Category Archives: Independent Study

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one.  Monday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year. On Tuesday, I wrote about the Global Cardboard Challenge. Wednesday’s post was about bringing a Maker Studio to your students.

Before I get deep into this post, I want to emphasize that I am not, by any means, an expert on this topic.  If you look at the bottom of my Genius Hour Resources page, you will find many other far more qualified people to give advice.

Let’s start with the name.  You don’t have to call it Genius Hour. Some call it Passion Time, Wonder Time, or 20% Time.  Don’t get hung up on what it’s called – although you may find more resources on the web by searching for those titles.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8485655331/
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8485655331/

Also, don’t obsess over the time; it doesn’t have to be an hour or 20% of your total time with your students.  It can be more.  It can be less.

Some teachers worry about the freedom or the departure from the curriculum.  It doesn’t have to be a free-for-all.  You can have guidelines, even particular generalized topics.  For example, if you are studying landforms in science, one student might choose to investigate Pompeii and another might try to design a new vehicle for exploring the interior of volcanoes.

Other teachers are concerned that their students will choose topics that the teacher doesn’t know very much about.  From personal experience, I can tell you that this is actually a gift.  It’s in our nature to help kids too much, but when we can’t, they learn the value of struggling.

The point is to give your students time to pursue something that is of deep interest to them.  It’s about choice and flexibility.  It’s about voice and creativity.  And, it’s about making things relevant for your students so they want to learn and find it meaningful.  Along the way, students learn valuable lessons about research and problem-solving. They learn about grit and the importance of communication.

You can see from the entries in this LiveBinder maintained by Joy Kirr that Genius Hour can happen in any grade level from Kinder-12th, and that there are many ways to do it.

My best advice is to model it and scaffold it.  You will tear your hair out if you just open up by saying, “I want you to pick something you want to learn about and come up with a presentation for the class.” Students usually have no experience with this kind of freedom, and some will have meltdowns just trying to select a topic.  Take a look at my resources and see what would work best for your situation.

Sherlock Holmes’ Resume

My daughter is a huge fan of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series so when I saw this, I had to show her.  We both had a chuckle over the graph of his interests :)

a portion of Sherlock Holmes' resume from Media Bistro
a portion of Sherlock Holmes’ resume from Media Bistro

You can see the infographic in its entirety by visiting Media Bistro. It’s being used to advertise for a new book on infographic resumes from McGraw-Hill.

Students could do a similar activity to analyze a character in any book or a person in history.  This would go along very well as a companion activity to creating a book trailer using the app I mentioned yesterday, “In a World… Drama.”  To create the infographic, students could design their own free-hand.  Or, you can visit this list of suggested websites to make infographics from Richard Byrne.

This activity not only allows students to show their understanding of a particular person while showcasing their creativity, but may also help them to develop a beneficial skill that they may need down the road.  My husband’s company has been receiving infographic resumes from prospective employees, and they definitely help the job applicants to stand out from the rest of the crowd!  (Of course, you probably would not want to highlight cigars as being your primary interest in life…)

 

Tried and True – Genius Hour

Students involved in an "Interactive Genius Hour Presentation"
Students involved in an “Interactive Genius Hour Presentation

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.

Some might call it 20% Time.  Others call it Passion Time.  My first encounter with it was as “Genius Hour,” and so I’ve kept that label.  There are many versions, and many recommended ways to do it.  The crux of the matter, however, is that many educators have found that it is important to allow students to pursue studies in topics that interest them and have relevance to their lives.  I began doing Genius Hour several years ago with my GT 5th graders.  This past year, I expanded it to 3rd and 4th grades.  Every year, and with each grade level, I’ve done things a bit differently.  But I continue to do it because I have definitely seen the value.  I can’t imagine my classroom without Genius Hour – and once I introduce it to a group, they will not stand for it to be taken away from them.  If we ever miss it because of scheduling conflicts, I have a near mutiny on my hands.

You can see my Genius Hour Journey by going to the Genius Hour Resources page (there is a tab at the top of this blog).  I also have downloadables (I highly recommend the Challenge Cards – a big hit with my class this year!), as well as links to other fabulous Genius Hour Resources.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you will see some recommended articles for “newbies” to Genius Hour.

Genius Hour is messy.  It’s loud, and there is absolutely no sitting down on the teacher’s part.  Most of the time, your students are learning about topics in which you have no expertise whatsoever.  It can be frustrating and extremely challenging to your sanity.

But, once you see the impact it has on your students, you will find that it changes your philosophy of teaching.  And, even the moments that are not dedicated to Genius Hour in your classroom will slowly become more student-centered and more meaningful.

 

thisibelieve

This I Believe

If you never had a chance to listen to “This I Believe” on NPR, then you have been missing out.  Although the series does not air any longer, you can still access many of the recordings, and there are books available as well.  The best way to describe these personal essays is this paragraph from ThisIBelieve.org: “This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists, and secretaries—anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. These essayists’ words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and racial division.”

You can find recent recordings from the show here. The appropriateness of the recordings for school depends on the age-level of the children.  I have used pieces of the “This I Believe” high school curriculum originally provided through NPR with my 5th grade GT students.

The other day I bookmarked an intriguing Tweet from Drew Frank (@ugafrank) about a “This I Believe” video created by a student for a class.  I finally had the chance to view it last night, and I was blown away by the message and creativity. The student’s name is Kasey Tamamoto, and her video is definitely appropriate for all age levels.  As soon as I viewed it, I knew it would be the subject of today’s post. There seem to be quite a few of these videos on YouTube.  I haven’t watched them yet, but I bet there are some other exceptional examples as well.

For more inspirational videos for students, visit my Pinterest Board or this post on my top 3 favorites.  I also have a Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Teachers - where Kasey’s video would fit just as well!

Adobe Voice

Screen shot from the Adobe Voice presentation of a group in my 5th grade GT class.
Screen shot from the Adobe Voice presentation of a group in my 5th grade GT class.  Inspired by this quote.

A couple of weeks ago, Adobe released a new iPad app called, “Adobe Voice.”  It reminds me a bit of Microsoft’s Photo Story – a free piece of software that allows you to create a video out of images.  Like Photo Story, Adobe Voice allows you to add photos, text, narration, and music.  However, it does give more options for where you can find your photos.  You can do a Creative Commons search, use your own, or even choose from a library of icons that is provided. I imagine the Creative Commons search is where the 12+ rating comes from on the iTunes store.  However, my students didn’t run into any inappropriate images during their projects.

The first group to use Adobe Voice in my classroom was a pair of my 3rd grade GT students.  They were trying to synthesize one of the ideas they had brainstormed for solving the problems of noise and mess in the cafeteria.  After consulting with a couple of “expert” principals, they realized that we were lacking some student leadership in the lunch room, and created this presentation to pitch a proposal to our principal for having student monitors during meal times.

They were under a time constraint, so they did not delve into many of the creative features of the app, but they got their message through quickly and effectively.

Last Thursday, I met with my 5th grade GT students for the final time.  Because they have been with me once a week for two years, I wanted to get a sense from them of what they felt was the one “takeaway” they got from being in my classroom.  (In Kaplan language, this is called the “Big Idea.”)  I gave them full freedom to cull through my Pinterest Board of Favorite Quotations. I asked them to choose one that they thought exemplified the message I wanted them to carry with them for the rest of their lives.  Then they were asked to create an Adobe Voice presentation built around that message, giving examples to support it.  Here are a couple of their videos (unfortunately, embed codes for Adobe Voice do not work on this WordPress blog):

“Make” – The students used pictures: from their Genius Hour presentations, of their Character Trait Floor Plans, of MaKeyMaKey, a project from our Global Cardboard Challenge, a drawing from our Squiggle Challenge, and of Cubelets.

Change the World” – This one came from the pair of students who created the Lego Stop Motion film and scavenger hunt/quiz for Genius Hour.

You can view all of the presentations on our class blog post.  I loved the variety, and the multitude of perspectives.

A couple of things you should note if you are using Adobe Voice:

  • You will need an Adobe (or Facebook) account to login in order to upload your videos.
  • You can share the videos through e-mail and social networks, but there does not appear to be a way to download the video to your camera roll or to export the file.
  • In order to embed the video in a blog post, you will need to access it online once it is uploaded, and then get the embed code (also, the free WordPress hosted sites will not work with the embed code).
  • Check to see if the image search is blocked by your district filter.  If so, students will need to have images ready on their camera roll or to be able to take pictures while creating.

Here are a couple of other online articles about Adobe Voice: from CNet,  from EBHS Professional Learning.

Interactive #GeniusHour Presentations

Pin the Name on the Tree
“Pin the Name on the Tree” Presentation

I’ve had many failures this year (which I will be outlining in some near future posts, I promise), but one message I definitely seemed to get across to my students was that I am done with ho-hum slide presentations that make everyone yawn.  A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the awesome presentation that some of my 4th graders did recently.  This past week, we had some great ones from my 5th graders.

My consistent theme this year, when it comes to Genius Hour presentations, has been The Golden Rule.  If you wouldn’t want people standing in front of you for 20 minutes reading slides to you in a monotone, then why on earth would you subject your classmates to the same torture?  I haven’t outlawed slide shows, but I’ve shown the students that they are ineffective unless you are a passionate speaker with engaging slides.  After I gave them a peek at 101 Ways to Show What You Know, things got a lot more interesting.

One of my 5th graders has been researching her family tree during Genius Hour, as she had discovered that she was descended from Grover Cleveland.  I have to admit that I was pretty worried about how this presentation would go over.  How would she find a way to make her personal family tree interesting to the rest of the class?  I gave her some suggestions, but she had her own idea.  She made an actual tree, and put velcro on it.  Then she printed out the names of her ancestors, adding velcro to the back.  She divided the class into teams.  When it was a team’s turn, they picked a name out of the bag.  She gave them a clue, and they had to “pin the name on the tree” in the correct spot to get a point.  Total engagement.

The next presentation came from a pair of boys.  They have been working on learning how to do stop motion animation.  From the beginning, I had been reminding them that creating a video wouldn’t be enough.  The class was going to need to learn something from their presentation.  Of course, they could have created a video that taught something.  But that wasn’t what they wanted to do ;)  When I think about all of the steps these boys went through for their project, I am blown away.

First, they taught themselves how to use the Lego Movie app.  When they couldn’t add their own voices to that, though, they taught themselves how to use iMovie.  They researched the history of Lego and of stop motion film.  They wrote facts on the backs of small pieces of paper.  Then they made short videos to give clues on how to find the small pieces of paper which were hidden all over the school.  They used the Aurasma app to link the clue videos to drawings they made (all of the drawings were related to their stop motion video).  The class was divided into teams of 3.  Each team had identifying drawings taped to their table (again – characters from their video).  Each team had three different clues that led to three different facts.  When the activity started, the teams would scan their first clue with Aurasma, two students from the team would go find the fact based on the clue video, and the third student would stay in the classroom to watch the stop motion video.  After the students returned, the boys used the Game Show app on the iPads to quiz the teams on the facts they learned.  Then, another round would begin.  This went on until every student had a chance to see the video and go looking for facts.

Did I mention – complete engagement and learning?!!!

Yep, this is a lot better than a slideshow…

For more information on Genius Hour, check out my Genius Hour Resources page here.

The boys quiz the class on the Lego and stop motion facts.
The boys quiz the class on the Lego and stop motion facts.

 

Take Your Dream Team to the Next Level

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 7.54.32 PM

Last year, I posted about a “Dream Team” project, inspired by Angela Maiers, that my 5th graders did using the Puppet Pals app.  If pressed to name my own Dream Team (which would have a larger roster than all of the teams in the NBA combined!), Angela Maiers would definitely be part of it.  Two other members would be Laura Moore, an Instructional Technologist in our district who blogs at Learn Moore Stuff, and Kacie Germadnik, a fellow GT teacher.

I was recently browsing Laura’s blog, and she did a post with some great shout-outs to teachers who have been integrating technology in amazing ways.  She included Kacie’s Dream Team project, which completely blew me away.  Each student created a Smore, and they have biographies and pictures of their Dream Team members. Also included on the Smore pages are various technology products created by the students in which they explained mandalas that they made as well as “This I Believe” videos.  Kacie then collected each student’s project into a Blendspace portfolio.  To see more examples, take a look at this link.