Just to be clear from the outset, this post is not about the game that prepares you for a career in Cirque de Soleil – or, in my case, a long stay in the hospital.
Twister, basically a fake Tweet generator, is one of the many fun tools available from ClassTools.net. (Check out this post from Richard Byrne about Connect Fours, another really cool ClassTools resource.)
Last year, one of my fabulous Twitter connections, Andi McNair (@mcnairan3, http://ameaningfulmess.blogspot.com/), mentioned that she required all of her students to interview an expert for their Genius Hour projects. Previously, this was one of the mystery challenges on my Genius Hour Challenge Cards, but not a requirement. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of building this into all of their projects.
My biggest class is my 5th grade GT class – 18 students. They rocked Genius Hour in 4th grade last year, so I thought they would be the best class to “pilot” this idea. Since many of the students are working in pairs, this meant we would need at least 9 experts.
We discovered that finding an expert to interview isn’t easy. We learned pretty quickly that calling the names on websites wasn’t going to work very well. As soon as the person on the other end heard a child’s voice, my students weren’t taken very seriously. So, we decided to try e-mailing people to ask if they would Skype with us. That has elicited a better response, but still requires persistence. (The students typed e-mails from my account requesting help with their projects and for the expert to please contact their teacher if interested.)
Our first expert helped a group of students with a project they were doing on wild animals in captivity. We found them through a contact I had made when we did our Cardboard Box Arcade earlier this year.
Then, through a comment made by a teacher in a Twitter chat about her students’ Genius Hour projects, I was able to connect another group who is studying the impact of divorce with two students who have experienced it first-hand.
Last week was one of my favorite Skypes. Some students who are studying global warming talked with an expert who was not only very knowledgeable but also extremely good at explaining his topic to young people. The students were glued to the screen for almost 45 minutes, covering pages of paper with notes. However, I couldn’t tell if the students were just being polite or really engrossed in the conversation.
Afterward, I tentatively asked them their impressions of the interview.
“It was great!” “We learned so much!” “He really explained well!”
They had graciously thanked him at the end of the interview, but I ended up sending my own e-mail of profuse gratitude for him taking the time to explain such a complicated issue to my students.
Not all “experts” are great at speaking to students. However, the process of taking their research out of the classroom and getting a professional perspective gives the students an idea of the relevance of their work, making it much more meaningful to them.
You can learn more about using outside experts in the classroom from Andi’s post – which gives great, specific advice and links to other posts on this topic.
To find out more about Genius Hour, check out my page of resources here.
This week (except for Wednesday) I am dedicating my posts to sharing resources I learned about at TCEA in Austin last week. I think packing too much info into a blog post is overwhelming, so if you are craving more, feel free to check out my notes (which are not finished yet!) here.
So it turns out that finding a Phun Phriday post based on your notes from a conference about technology in education is a little bit harder than I anticipated. Because… education. And Phun Phriday posts are supposed to be (according to the rules I established for such posts) decidedly not educational.
I did find a note from the very first TCEA session I attended this year that could qualify as not really educational – unless you happen to teach at Le Cordon Bleu. Unfortunately, since I don’t really like to cook, it doesn’t quite qualify as Phun, either. But maybe you would disagree.
I learned from Richard Lombardo (@Rich_Lombardo) and Jerrad Barczyszyn (@rpdpjerrad) that the Google Search Tools aren’t always the same. I usually use them when I’m looking for an image to determine copyright. But I had no idea they would be helpful on the nights my husband works late and I’m stuck cooking dinner.
For example, go to Google and do a search for fried chicken. Then click on the Search Tools underneath. Now, you can filter the recipe results by anything from calories to cook time! By choosing “under 15 minutes” and “under 100 calories” I changed the number of results from over 50 million to just 1 recipe.
I’ll be only slightly more impressed when I can type in, “Make me some fried chicken,” and Google completes the task for me. But then I’ll probably just complain about how Google always leaves the kitchen so messy…
Now that our campus has a set of Chromebooks, my students have been delighting in exploring Google Drive. One tool that has been an asset is the Presentation tool also known as Slides. Similar to Powerpoint, the Google version has a few advantages in our environment: automatic saving (extremely helpful when the network isn’t always reliable), the rockin’ Research Tool, and the ability to use Google image search within the presentation. Even more importantly, a shared presentation invites collaboration. I’ve enjoyed having the students work on slides in the same show simultaneously, such as the metaphor presentation I’ve embedded below.
One of my favorite templates that I’ve run across recently comes from the DavidLeeEdTech blog. This virtual museum template is so cool! Scroll down to the comments section on his blog to get the direct link for downloading the template.
Another option is to download a Powerpoint template that you like, and then to import the slides into your Google Drive presentation.
To download most templates, you will need to be signed in to your Google Drive. If the link provided for a template does not give you a direct copy, then you may have a “View Only” version, and will need to make a copy yourself. When applicable, always leave the proper source citations for the template on the slide show, but do whatever other editing you would like once you make a copy.
You not only get to see each element, but demonstrations of them in action, such as the video of a hydrogen balloon exploding when exposed to heat.
Many of these are not demonstrations that could easily be done in a typical school science lab, so the videos are a good supplement to a hands-on curriculum.
Even if you do not have the elements in your scope and sequence, you may want to keep this site in mind for students who show an affinity or curiosity for science. It would be a great resource for independent research or Genius Hour projects.
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.