Summertime and Changes!

So the spring and end of the school year were super busy, as they always seem to be. I fell behind on blogging, but here I am again. Highlights of some exciting things that have been happening lately…

– My Genius Hour presentation at the Region 10 Digital Fluency Conference went great! I was a little nervous when my session room was filled to the brim, but so excited when I found out most of my audience was classroom teachers. Even though I was sure everyone would already know about all of my ideas and cool discoveries – but I found out I was definitely able to share some new information. And my audience was able to share and teach me some new things, so I would call the day a success. If you’d like to view my presentation, click here.

– The school year ended, and I finished my 4th year as a classroom teacher. I enjoyed trying things out at a new campus in a new district this year, and I loved meeting a new group of kids. My experiences will be very different next year, however, as I will be moving into a full-time position as an instructional technology specialist. I will be housed in my district’s professional development center, and I will  regularly go out to junior high campuses to help support teachers. I think my new position will be rewarding and challenging, but very different from what I have been used to before.

– Right now, even though I have only been out of school for 4 days,  I am currently back at it and attending the Ed Tech Team Texas Google Apps for Education Summit. For 2 days, I have been learning  and practicing all kinds of interesting things about Google. Some of my favorite presentations so far have been on maximizing the benefits from Google Chrome and student ePortfolios – I’ll make sure to share some notes and cool ideas after the conference.

I also hope to get some time this summer to decompress, research some new tools, and enjoy time with my daughter before she starts kindergarten. Hope you are able to enjoy your break, too!

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Free! Region 10 Digital Fluency Conference – May 6th : EDIT

EDIT: Unfortunately, registration for the conference has filled and closed. If you’d like to check out the online schedule, I know many presenters will be sharing links to their information after their presentations. You can find the schedule here: Region 10 Digital Fluency Conference Schedule

Also, make sure you follow @R10Tech on Twitter to get the latest news on what’s happening in the North Texas area. 

With STAAR testing prep, meetings, and my own daughter registering to enter Kindergarten next year, I have not been very active here on my blog. I am working to set up a schedule to help keep that from happening again, so you should be able to check back in here regularly to find some new resources, ideas, and events.

For anyone near to the Dallas area, I wanted to let you know about our Region 10 Educational Service Center’s annual Digital Fluency Conference coming up on Tuesday, May 6th. The conference is completely free, and it will be a great opportunity to hear from teachers, educational leaders, and students (yes!) about how technology is changing the way that learning takes place in our schools. I’m excited to attend sessions, but I will also actually be presenting for the first time on my own! I’ll be sharing my ideas and experiences with incorporating Genius Hour into my science classroom and how Google Apps for Education can help the process run smoothly.

I know I mentioned that the conference is FREE, and you can earn CPE credits by attending. There will be door prizes, networking opportunities, and some awesome local food trucks to enjoy. (like Jack’s Chowhound, Easy Slider, and Mo’Jo A Go-Go)

Click HERE to register. If you’d like to view the conference schedule or get more information, visit the conference webpage HERE.

Genius Hour Update – The Good and Not-So-Good

I had been looking forward all week to Friday, as I told my kids that we would be able to start getting into the real meat of their Genius Hour projects. Since I teach a subject/grade that is state-tested this year, we have been averaging a Genius Hour day about once every two weeks. Today was our third opportunity to work, and my goal was to finish up the initial brainstorming-phase and move on to 1-on-1 conferences and research. As I posted on Twitter, there were definitely highs and lows to the day – but I know if got to stick with it. 

The Good: My 6th period class is a Pre-AP class, and they’ve gotten the most class time to wrap their heads around the idea of the project, and also the most computer lab access throughout the year. During our last session, most of them submitted a few topics or questions through a Google Form I created for them. My librarian came to observe and act as another resource, and the kids seemed pretty focused. I was able to have quick individual conferences with about half of the students in the class, helping them to decide between multiple topics they submitted or to tweak questions that seemed a little to narrow or too broad. I was super impressed by some of the topics they came up with! Here are a few that really stood out to me:

– How do we forget? How are memories made and why do we forget some things?

– I want to learn more about unusual animals and their adaptations. 

– What effect does war have on soldiers and their families?

– How were electric cars made and what is their history? What will their future be?

– What effect do video games have on kids?

 

The Not-So-Good (AKA What We Need to Work On): So due to computer lab scheduling issues, my 1st period class had only been to the computer lab once this semester so far. I had explained the whole Genius Hour concept to them, and helped them use their own devices to look for ideas or examples of projects. We went to the computer lab today to submit possible questions, and I had a hard time getting them to take the process seriously. Not that they didn’t like the idea of getting to design their own project, but they struggled to come up with ideas without acting silly or joking around. They probably weren’t used to having this type of freedom, so maybe they were feeling a little bit lost? This class also has quite a few beginner ESL students in it – but I didn’t want to let that keep me from trying out Genius Hour with them. I spoke with these students individually, and decided that it would be ok if they found some resources to support them in their own languages. I also allowed them to use Google Translate to help them submit their thoughts and wonderings on the Google Form in English. We ran out of time before I could get to any individual conferences, and there were a few students who got away without submitting any questions. 

So – what’s there to learn? I am still excited about Genius Hour – now I just know I will need to provide some additional support for some of my ESL students. I plan on providing students with more concrete examples of project ideas and setting up a few daily goals/tasks to be completed each day they work on their projects. I also want to continue to use Google Docs – hopefully by setting up shared “conference documents” with each student to help our conversations move more quickly when we meet. Any other ideas or feedback?

Beginning My Journey with Genius Hour

So I’m making this post to put it out there that I am jumping in with both feet to try Genius Hour with my on-level and Pre-AP 8th Grade Science classes this year!

So what is Genius Hour? If you haven’t already heard about it, Genius Hour is also known as 20% time or Passion Projects. The premise is that teachers will give students a certain amount of class time to research and explore topics based on their own interests. Students come up with ideas and research questions, and the teacher acts as a facilitator to help them develop their understanding and skills. Students are expected to collaborate and present their learning to an audience – whether it be to their peers, their families, or the world. Teachers who have implemented Genius Hour in their classroom have noticed that students are more motivated and engaged, even during normal lessons, because they know that their interests are important in the classroom. Students get opportunities to develop their 21st century skills such as communication, critical thinking, and technology usage.

I had been hearing some great things about the concept on Twitter (check out the #geniushour results!), and I was got really excited checking out the websites, wikis, LiveBinders, and teacher testimonials out there. I originally thought that I would take some time to do some intense research this summer and try to implement it at the beginning of next year, since I like to be as organized as possible. However, as I reflected on the fall semester, I couldn’t help but think that there were some things that needed improvement in my classroom. I needed to motivate my students and build their confidence. I decided to give it a shot – what better option did I have to really try something completely different. It really seemed like the potential good would outweigh any negatives.

So we are in the brainstorming phase of our Genius Hour projects – hopefully I will be able to share some of our ups and downs as my students and I figure things out together. The implementation of this whole thing is kind of like my own Passion Project – learning as I go along. Check out the links below to learn more about Genius Hour and think about trying something new in your classroom!

GeniusHour.com

Genius Hour Wiki

Genius Hour Live Binder