bragging about how many hours a week the work instead of bragging about how many days of vacation they take 🙂

This year the other team on the 7th grade also decided to join us.  What that meant is that for 48 hours 250 seventh graders would take over an entire floor in the school.  They planned the schedule, what sessions would be presented, organize the technology….everything for 48 hours was out of the teachers hands.  The teachers were simply told to sit back and do nothing.  Honestly, I was a lot more worried about the teachers than I was the students 🙂 After months of prep the kids were able to pick a 10, 20, or 45 minute session.  They wrote their name and session on an appropriately sized card and stuck it to a blank session board “edcamp” style filling up each 45 minute period block.



Eventually the board fills up.  This year we had 193 student led sessions.


And then the fun starts…the board comes down and volunteers start ripping the puzzle apart and rebuild as necessary.  This is a small group of very trusted kids who look at all the nuances of the board.  Everything from types of sessions being offered in each room, to across periods, to personalities of presenters together in a room, to type of audience each presenter might draw, to a 100 other things.   A simple example is in a 45 minute block they would not put a confident presenter who is doing a topic that will attract a huge number of kids in the same room with a kid who is nervous and would crumble in front of more than 5 kids.  They slowly re-build the ultimate schedule that allows for the best audience experience.  This process takes about 3-5 hours from beginning to end and then lots of little switches in the days leading up to the sessions.



The finished board included the following sessions.

The kids then created a quick elevator pitch for their session.  I have to just add in their defense that we simply ran out of time at the end of the year.  The pitches were recorded on a day that went something like “AAHHHHH we need the pitches quick! Go into the hall and record them now!!!”

The sessions included every type of “teaching style” that you could imagine.  There were baking demos.


Lots of props brought in.


And while it’s not obvious in these images, lots of kids took huge risks.  For example this session was on music and the session leader decided to actually sing some of the pieces that were examined.


I walked into some in which I really had no idea what was going on 🙂


Some sessions had packed rooms of 50, and some like “Are you the next Michelangelo?” were small and cozy.


While it easy find teacher testimonials on why you should take a leap and try a version of Geniuspassion20%  hour/time/day I think there is nothing more powerful than hearing what the kids thought about it.  Here are just some of the comments from the kids on what they got out of the day…

That it is a day to forget your friends and come out of you shell and present your passion whatever silly or wacky thing it might be.

You shouldn’t be afraid to do what you want, be who you want to be.

I got out of P-day that its okay to share what you love with people and show them how much you like your topic.

I also learned how hard it is to be a teacher!

I got to know more about team work. My partner and I hit a lot of bumps in the road in the making of this presentation, we didn’t know how to make it fun and interesting, we didn’t know how people were going to like it. So we kind of just came up with a bunch of things and presented it to our parents and looked for which one they looked most interested in. The thing that really helped us most was teamwork.

I didn’t just receive education on the topic I love, but I also learned a lot more. What I got out of P-Day is that if you truly like to do something, it is a lot easier to show to the world.

I got a chance to do what I wanted for once! I was not being told what to research, and I love being able to do what I am interested in! Thank you for giving me that opportunity!

Everybody is not the same, they are different in their own unique way.

It was a fun and exciting way to share with other people what you are passionate about.

During the experience of P-Day I learned a lot about myself and how I “work”.

I liked that there wasn’t any judgement, and nobody cared about anything else cause we were in the moment and having fun.

I learned some interesting new things that you wouldn’t really learn on a normal school day.

That classes are a lot more fun when you don’t just have to sit there listening to teachers and doing work for the entire period.

Kids in school could be very creative if they just got a chance to show it.

I learned that if you love what you do than it’s never work and that it doesn’t matter how many people share the same interest it matters that you love what you’re doing and if you love what your doing those people will love it too.

I learned to do what you love, because when you love something, you will ALWAYS do good on it. Trust me.

That a passion isn’t something you can make up. A passion is something that comes from enjoyment that you want to learn more about.

I also learned that there are more people who are passionate about the things I am.

I learn to be open to people, and just be yourself. I got to know other people better, and make new friends with similar passions.

I know that we all have a different spark in them, and they all shine bright.

I learned that if we could all just take our time to work on something that we actually care a lot about, then people could end up doing some really cool things.

Also, since I was passion it about my topic I was not nervous to go up and present because I was passion it about it.

I don’t think that i got anything out of p-day because i saw the whole project as stress, stress, and more stress.

I thought P-day was an amazing experience where students got the opportunity to learn and teach about something that they love.

I also learned to never ever put a lacrosse stick in Nate’s hands again.

I knew that I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do and that made me feel very confident about my topic.

Think about the endless topics that can be learned through this amazing assignment. Thank you.

It was amazing to hear what other people had to say about their own, unique topic.

To me at first pday was very nerve racking. Once you get up there though and see all the people that are truly interested in what you’re talking about it’s not so bad.

Singing a song in front of a whole crowd of people for me was honestly very hard to do. It helped me get over some of the stage fright. Instead of being tense and nervous up there like I usually am for presentations, I was very loose and relaxed. I definitely got something out of pday. (I also might of gotten a slight concussion from one of the presentations, but its okay because I learned something new.)

P-day helped me realize that hard work comes with a reward, even if it is a small but reassuring reward of feeling good about what you did. Or after you are done, looking back and saying, I did that.

I think P day really made a mark on my year ( a good mark) it showed me not to be embarrassed about what I love, and not to fake my way through it.

I got to try new things. It made me not do sports and to pick something else that I would be interested in researching about. It was a great new experience for me and I liked doing something that I liked doing.

I learned how to do things on my own and without any rules to follow.

I learned how easily it is for people to just sneak through everyday life, and that this is not just a project in school, but a perspective on the real world. Like how if you work hard and enjoy what you do. Even if it is something weird. But the people who just sneak by and hate what they do and don’t try because of that reason.

What i got out of p-day was that everyone is different…

It also taught us to be independent because in the real world were not always going to be guided through everything.

I got a sense of kind of how not everything is going to go our way and we have to deal with that. This sounds weird because it was talking about what we like but when you got up there and something went wrong it wasn’t like we could wine about it we had to deal with it ourselves.

I learned that when you give a student the freedom to make a class on what they love they will be exited and teach others new material in a fun way.

Something I got out of P-Day is that if you love something you should share it and not only to your friends but to people around you.

I realized how hard it is for a teacher to make a full class period that is still engaging.

In this box you would probably put something you learned from another students presentation, but the main thing I learned from p day is to be more independent and not worry so much about the outcome grade, but if you are proud of which you handed in.

I got a learning experience. I have never done anything close to P-day. Normally, the teachers choose the topic and the students follow the instructions.

This time, the students got to choose whatever they desired. We also got a chance to be the teacher, teaching what we wanted to.

Even though I cried because of my stage fright I’m still very proud of myself because in a way I faced my fear and presented in front of my friends.

I learned a lot about people that i didnt know before and watched a lot of pretty cool things.

I definitely got over my fear of presenting. There were so many people at my presentation and them watching me and actually appreciating what i had to say really helped. If i had to present in the future i definitely wont be nervous anymore.

Pday taught most of us to do what we want and allowed us to express ourselves during school which is pretty cool because normally we sit around and do what were told.

I learned how much more I would love to go to school if I got to do what I loved to do more often.

If you would like to learn more about our P-Day you can read more about it here, here, and here.  If you are on twitter follow #geniushour.  If you wait a year I am sure the name will be different, I am sure people will start writing about how we should not be focusing on being a “genius” and life is more about just following a passion…some folks need to lighten up 🙂

I would like to end with simply stating the reality that you don’t need a day with a funky title to give your kids the chance to have some degree of self-directed learning.  You can inject a bit of freedom into each unit that you do.  Our P-Day fits into a class in which the kids are already doing some kooky things and so for many P-Day is just the natural culmination of what we have been leading up to all year.  It is a bit scary that we celebrate something like Genius Hour as a special project within the school year when instead of having Genius Hours we should be having Genius Years.  Someday I hope we can trust the kids enough to do just that.

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