MIDLOTHIAN — While the adage “curiosity killed the cat” may be true for the cat — it’s a concept that’s helping Midlothian Heritage High School students thrive in their academic explorations.

The second annual “Genius Week” took kids out of the classroom and into a desired field of interest, loosening the reigns on curiosity throughout the Heritage campus.

“We looked at this as a way for our kids to be able to learn about something that we haven’t had in our curriculum to teach them,” explained Krista Tipton, principal of Heritage High School. “Maybe it’s something they’re curious or passionate about and want to learn more. [...] Last year, we were floored with the amount of participation and the work we got from the kids, so this year we’re rolling it out again."

Based on the concept from the Google 20 Percent Project, students accepted responsibility and took ownership of their work, inspiring one another through the five-day in-house competition May 2-6.

“Basically, the Google executives give their engineers 20 percent of their time to dabble in whatever they’re curious about and they end up making some really cool inventions,” Tipton explained the inspiration for Genius Week. “For example, Google Sky came from the 20 Percent Project, and it was just an engineer who said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if the maps we have could do the same thing with the constellations?’ When you give people the time to be creative and go with their thoughts, creativity, passions and curiosity – it’s amazing with what they can come up with. So we decided to tap into that here."

Instead of End Of Course (EOC)and Advanced Placement (AP) testing, Tipton goes on to note that they’re putting their student’s time to good use with a spin of fun during the week-long objective.

“Last year, we decided that instead of doing EOC testing and AP testing and everything else going on the wayside, we decided to use that unused time during this first week of May,” Tipton articulated. “The premise is, we tell the kids to find something they’re passionate and curious about, so they pick a topic and come up with a problem, or what they’re going to research, and make sure it’s in-depth enough to be a high school project."

Once students have targeted their project’s hypothesis, they then upload their work to the school’s Campus Learning Management System for accountability and progress.

“It’s all online, and the kids don’t go to any classes, and the teachers and kids are all over the place working,” Tipton added.

With students lining the lobby, classrooms, and hallways, projects of all variations were being conducted not only for creative exploration but also for a “wild-card grade.”

“One thing we’re doing differently this year is connecting it with a grade. Last year, we really wanted kids not to be thinking about ‘What kind of grade am I going to get on this?’ Because we want them to be focused on the beauty of the learning,” Tipton expounded. “But at the same time, many of them wanted a grade because they put so much into it. So basically we’ve worked out a system where they can do any kind of project that they want to do and apply it to whichever class they want to apply it to, as long as it follows the set rubric."

From robotics and engineering to cooking and filmmaking, the challenge has turned into a popular favorite.

“They’re incredible, that’s why we did it again. You may think that these high school kids can’t be trusted or you have to watch them 24-7, but it’s amazing when you give them a little trust and responsibility, they really thrive and run with it,” Tipton encouraged.

After students have packaged their projects into a video format, documenting what they’ve learned, the school’s administration will pick the top projects that stood out among the rest during an end of the year assembly.

As for next year, Tipton is confident the project will continue through the school’s growth.

“We’re taking it a year at a time. We always try to stay up with technology and what the kids want to do and learn about, and the thing with something like this is keeping it open-ended," Tipton noted.

“These students have shown us that they can do it, and they really have amazed us,” she praised. “We’re going to be growing next year, and as we get more and more kids, it gets difficult to manage, but we’re going to keep pushing the envelope and make it fun and engaging for the kids.”

The Genius Week merit projects will soon be announced.

To connect with Heritage High School visit misd.gs/hhs or call (972) 775-6509.

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Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer

(469)-517-1450