SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – On the morning of May 25, a Genius Hour event held at Roosevelt Elementary School provided students in Shannon Brace’s third grade class the opportunity to show off the 'passion projects' they have been working on throughout the year. 

Passion projects, according to Brace, allow students to research topics of interest to them or select one they may have felt strongly about. “The students got to pick one topic that they were really interested in and the goal was for them to become experts on it,” said Brace. “They had free range and that really drove the research.”

‘Passion Projects’ presented at last week’s Genius Hour included such topics as helping the homeless, Indian presidents, gymnastics, soccer stars, and the history of baseball as well humpback whales, geckos and wolves. There were also projects done on jewelry making, Amazon drones, Beyoncé, emojis, and more.

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Students selected their topics in early October and, over the course of the school year, spent an hour of class time each Friday using age appropriate websites to research and develop their projects. They also blogged each week about what worked and what didn't. Once the research was complete, the third graders then put their technology skills to work, using formats such Google Slides, iMovie, Piktochart, and PowToon to develop slideshows, videos, infographs and even interactive cartoons on their specific topic.

In selecting topics and conducting research, Brace said students also learned the difference between ‘Google-able’ questions – such as finding out what the weather in New Jersey is – and ‘non-Google-able’ questions – such as ‘how can one person help the homeless.’

Third grader Adriana Magnani focused her passion project on ways to help the homeless, researching Habitat for Humanity, how people become homeless, and statistics around the U.S. and New Jersey. Additionally, Adriana also looked to create a tangible item and, putting the sewing skills her grandmother taught to use, made a pillow out of an old T-shirt.  She plans to volunteer in the soup kitchen at Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick and gift the pillow to a special child there.

“That is her contribution to the world, and that’s the whole point to this,” said Brace. ‘The goal is ‘how can I make an impact on the world.’”

Students in Brace’s class said they enjoyed the project because it gave them the opportunity to focus on and learn more about topics that interest them.

“I liked this project because I got to learn more about my idol,” said Brandon Calderone, who did his research on soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo. “It was super fun because I always want to learn new facts about him. It was great that learning about him was part of my classwork.”

Mya Marin, who researched and created a Google Slide on humpback whales, added, “I learned that they sing songs that last over 20 minutes long. And their scientific name is megaptera novaeangliae.”

“I liked that I got to pick my own topic and do the project on something I wanted to do,” said Julianna Jordao, who also used Google Slides to create a presentation on the Final Five gymnastics team. “I picked it because I do gymnastics and I watched the Olympics a lot last summer.”

“Mrs. Brace’s students did a wonderful job at the Genius Hour, showing their individual presentations to their visitors,” added Mary Malyska, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for South Plainfield Schools, following the event. “Each student’s talents and computer skills shown through [and] the unique subject matter and formats were great to see.”

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