Genius Hour: The Finale

Since my last post which dealt with the death of my friend, LaRie, I have not been in the mood to write about anything.  I just haven’t been able to motivate myself to get back to my blog.  Today is my first attempt to get back into the swing of things.  Life must go on, and I must try to make each day better than the day before.  So, I will begin by writing about my students’ Genius Hour presentations from two weeks ago.

On Friday, April 4th, my students presented their learning from Genius Hour.  Each one of my students selected a topic of interest that they wanted to learn more about.  We had everything from how to make a blueberry pancake to coding.  This was my first attempt at Genius Hour, and I have to admit I was very nervous.  No, make that afraid of what might happen.  I am slowly learning that this is actually a good feeling.  🙂  In any case, my students worked diligently every week doing research.  They blogged about their ideas and commented on other people’s ideas.  Some of them brought their own device every week to help them with their research.  Parents were involved in supporting their child.  Volunteers came to my classroom each week to help us during Genius Hour.  It was amazing.

On the day of the presentations, you could literally feel the energy and excitement as my students walked through the door.  Some came with posters, models, and props.  Others handed me their thumb drives so I could be ready to plug them into the computer when it was their turn to present.  Here are some pictures of the projects.

GH 1
Learning About Lasers

GH 5
Bunny Facts

GH 6
A Lesson in Robotics

GH 8
Acoustic Guitars

During the presentations, I had my students take notes.  After the presentations, they had to reflect on what they learned about.  They also had to write about how they felt after they were done.  Did they feel like geniuses?  Many of my students enjoyed the experience.  Most of them talked about how nervous they were at the beginning.  They realized that presenting in front of the class was not as bad as they thought.  Parents were invited to watch and listen.  After the presentations many of them told me Genius Hour was a wonderful experience for them, too.

I learned that this kind of activity has many benefits.  It was scary for me, but I was so happy at the end.  I realized that learning is messy.  It’s okay if things don’t work out the first time.  I learned that I don’t have all the answers.  Like the students, I relied on research and talking to an expert who would help steer me in the right direction and motivated me to keep moving forward (Thanks Kriscia!).

I am sad Genius Hour is over for now.  But, I am still trying to incorporate that inquiry into other parts of my day.  My students are asking for another Genius Hour.  I am not sure if there is time.  The end of the year is fast approaching.  Before I know it, it will be June!  We shall see what we can do.

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Fantastic Friday

This was a fantastic day.  We started the day out with our annual “Otter Trot”, a jogathon to raise money for our school’s PTA.  The money raised from this event will help pay for our P.E. aide.  I actually managed to run a few laps even with my strained hamstring.  I probably should have taken it easy, but I didn’t want this to be the first year where I didn’t get to run.  My hamstring was screaming at me the whole time, but hey.  No pain, no gain.

The next fantastic thing that happened was Genius Hour.  I was really nervous about how this whole thing was going to work.  I think the hardest part about it was getting all the students who brought devices connected to the school’s wifi.  Thank goodness I had parent helpers in the room who could help troubleshoot.  Once the students got connected, it was amazing how engaged they were.  I had students come up with questions about their topic ahead of time so that they could use our Genius Hour time wisely.  I am very impressed by some of the ideas my students came up with.  One student is researching the guitar.  Another student wants to know about crash test dummies.  Still another student wants to learn how to make her own video.  And, a different student wants to start her own on-line business.  I don’t know what is going to happen, but I am excited nonetheless.  I can’t wait to see what the final projects are going to look like.

Finally, the winter edition of the SDAWP Dialogue is out.  My fellow SDAWP fellows were highlighted in this issue.  My friend Ana Martinez Reyes wrote a piece about how English learners need authentic writing experiences.  She mentioned me in her article and printed some of my students’ work.  I am so proud of all my friends who wrote for this publication.  I am going to print the Dialogue up and post it in my staff lounge.  Of course, I am going to highlight where I am mentioned.  🙂

This was an amazing day.

The Child-Driven Education

Yesterday, after my SDAWP follow-up, I was talking to my friend Linda about Genius Hour.  Linda is an amazing K-1 teacher who has done a lot of work in her classroom on student-centered learning.  She suggested I watch a TedTalk video by Sugata Mitra called The Child-Driven Education.

Wow!  The video was inspiring.  However, it made me realize that, in the future, my job as a teacher may become obsolete.  Perhaps I can be a “granny in the cloud” and just be there to support.  It would be amazing if I could get my students to be problem-solvers, thinkers, creators, and innovators instead of just receptacles of information.  This is what I hope will be an outcome of Genius Hour in my classroom.  I don’t know what will happen.  This could fail miserably, or this experience will be so wonderful that I will have to do it again!  I hope it is the latter.

A Fantastic Beginning

Genius Hour has officially been launched in my classroom.  All week I captured the students’ attention by telling them something exciting was about to happen.  I kept telling them not to be absent on Friday.  And, guess what??  No one was!

The first thing I did was ask the students if they knew what it meant to be a genius.  They had several good ideas.  From there I told them that everyone in the room was a genius.  Some of them did not believe me.  I told them we were going to spend the next few weeks discovering that inner genius in all of us.  That is when I explained to the students we were all going to be participating in Genius Hour.  They all looked at me like “Huh?”  I showed them this quick video from www.geniushour.com.

Our next activity was a protocol called Chalk Talk.  I hung four posters on the cabinets and had the students write down their ideas on the chart paper.

chart 1

chart 2

The students were really excited and they came up with some great ideas.  Hopefully, they will be able to choose an appropriate topic for their own research.  Here are just a few examples from today.  One student wrote they wanted to create a board game.  I don’t know what it will be about, but that’s okay.  One student said they wanted to create a double decker couch.  I don’t know if that will happen, but it is a neat concept.  Another student said they would like to learn to surf.  Another wanted to learn to play the guitar.  A student said they would like to learn how to make the world a better place.  That was my favorite.

Next week I am going to spend some time discussing the idea of questions.  I saw a great video in which the teacher was guiding the students to understand that good students ask lots of questions.  It was very powerful.  You can find the video on a site by Angela Maiers called 12 Most Genius Questions in the World.  I think this will be the next step in my Genius Hour journey.

All I know is that I am extremely excited about what is to come.  I believe my 2nd graders will come up with some amazing things during our genius hour.  I will be sure to post about our journey together.

Taking A Leap

The other day I attended an inservice on learning mangement systems (platforms).  The current platform my district is using will not be used next year.  I don’t know what happened between our district and the company, but the contract will not be renewed.  Teachers from the district, K-12, were invited to hear presentations from two new companies.  The two companies pitched their product and teachers were able to critique and give feedback as to the system that would work for us.  I am always skeptical at these things because I believe the district has already selected the company they want.  However, they want it to look like teachers have a voice, so they ask for our input.  I hope this is not the case, but it always makes me wonder.

In any case, I was sitting next to my friend, Brenda.  We used to work together, but now she is teaching at a different school site.  It was nice to see her and other teachers that you only see at events like this one.  Brenda mentioned Genius Hour to me at lunch time, and I was intrigued.  It is a way for students to learn about something they are passionate about.  It is based on the concept developed by Google where their employees devote 20% of their work time to something that they want to learn about.  The only stipulation is that it has to benefit Google in some way.  I wanted to learn more about this process, so I spent most of my day researching.  I am very committed to this idea that I gave up an overnight trip to Palm Desert this weekend.

I am still not sure how I am going to roll this out with my 2nd graders.  I have a lot of ideas in my brain, but I am not sure how it will work.  For me and my type A personality this is causing me great concern.  If I attempt this in my classroom, that means I will have to give up control.  This bothers me.  Fear of the unknown bothers me.  All the what if questions go off in my brain.  What if this doesn’t work?  What if my kids don’t get it?  What if parents complain?  Ugh.  I guess I will just have to take that leap of faith.  I think this will be great fun for my students and for me.  I can’t wait to see what my students come up with.  This feeling reminds me of a youtube video I saw of a young girl taking her first ski jump.  Petrified at the beginning, but exhilarated at the end.

Personally, I am tired of hearing from parents that their child is bored or is not being challenged.  What better way to let students be in charge of their learning.  The other thing I hear from parents is that their child is not motivated to learn.  Well, if I have Genius Hour in my class, I am not telling them what to learn.  They get to choose something on their own.  I received an email from a parent over the weekend telling me how I should manage my classroom.  It’s a long story, but stems from an incident with the substitute teacher that was covering my class while I was proctoring the GATE test at my school last week.  Her child was not very respectful with the substitute and the parent wanted to blame the sub for her son’s misbehavior.  In the email, she suggested that I provide a reward system so that her child would be motivated to behave in class.  In other words, I need to give external rewards to her child so that her son would be motivated to do better in class.  I am not a “treasure chest” kind of teacher.  I like intrinsic rewards and the feeling of accomplishment for having done something to the best of my ability.  Don’t get me wrong, I give the ocassional extrinsic reward, but it’s not how I choose to run my classroom.  Why do I need to reward you for something you were supposed to be doing in the first place?

Genius Hour would be a great way to motivate students intrinsically.  Who wouldn’t want to take time out to learn about something you are passionate about?  I wish I had this 20% built in to my work day.  That would be so awesome.

I am still doing my research.  If anyone has any ideas for primary grade students, I am open to hearing them.  I am excited by the possibilities.  I am going to try to roll this out this week.  I will make sure to post how it is going.  I just have to take the leap and trust in the process.