I’m going to break one of my blogging rules and write about something that I haven’t actually seen or read yet (I don’t think this is first time I’ve broken that rule, but I could be wrong). I keep running across articles about it, and I heard an interview with the author on NPR.
One of the Kaplan icons for Depth and Complexity that I talk about with my students is “Change over Time.” The new book and PBS mini-series, “How We Got to Now” is a fascinating look through this lens at different facets of the world that is familiar to us.
Cory Doctorow has an excellent review of the book by Steven Johnson here. I immediately ordered it from Amazon, and I am eagerly anticipating it!
You can listen to Linda Wertheimer’s interview with Steven Johnson (or read the transcript) here. I was intrigued by Johnson’s reference to the hummingbird effect as well as his interesting story about how the printing press led to the manipulation of glass in new ways as more people began to read and realized that they needed spectacles!
Not only do the stories covered by Steven Johnson relate “Change Over Time”, but they are examples of the many unintended consequences that result from events and demonstrate the interdependence of the systems in our world.
I am hoping I can use some of the stories with my students, and that they can use them as a model for some of their own research. Storytelling is always a great way to engage the students and help them to learn about history as they consider the implications for the future.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
Many of you may be familiar with Wonderopolis, a fun site to learn about all kinds of topics that may have piqued your curiosity at one time or another – and even topics that you didn’t know might cause you to wonder. This summer, the site is offering another free, online camp. It looks a bit different than last year’s camp, as this year’s description suggests that you will be able to follow your own path of wonder, and there will be photo and video contests in addition to hands-on activity suggestions. For more about Camp Wonderopolis, click here.
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.
UPDATE: Photo Mapo is no longer free (.99) and Tellagami no longer offers the text-to-speech or customization in the free app. You can read more about the Tellagami changes here.
Yesterday I wrote about an app-smashing project my GT 5th graders did, and today I want to present to you one that my GT 1st graders have been working on. They have been researching countries, and recently created Photo Mapo postcards to tell about particular interesting landmarks. Typing is a bit of a laborious process for some of the 1st graders on the iPads, so I let them keep their Photo Mapo descriptions fairly short. However, I wanted them to elaborate a little more. This was the perfect opportunity for them to use Tellagami. With Tellagami, the students were able to choose if they wanted to type or record their own voices. This involved some heavy decision-making for some of the students. On the one hand, they weren’t fond of typing. On the other hand, they loved all of the different accents they could choose for their avatars if they did take the time to type the script! For some of them, that was plenty of motivation :) Others decided they would rather speak for themselves. Once the students created their Tellagami videos, I loaded them up to Aurasma studio. Now, you can scan their Photo Mapo postcards, and see the videos that give a bit more detail. Their parents will be able to view them at home, as well, by scanning the pages with the free Aurasma app. For more ideas on using Augmented Reality in the classroom, check out my Augmented Reality Resource page – to which I just added an amazing lesson from Andy Plemmons using Layar for a 4th Grade Wax Museum.