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Passion Projects Ignite Student Interest

There is nothing more exciting than seeing a room full of engaged students trying to figure out what they want to do research about.

Choice has a way of doing that.

Whenever we have the opportunity to offer students a choice in what they learn, how they learn becomes more enjoyable.

Passion investigative feature projects are an awesome way to get to know students. Through their choices and writing development, the teacher learns what matters to them and also gets to assess the important skills that are being learned.

Here is a copy of the assignment provided:

Passion journalism - investigative features

Directions: Each student will select a topic that is important to them. Depending on how "big" the topic is, you will have to localize it. You will research and explore your topic getting primary source information (interviews with experts outside of this building) and you will write a long-form feature piece with multiple short-form sidebars to fill out your story.

Here is what is required:

  • a topic you care about

  • secondary source research to adequately prepare you for interviews and background information on your subject

  • 3 interviews with experts in the field (not people from school)

  • interviews with students and teachers

  • 2 drafts and a final draft properly sourced

  • pictures where appropriate

  • at least 2 supplemental pieces - (for example timeline, map, schedule, poll, word web, resources, etc) to be used as sidebars

  • reflection (separate from the piece as possible blog post based on standards) - to be written as you are working to discuss the process moving through the assignment

  • optional: obtain credentials and attend an event related to your topic and use it in your story

One day a week will be devoted to lessons on this subject to ensure everyone's success on this assignment.

This marks your first venture into being an investigative journalist.

The timeline:

  • Thursday, 1/7: Â Topics are due via email (a separate spreadsheet will be developed for these topics and to track progress)

  • Thursday, 1/14: A preliminary outline is due - with annotated research sources from the internet, a list of possible people to interview either via phone or in person

  • Tuesday 1/19: Interviews should be complete with school personnel and "experts" in the field - evidence of your interviews should be present - notes and/or audio and/or video

  • Tuesday 1/26: First drafts are due to me

  • Tuesday 2/2: Second drafts are due to me

  • Tuesday 2/9: Final drafts are due

  • Tuesday 2/9: Supplemental materials are due (sidebars) - Reflections are due at this time too

Since we've gone over the assignment, students will have a few days to come up with an appropriate topic after being led through some brainstorming activities. They will not be limited at all in their choices as sometimes with research, they need to learn to broaden or limit their topics as appropriate in order to make their research more manageable.

Following the timeline of when pieces are due will also help students to start to manage their time better, backward planning when they should work on individual elements. As suggested in the assignment there will be days in class designated for specific lessons planned to help students find success as they go.

In addition to doing their passion projects, students are still responsible for writing articles for regular website production. That's why they have so much time in between each piece. Some students will likely require more time as their topics may end up proving challenging to get a hold of experts to speak with and others will likely complete their features sooner.

Because this is a student-generated assignment, leeway in how the final is presented and what it looks like is determined by the student. The topic often dictates what shape it takes. In

years past students have researched the effects of global warming on storms in our area, music industry shifts, various illnesses that plague families, autism, etc.

Some topics that will be taught in class in a mini-lesson are:

  • How to develop a research outline

  • Tracking resources

  • Setting up a script to talk to experts

  • Planning and writing interview questions based on research

  • Tips for conducting professional interviews

  • Structuring an investigative feature

  • Selecting and making appropriate sidebars

  • Citing and attributing sources appropriately

  • Fact-checking and proofreading

  • Student will continue to have access to the teacher throughout the process to troubleshoot and their final features will be published on the student media website providing important information to the school.

Comprehensive project-based learning offers students the chance to practice skills in an authentic and productive way. Not doing elements in isolation but rather applying them all as appropriate to their learning. There is no better way to make them career and college-ready than actually giving them assignments that mimic those that will happen in their lives.

How do you implement choice and project-based learning in your classrooms? What evidence of deeper learning have you witnessed first hand? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in January 2016

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