CHAMPION - High school students are often doing research for class assignments and English papers, but students at the Trumbull Career and Technical Center are getting to research what they are interested in as part of a new program called ''Genius Hour.''
English instructors Charmayne Polen, Nick Libeg and Cara DeToro started the program last fall in their 11th-grade English class and each week, usually on Friday, they have students researching topics they're interested in.
Polen said Genius Hour is a type of project-based learning in line with the common core curriculum that asks students to become more self-sufficient and independent.
Genius Hour requires students to identify a subject of interest and, after teacher approval, they begin reading and researching the topic.
Topics include making decorative cakes, learning sign language, getting a bank loan, learning to become an actor, web page development, or running for public office.
Students submit weekly reflections to their teachers summarizing what they have learned during the week and outline their progress toward reaching their goal.
Libeg said the lesson is relatively unstructured compared to other course work in class.
"We tried to adapt this to the classroom where students research a topic that they are really interested in. It is self-directed in many ways," he said.
Polen said the topic does not have do anything with their professional area for which they are attending TCTC.
Polen said a student in the teaching profession, for example, is researching what makes people smile, such as paying for people's coffee at the drive-thru of a business.
"There is a lot of research they do. Whatever the topic, the research meets standards. They are researching something they truly enjoy. While research to many students may be a painful process, suddenly it has become more relevant and interesting to them,'' Libeg said.
"We have juniors who are learning how to write a proper business plan and how to secure a loan. This will be something they will need to know and do in the future," he said.
Polen said the decision making is left up to the students.
Libeg said he does direct the students to keep them on task.
"If they hit a wall, you use your knowledge to say here is the question you should be asking after this and perhaps think about it this way. This is more one-on-one situation working on their skills," Libeg said.
Polen said students include visuals as part of their research, for instance those learning about baking fancy cakes can bring in the cakes they have made.
"I require a social media component. Some students have Twitter accounts or Facebook pages, blogs, and show their visuals there," she said.
Each week the students receive a grade on part of their activities.
Libeg said the final part of Genius Hour is a ''TED" Talk scheduled for May 12 in the auditorium, requiring students give extemporaneous talks before an audience using their visuals. Presentations will be five to eight minutes.
The teachers noted a few students are working in pairs on a topic both are interested in.
Libeg said teachers serve as a guides and facilitators and are also learning from the lesson as they have seen the program get results.
''Students are becoming more knowledgeable through the Genius Hour project,'' he said.