Each year, fourth and fifth graders in the Susitna Elementary Optional Program have the opportunity to explore their passions through Passion Projects. This project is a favorite for the students who participate, as they guide their own learning and express their interests through creativity.
Students choose to focus on interests like quilting, biking, F22 Raptors, swimming, rocks and gems, and, pancakes. Many students used the opportunity to get out into the community and conduct interviews with various people, including: an F-22 mechanic, a naturalist at the Eagle River Nature Center, pet owner, Anchorage Animal Rescue, and other experts.
Fourth and fifth grade teachers Joe Winter and Jennifer Harmon are the main facilitators of this project. Ms. Harmon explains that students have a rubric for each of the main parts of the project, which are reading/researching, writing, oral presentation, and a special media project. She says that the entire project takes students about one month to complete and is a way for students to learn time management skills. They also learn project management skills as they are expected to complete a planning packet, goal setting page, and self-reflection pages after their specific tasks.
Ms. Harmon says that amazing things happen when parents get involved in supporting the learning outside the classroom, “This year was our most successful yet in parent involvement— like taking students around town for interviews, and even helping to build a potato cannon.”
Once the projects are complete, the Susitna Optional Program offers a gallery walk so that younger students can explore the Passion Projects.
Ms. Harmon says, “The younger students look up to the elder students and can’t wait to be a fourth or fifth grader and do their own project. Parents have shared that students are even taking it upon themselves in 2nd or 3rd grade to emulate the passion project at home.”