Tag Archives: independent study

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.

 

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.

 

Inquiry Cycle

image from: Sonya Terborg

One of my favorite new blogs to follow is Sonya Terborg’s.  Every time I read a new post from her, I feel like we are kindred spirits.  Recently, she wrote an article called, “Teaching Without a Plan…What???” in which she addressed how we, as teachers, can approach being “the guide on the side”.  I think that her Inquiry Cycle poster, which you can download as a PDF from her site, will be a perfect resource for me as I guide my gifted students through Genius Hour this year.  I highly recommend reading her entire article, and to visit some of the other posts on Sonya’s site.

Pecha Kucha

image credit: http://www.taft.co.nz/gardenfestnz/events/pechakucha.html

According the the above website, “PechaKucha is a presentation format for creative work originally devised in 2003 by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein-Dytham Architecture in Tokyo, Japan. The name derives from a Japanese term for the sound of conversation or chit-chat.”

I first heard about Pecha Kucha from some of my fellow G.T. teachers, and was fascinated by the concept – a presentation of 20 slides with 20 seconds for each slide.  At the time, I was already caught up with end-of-the-school-year projects, and did not have a spare moment to do more research.  This summer, I ran across this great blog post that gives 10 great suggestions for how to create an awesome Pecha Kucha.

I love the idea of giving this option to my students – particularly for their Genius Hour projects.  I also think this is a great way for teachers to introduce a new topic – or even review one.  Or, you can do what the professionals do, have a “Pecha Kucha Night” at which your student present their most inspirational slideshows.  If you can think of any other ideas for Pecha Kucha in the classroom, I would love to see your comments!

Teach with Tournaments

Teach with Tournaments is a curriculum written by Josh Hoekstra, and was recently featured in a blog entry by William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education.  I highly recommend that you read William Bennett’s blog entry, as it gives a very good summary of the idea successfully used by Mr. Hoekstra with his U.S. History students.  I love the concept of having the students defend their “champion” by doing research, and I think that this might also be something that I could include next year as I attempt to “gamify” my classroom.  It could also fit in nicely with the Genius Hour idea.  In addition, I would suggest getting other classrooms involved through Skype or FaceTime, so that they could help determine the “Champions”, which might encourage the students to take their presentations to an even higher level (and discourage popularity contests).  Kudos to Mr. Hoekstra for such a creative idea!

Mrs. Sunda’s Literature Links

If you are trying to allow some of your students who are reading at a higher level to work independently, you might find these literature units helpful.  There are only 6, but they include discussion guides written with Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind.  Another great thing about these materials is that they were created by students.  Not only could some of your students work through the units, but they could use them as examples for developing some of their own.  While you are visiting Mrs. Sunda’s site, check out some of her other links.  Many resources are given for teachers, including a link to a detailed article explaining the process behind the literature units.

Geography Awareness Week

Next week, November 13-19, is Geography Awareness Week.  I think we can all agree that we could stand to brush up on our geography skills.  This site, produced by National Geographic, has some great activities for doing that.  You can print out a booklet of “missions”, or go to the online version.  The wording in the booklet is fun, and the missions are very creative.  For example, one mission is titled, “Alien Invasion”, in which the student is tasked to “Photograph evidence of where a non-native plant or animal has invaded a local ecosystem. Produce a ‘spotter’s guide’ to these invasive species.”  Many of the missions would make great activities any time of the year, so don’t feel restricted to squeezing all of your geography education into one week!