I don’t remember when my friends and I started to say it, but I’m pretty sure it was in high school. It is our go to trash-talk statement, the ultimate challenge. During pick-up football or speedball, on the field or at the beach, it didn’t matter. Still to this day, if you are around us long enough you’ll hear someone yell it in one form or another: Don’t just talk about it, be about it!
At some point, this saying became part of my life’s philosophy. I think I like it so much because it really is the ultimate challenge. It’s one thing to say Carpe Diem, but another thing to grab it. It’s one thing to say always do what you are afraid to do, but another thing to do it. It’s one thing to say YOLO, but another thing to… YOLO it. In life, it seems many people are comfortable talking-the-talk, but hesitate when it comes time to walk-the-walk.
I hear this all the time from students: they want to do this, they want to be that, but when I ask them what they are doing to make it happen, too often they shrug. Thus the Be About It project was born.
In the beginning of the year, I told my students they had a yearlong project. What they did for this project was totally up to them. They could do whatever they want, with whoever they want, whenever they want, however they want. The only think I asked them is at the end of the year they got up on stage in front of everybody and give a TED-style presentation about what they did, why they did it, and what they learned. “Chances are there is something you’ve always wanted to do, something your passionate about, so here’s your chance to not just talk about it: Be About It!”
Some of my kids loved the idea, others were paralyzed by choice and hated not being told exactly what to do. I made it worse: so long as they checked in with bi-monthly (video) journals and got up on stage, whether their project was a failure or not, they would get an “A.”
So over the course of a school year, students worked on their project. Last week, in front of a big audience, 71 kids got up on stage and presented 58 Be About It projects. I couldn’t have been more proud of them.
I’ve made a Supercut of many of the presentations. I edited it into one big presentation. I love this Supercut because it shows just how much they learned. Listen to the life lessons and words of wisdom coming out of the mouths of sixteen-year-olds.
Some of my favorite projects:
Three of my girls volunteered over 300 hours and made a documentary about their experience. I was blown away. They volunteered locally and abroad. They went as far as Costa Rica, without parents and cellphones, to serve!
Another student explored her passion: tattooing!
Alyx sent care packages to soldiers serving in Afghanistan, one of whom was her father. We were lucky enough to have Alyx’s father join her on stage to talk about the meals soldier’s eat in Afghanistan and how much care packages mean to our soldiers. Not a dry eye in the house.
After the presentations, for their last BAI journal on Schoology, I hit my kids with a plot twist: That’s it. It’s over and you all did a great job! Now for the Plot Twist: I want you to think about your project, not just today, but over the course of the whole year. I want you to think of success and failure, overcoming adversity, effort, and life lessons. When you’ve reflected on your BAI Project and what you learned, I want you to grade yourself out of a 1000 and explain why you gave yourself that grade. Your grade will be your grade. It will go in the gradebook. I’ve also set it up so you can’t see what anyone else writes until you submit your (video) journal. Have fun!
Again, I was so proud to see what they wrote. Many lessons were learned.
Whether you call it Genius Hour, 20% Time, or make your own brand like I did, you owe it to your students to let them explore their passions and learn about themselves. Show them that learning is life-long, self-directed, and rarely successful on the first attempt. Chances are your students have something awesome they’ve always wanted to do, we just have to get out of their way.
Until next time,
cross-posted at Teched Up Teacher
Chris Aviles teaches English at Barnegat High School in New Jersey. He presents on education topics including gamification, technology integration, BYOD, blended learning, and the flipped classroom. Read more at Teched Up Teacher.