Some Genius Tweaks to our Genius Hour

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(If you are unfamiliar with Genius Hour, be sure to visit my Genius Hour Resources Page.)

One of my many goals for rebooting Genius Hour this year was to help the students to create more engaging presentations.  Their passion just wasn’t coming through when it came time for them to share it with their peers.  It intrigued me how, during a reflective discussion about a presentation, many students would suggest making it more interactive or entertaining.  But a few weeks later, when it became their turn to share their own learning, their presentations would follow the same already-determined-to-be-unexciting formula.

This school year, I was determined to change this.  I believe that it was because of some of the change that I made that last week, I was rewarded with some of the best Genius Hour presentations I’ve seen since I started doing GH several years ago.

Change 1: My 4th grade GT students, who had never done Genius Hour before, created proposals for their projects – and then the class voted on them.  I was a little hesitant to try this idea at first, but pleased with the results.  Several proposals were voted down the first time based on the criteria we came up with (will the researcher learn anything new? will the class learn anything new from the presentation? will the class be able to use this new information in a practical way? is it interesting?)  Then the students went back to the drawing board and came up with better ideas, which were approved.  No feelings were visibly hurt, and the topics that seemed weak to me were also the same ones that didn’t receive enough votes from the class.

Change 2: To give my students ideas for alternative methods for presenting, I pointed out that I pretty much never use Powerpoint to give them new information – nor do I talk at them for 20 minutes or longer spouting facts.  Then, I gave them the Show What You Know paper to spark some new ideas for sharing their learning.  When they realized there were so many other options, suddenly Powerpoint lost its popularity.

Change 3: I gave them some tips from the SlideShare presentation, “What Would Steve Do?”  (“Steve” is Steve Jobs.) Specifically, I told them to work more on creating a visual story than on a slide show with bullet points.  And – now this is the big one – I emphasized the importance of rehearsing.  After looking at the SlideShare myself, I realized that this was a major weak spot in my classroom.  Students would spend several days on research, several days on creating the presentation, then – boom! – they would inform me they were ready for an audience.  “From now on, we are giving equal time to all three,” I told the students.  “As much time as you spend on research, you will spend on production and then on rehearsal.”

The first 2 groups were ready to present last week – and, wow!  They blew me away with their creativity and polished performances.

Group 1 presented on “How to Take Better Pictures.”  They first shared a poster with information using examples of pictures and a timeline about the history of the camera.  Then they involved the audience by having a game show to review what they had learned from the poster. They performed like real game show hosts, and used an iPad with the Game Show Sound Board app to make it sound realistic.  They had a name for the show (3,2,1 Snap!), a catchy intro, and even a commercial and poster advertising their show!

Group 2 presented what they had learned about Mars.  They did a well-scripted, well-rehearsed play that involved scenery and props, included a salt-dough representation of Mars, and invited the class to fill out a Venn Diagram comparing it to Earth!

After the two groups were finished, we reflected on both presentations as a class, and the students took notes on what they thought did or did not work.  I told them that I would hold them accountable for those notes.  Whatever they felt needed work in the first two presentations, they needed to be sure to improve in their own.

This was the first time that I saw the entire class engaged in someone else’s projects.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

rocket

The Science of Character

image from letitripple.org

image from letitripple.org

“Instead of asking students what they want to be, we should be asking them who they want to be.” 

I wish I could give attribution for the above quote.  It was something I saw on Twitter a few weeks ago, and it resonated with me.  The film called, “The Science of Character” delivers a similar message, except the question is, “How do you want to be?”

My 5th grade GT students study the “Dimensions of Character.”  This 8-minute film, “The Science of Character,” says everything that I hope they will learn from this year.  It stresses that you have the power to develop your own character – and that you can also shape the character of other people.  The video cites brain research that supports these ideas, and also cites Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets.

The video asks the audience to think about your own top five strengths.  You can access the ones you have identified to be the most important on the Periodic Table of Character Strengths, and you can click on each one to learn more about it.  This is a fabulous resource.  It not only gives the definition of each strength, but links to films, books, and other websites that give examples of the strength.

The site also offers film discussion guides for every level, from elementary to adult. There are many additional resources on learning more about character strengths, as well.  There is a link to a Character Strengths Survey, but that requires log-in information that I would not recommend be entered by students under 18.

I am definitely planning to use this with my 5th graders.  Last year, using an idea from Angela Maiers, I asked my students to choose their own “Dream Team” of people who demonstrate the traits they most admire.  (You can read more about this project here.)  The “Science of Character” film and resources fit in perfectly with this project.  I want to thank “Let it Ripple” for providing such a wonderful supplement for classrooms around the world!

Video Story Problems

Video Story Problems

This resource was shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher).  I am always looking for new ways to bring relevance to math, and I love this idea.  The Video Story Problem channel currently has 195 videos created by teachers and students.  If you go to this post on “The Tech Savvy Educator” you can get more information about the motivation for producing these videos, and how you can get involved.  There is even a form for students to plan their own Video Story Problems to submit.

Below is an example of one of the Video Story Problems that you can ask your students to view that proposes a challenge to figure out some awesome discounts at Kohl’s.  (If you are unable to view the video embedded below, try clicking here.)

Video Story Problem – Shopping at Kohl’s from Ben Rimes on Vimeo.

Diffen

Diffen

Last month, I saw a post about TED-Ed Clubs on Richard Byrne’s blog, Free Technology 4 Teachers.  Hoping to host such a club next year, I applied.  (According to the TED-Ed Clubs site, you may still apply.)

This post isn’t actually about TED-Ed Clubs, since Richard and the TED-Ed site have that pretty well handled.  I thought I would share with you a weekly tip that I got through their newsletter about a site called, “Diffen,” which allows you to compare and contrast two topics.  In their words, “Use Diffen to get your students talking and thinking about the overlaps and differences of various topics, and spark ideas they are passionate about!”

I decided to take a look.

The site is fairly simple.  Just type in a word into each blank, and choose “Go.”  It is certainly not perfect, but can definitely generate some interesting conversations!

My 1st grade class is doing a Mystery Twitter Chat with a class in Illinois today (thanks, Matt Gomez, for inspiring me!), so I thought I would do a comparison of Illinois to Texas.  Here is a partial screen shot of the results:

Diffen

 

It seems fairly objective, so it could be helpful for research.  In fact, according to the site creators, “When you are faced with choices, you are looking for unbiased information. Diffen makes it a goal to clearly delineate facts and opinions. The community keeps content unbiased and fact-oriented. The ratings and comments provide outlets for opinions.”

TED-Ed suggested searching for a comparison between empathy and sympathy.

Empathy

This is actually common question in my classroom, so using Diffen might be a good foundation for that conversation.  

I did some other comparisons that were not quite as fruitful – such as “truth” and “beauty” (this year’s Philosophy Slam topic).

Interestingly, just as on Wikipedia, you can add your own information to the tables. Of course, the source of the information on the site could generate some great discussions in your classroom as well – about the reliability of crowd-sourced reference sites, for example.  

So far I have not seen anything objectionable that appears on the site accidentally.  However, you should definitely check it out for yourself before sending younger students to this resource.  I would probably recommend that you use it for writing or discussion prompts, and that students know that it is essential to use several sources if they are doing research.

 

Sometimes We Just Need to Throw Out the Instructions

Quote from Randy Rodgers

Quote from Randy Rodgers

In his TCEA 2014 presentation, “Failure to Innovate,” Randy Rodgers stated the above quote, and I realized that it really says a lot about the problems in education today.  Our students are far too reliant on following directions, and so many are afraid to deviate in order to do some creative thinking.  I remember my daughter being the same with an old Lite-Brite we had inherited from a friend.  She loved it as long as there were papers she could stick on it to make the designs.  But as soon as we ran out of the papers, she didn’t know what to do.  When I suggested she make up her own designs, she looked at me like I was crazy.  As parents and teachers, we need to find ways to encourage creation, rather than only rewarding products that basically just prove our students know how to follow directions.

Even though I feel this in my heart, I still catch myself squelching innovation sometimes.  In our new Maker Studio, the students have a Little Bits station.  I downloaded task cards from the site that give suggestions for exploring the different parts.  Ten minutes after one group started with the task cards, I walked by the table to find the cards strewn about and various “Little Bits” being connected in the spirit of complete exploration.  I had to bite my logical, sequential tongue to stop from saying, “Wait!  But you didn’t do the task cards in order!  You didn’t even do the task cards!”  One of the few times my students didn’t consult me to find out what they were supposed to be doing, but dove in without fear, and I almost blew it!

If you’re looking for tools for innovation, check out Randy Rogers’ presentation, as well as his website.  He has a great list of all kinds of fabulous resources for those of us looking to bring more creativity into our classrooms.  A couple that I am hoping to add soon are: MakeyMakey and Hummingbird. (Watch the MakeyMakey video that shows bananas being played like a piano, and you’ll be sold, too!)

Whether it’s high-tech or low-tech, try to resist telling your students what to do with everything.  Sure, they need to know how to follow directions in certain situations.  But they also need to know how to lose them.

The Villains on Our Most UNwanted List

See below for the link for the full set of Genius Hour villains.

See below for the link for the full set of Genius Hour villains.

Last summer, I was playing around with ways to spice up my Genius Hour time, and decided to add some of the elements of gamification to the mix.  One of these was to create Challenge Cards.  At the beginning of each Genius Hour, students have the option to choose a Challenge Card.  The higher the level of the card, the more difficult the challenge is.  If they complete the challenge successfully, the students earn that number of points in Class Dojo (we use the points to Level Up and earn privileges) – but if they don’t complete the challenge, they will lose the points.  It’s been wildly successful with my 5th graders, and my 3rd and 4th graders are just about to join in on the fun.

One other gamification element I invented last summer happened to be a flyer that listed “Genius Hour Villains.” I mean, think about it – what good is a game without any villains to fight?  So, I thought about some of the obstacles my students had faced in the past during Genius Hour, and tried to personify them.  And that was when the “Genius Hour Villains” flyer was born.

I ran the Villains by my 5th graders when they started Genius Hour last Fall.  They have been referring to them ever since – particularly “Decoy Boy.”  When we reflect on Genius Hour, he seems to be the biggest culprit when it comes to the students making progress on their projects.  However, just the fact that they can identify the problem has reduced its occurrence quite a bit, compared to the students who worked on Genius Hour last year with me.

4th grade just started their Genius Hour time last week. I brought out the flyer, and went over all of the “characters” they should avoid during their research time.  They thought the characters were hysterical.  Maybe it was a coincidence, but this was the smoothest “First” Genius Hour I ever experienced.

The kids embraced the villains so much, I thought that maybe a little flyer wasn’t enough.  So, I went home this weekend and worked on a set of posters.  I wanted to make “Wanted” posters, but then I realized that these guys are actually what we don’t want in the classroom.  So, these are my (Not) Wanted posters.

The posters are now available on Teachers Pay Teachers for $2.

For more Genius Hour Resources, check out my page here.  There are more free downloadables, including the Genius Hour Challenges on that page.  Or, if you don’t feel like spending the time visiting each link, you can also purchase a set of all of my current Genius Hour downloadables for $5 on TPT.