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

Tech Tool Overload

Since starting my position as an Instructional Technology Specialist this fall, I have been working hard to read, research, and try the newest and best tools for technology integration for my teachers. I feel like I had a pretty good knowledge base to begin with, but I wanted to make sure I stayed up to date with trends and developments in the ever-changing world of #edtech. I’ve been building my PLN by becoming more active on Twitter, and I’ve been trying to use this blog as a way to highlight some of the most exciting things I have been able to try.

However, sometimes as I read other blogs and sites, I start to feel overwhelmed by the number of resources available. I feel like I could never really know or become an expert on every app, site, and technique out there. It also seems that there are sometimes 20+ tools designed to complete almost identical tasks, so I wondered – is it really necessary to hop on the bandwagon for every latest and greatest new thing?

Yesterday, I found a blog post from Rafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis) titled: How to Avoid the “Flood of Tech Tools” Trap. It really helped me realize that I would be best served to really evaluate all the new stuff I hear about with a critical eye. I need to think about the purpose and usability of new resource and whether it is really good enough to replace something that is already working for me.

I’ve learned that it’s OK to become an expert on a few great tools and to have favorites, as long as I remain open-minded and still willing to seek out new things. Reading the post also helped me stay motivated and find purpose in maintaing my own little blog here. I might not have the most exhaustive, comprehensive list of tech resources out there (at least not yet!), but these are tools that I have experience with and can recommend to my teachers 100%!