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.

[wmd-latest-posts list_style=”ul” post_count=”5″ thumbnails=”0″ ls-id=”5590939ec37a3″/]


P-Day Reflection

Click right here

During the year we spend each Friday of a five day week working on our P-Day projects.  It is a day that kids get to research the history of their passion.  At the end of the year the kids give a background into their passion, and then share their passion with the class.  This year I did the presentations a bit different.  Usually they are done in my class, this year the team gave the ok to letting the kids take over the last two full days of the year.  The kids created a scheduled that would be two days, five periods each day, five sessions per period, one to three presentations per period.  All the presentations were on a google doc and kids were able to go to whichever sessions they picked.  For two days the kids ran everything that happened on our team.

There were lessons on how to play the Ukulele

Dance classes…and if you look in the background you will see the board that we used to create the schedule before it went up on the google doc.

Lots of presentations on sports.

An awesome sculpting session

A house renovation session which ended with the kids designing their own rooms.

One of the more unique topics ever–turtles!

There were a couple sessions on anime.

A baking demonstration-if you look on the board that is a doc cam being used to show what she is doing.

And a fashion session that ended with kids making tie-dye shirts.

What we do is very similar to the easily googleable Genius Hour or 20% time.  We do ours over the course of the year and present at the end but you can start small.  The very first time I did something like it it was the day before Thanksgiving break.  The kids researched any topic within the 19th Century and shared at the end of class.  The next year we called it 45/45.  The kids got 45 mins to research anything and 45 seconds to present, and the next year with block scheduling we called it 60/60.  For a few years we called it 20% time, and spent Fridays on it, and there were a couple years we had to stop it due to parent input–it was not going to get their kids ready for high school!  I think it was two or three years ago we started calling it P-Day.  It’s middle school, and it’s a catchy title 🙂

If your are going to give it a try I do have to share a pet peeve.  P-day, Genius Hour, 20% Time should not be time given to your kids to allow them “freedom.”  It should not be a time for kids to express their individuality or allow them to make things.  That should be your class…everyday. I have read way to many posts about teachers giving kids this time to allow kids to have this amazing block of time to offset the rest of the stuff they are “forced” to do in school.  You can do incredibly awesome things during the other 80% of the time.  As a matter of fact…if your class is going well you might even have kids asking you not to do P-Day or to spend their P-Day time working on what you are doing in class.  If you have to do a Genius Hour to get you to believe that kids are capable of doing awesome things on their own with little direction from you–go for it.  What occurs during the time will start leaking over to the rest of your classes.

Again, if you want to give this a shot, start small.  One period.  Take that day before vacation, don’t show a movie.  Give the kids 30 minutes to research. Feel like you are being watched?  Have it be something directly connected to your curriculum.  Research any current event from _______.  Research any topic about _______.  Especially if your kids are used to being led by you.  Wean them off slowly otherwise you will feel like a flop.  If you take a group of kids who are always being told what to do and give them time to do what they want, they might sit there for weeks.  Some of mine sit and tinker for 3-5 months before figuring out what to do!  If you are researching Genius Hour or 20% Time many of the classes and products will blow you away. Don’t get to hung up on the fact that when you give your kids time what they produce does not look the same.  What you get and how it goes will really depend on your kids and their  background.  When my kids start it they have nothing to do…half of each class can barely come up with anything to do.  I am finding that my kids are coming in with fewer interests and passions each year.  What they do list as their passions or interests are activities their parents have put them into.  I was cleaning my room yesterday and found a box with the topics from the very first P-Day ever.  There were topics like alternative fuels, are dreams real, does television rot your brain, and do anti-bullying programs really work.  This year there were things like dance, basketball, and soccer.  P-day is turning into “sharing an activity I do.”  After this year my big question is do I let it ride and see where this goes over the next couple of years, or try to re-direct it so that the topics and presentations become a little less superficial…or is that just my baggage speaking??  Thoughts?

***edit 7/1/14***

A few thoughts on the schedule that we created.  When we made it we thought we were being smart by making certain classes have a theme–sports, arts, etc. We also had a cap of 20 people per session if there were five going on at once, and 25 people if there were four.  This was set by the kids, they did not want too many people in a class watching, and some kids were bringing in supplies and running activities and needed to know a maximum number.  When we started, some sessions had more than 20/25 people and as long as it was ok with the presenter they stayed.  Here was the big problem…by having a certain theme in one room, the same kids that were in session one stayed in session two, which meant if 15 kids stayed, only 5 new kids could enter.  So that was quickly changed on the schedule and by the next day the schedule forced people to move rooms and that led to kids seeking out different choices than they would have normally made.  There might be a sports session in room #1, but the next sports session was in room #5.  Just having the kids get up and move made them reconsider just automatically going to another sports session.

The other thing we had to deal with was the question “What if no one shows up?”  I made final approvals of the schedule and made sure that in each session there was someone who would bring in an audience.  I also tried very hard to set-up time slots with multiple session to have presenters from different cliques so that the audience would be mixed cliques.

Then there was the problem of the sessions that everyone wanted to go to…I tried to put those sessions head-to-head.  So that the numbers in the rooms stayed even.  I also tried to have very different sessions in each time slot so that in any time slot there would be something for everyone.

The last thing we considered is that some kids required more set-up than others.  They were placed in the first sessions, or teh sessions after lunch.

This year I had my smallest team ever!  So we could not fill five sessions for five periods for two days.  If you look at day one, first time period, all kids reported to the room they were going to present in.  The purpose was to check teh set-up of the room, test the technology that they would be using in the room, and to talk with the person going before and after them about how they were going to set-up the room and what needed to be done in between sessions.

I have to say that I was SHOCKED at how few kids decided to present with partners or in groups.  The schedule does not show them, it only has one name from each group/pair.  This years class was done with working in groups by the time they had gotten to eighth grade  🙂  There were also probably 5-6 groups that within the two weeks leading up to the days decided to group together because their presentations were so similar, or they were doing things which could be easily added together into one longer presentation.

The schedule at the top of this post might seem so simple, but we put it together slowly over two weeks and takes into account all sorts of middle schoolers needs!