Category Archives: Independent Study

#EngineerThat

KQED Science has a challenge for students ages 11-18.  Design a solution to a problem that is in the world around you, and share it on social media using #EngineerThat.  (Students under the age of 13 must share through a parent’s social media account.)  If you have questions about the contest, there is a live webinar being held this Thursday, January 7th, at 4 PM PST.  The deadline for contest submissions is January 24th 2016.

This sounds like a fun activity to help promote creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  For more information, visit their website. Even if you don’t think your students will be competing, it is a great challenge to share with them to see what they might create.  There is also a short introductory video.

On a side note, I was exploring the KQED Science site, and found the “Do Now” section to be a great resource for science-related current events that offer opportunities for student voice.  If you read my student’s blog post yesterday, you might be interested in the the topic, “What Would You Study About the Ocean? Students Weigh In.”  I found all of the titles intriguing, and definitely recommend you take a look at them if you teach middle or high school students.

Image from Wesley Fryer at sppedofcreativity.org
Image from Wesley Fryer at speedofcreativity.org

I Hope this Change is Soon Made

In my GT class, each grade level meets with me once a week.  The 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders do a cooperative blog post for our class blog at the end of each their GT days. A couple of months ago, one of my students wrote this:

“GT today!” is what we yelped happily this morning. We have been doing genius hour and I would replace Social Studies with time to work on reports on whatever we want. It would be fun to finally have some freedom on the things we do in school instead of a teacher walking in and saying, “We’re going to learn about blah blah blah. Yes there’s only one right answer. GT kids. Bleh. Who came up with the idea of GT. I’m going to have a talk with that rat.” I love having freedom, but most teachers don’t understand that always having that ONE answer just keeps our brains cooped up. It doesn’t help us learn very much. If kids were alowed to enjoy learning they might do it more. our teachers would have a less stressful time trying to get us to listen and learn if we had some time to learn about what we want. It would still be learning and it would be more creative because we have to keep everyone intrested by coming up with different ways of presenting the research from everyone else. I hope this change is soon made.

I asked the student and her mom for permission to publish the student’s request on this blog, and they agreed.

I’ve thought a lot about how I wanted to present this young lady’s desire for more control over her own learning and assessment.  She is not the only student who has written about this in my class, and certainly not the only one to express this frustration with our education system.  I have a lot to say, but I am more interested in what you think.

I would like your comments on her suggestion, particularly if you are a classroom teacher.  Is it possible, even with the mandates of a required curriculum and high-stakes testing, even with classes of 22 or more students, and even within a non-flexible school day schedule, to grant this student’s request?  If not, what is one change you would recommend that would make it possible?  If you have done this, or seen it done, in a regular classroom, please comment on the secret ingredients to make this work.

freedomtolearn

Genius Hour Tune-Up

I finished the school year on Friday.  Like many other teachers I know, I am already thinking about what I’d like to do differently next year.  Genius Hour is one area where I really want to add some depth.

revision

I teach Gifted and Talented students from K-5.  I have been doing Genius Hour with 5th graders for over 5 years.  Last year, I added 3rd and 4th grades to the mix.

The progression has been this:

  • 3rd grade comes up with one topic as a class, and each student or pair of students develops a project about that topic. (This year was “Recycling.”)
  • 4th graders come up with individual topics that are meaningful to them, subjects about which they are passionate. (One student loves dogs, and did research on how they pass on their genes.)
  • 5th graders research something that “breaks their heart” – generally in an area that is meaningful to them.  For example, a pair who loved animals did a project on animal abuse.

Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at guiding the students to pin-pointing their research topics.  The presentations have improved in entertainment value.

Where I seem to have faltered is in the research part.

I get the students so jazzed about being able to study something that truly interests them and the freedom to present it in any format they desire, that a few them spend way more time on the “final act” than they do on the learning part.

Next year, I plan to do something radical that I’ve never tried with Genius Hour; I’m going to require all research be completed to my satisfaction before they can even propose the type of presentation they would like to give.

The above idea is probably a no-brainer to most of you, but I really thought that the presentation planning was vital to keeping the students engaged throughout the project.  This may be true, but it also became a real hindrance to quality research.  I was constantly asking students, “But what have you told the class that they didn’t know before?” and “How did you convince us that this was something we should care about?”

This was definitely not their faults.  I need to scaffold the experience more for them.  I also need to give them the opportunity to present more than once, so they can reflect and make it better.

Here is the sequence I am looking at for next year:

  1. Topic Selection and Approval
  2. Review of how to conduct online research and find reliable resources
  3. Locate at least 3 different reliable resources, and use a checklist to verify (possibly have a peer verify as well).
  4. In a Slide Show provided through Google Classroom, students will take notes.  They will identify at least 4 new things that have been learned from the resources, and why people should care. (Possibly using a template like this – but I will probably make it look a bit more exciting.)
  5. During research time, I would like to have students rotate through a center where they can learn about possible creation apps to use for their presentation.
  6. Teacher monitors and makes suggestions.
  7. When finished finding information, students will have a peer edit it, then turn it in to the teacher.
  8. If notes are approved, student may then propose a presentation method.
  9. Prepare presentation.
  10. Present to one peer and revise.
  11. Present to class and revise.
  12. Present to larger audience – possibly parents or other staff members.

I think the revision part is another key element that I’ve been missing.  I spend my time teaching students the mantra from Invent to Learn, “Think, Make, Improve.”  But I frequently forget to give them time for that last part.

Genius Hour has never been perfect, but it has always been valuable.  I feel like just the topic selection part helps the students to learn so much about themselves and what they believe in.

So, I’m not fully satisfied yet.  But I have a lot of ideas for making it better.

If you are interested in more Genius Hour (also called Passion Time or 20% Time) resources, check out this page on my blog.

Give the Green Light with a Green Screen

“You mean they didn’t really go there?” a student asked me.

She was pointing to a bulletin board of Photo Mapo projects by my 1st graders.  Each student had chosen a Google Street View image of a landmark in the country they were studying.  Using the Green Screen app by DoInk, the students inserted pictures of themselves in front of the landmarks.  They also took video of themselves explaining the landmarks.  The pictures were inserted into Photo Mapo, linked to their videos on Aurasma, and presto – interactive postcards.

Photo Apr 14, 8 52 49 AM

Several of my grade levels have taken advantage of the Green Screen app we purchased this year.  My 2nd graders used it to portray themselves in front of famous bridges around the world, and one chose to use it to make a video about her biomimetic invention.

Biomimicry

In yesterday’s post, I showed how word clouds can be fun with the Green Screen app (thanks to Tricia Fuglestad for the idea).

Tricia also gave me the idea for the Time Magazine covers my 5th graders worked on last week.  Here is a link to her post about this project.  For our own versions, my students used Green Screen by DoInk and Canva.

Time Magazine (Some of my students have become so familiar with using the screen that they automatically turn it around to the blue side if a student is wearing green so he or she won’t appear as a disembodied head.

If you want some more green screen ideas, I highly recommend you do a search on Tricia’s Fugleblog.  Don’t have the ability to buy apps? Touchcast is free, though not quite as user friendly for younger students.  No green screen in your classroom?  There are tons of instructions for makeshift screens on the web, including pizza boxes, science boards, sheets, and paint.

Let your students travel to any continent, planet, or even the future with a green screen.

 

A Few More Reasons to “Conduct” Your Own Genius Hour

During the weekend, I happened to hear two radio interviews with different orchestra conductors that reminded me of the reasons I started to offer Genius Hour in my classroom.

NPR’s Scott Simon spoke with the conductor of the Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart, about a feature called By Popular by Demand, which allows the audience to use mobile technology to program the second half of the concert they attend.  Here is one excerpt from the interview, spoken by Keith Lockhart:

“People are clapping along, people are singing every word to some of the things that have lyrics to them, and there was just a celebratory spirit. And it really got me – it succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and really got me thinking about maybe one of the elements we’re missing in the live performing arts is this feeling of investment on the part of the audience. Certainly, you know, “Dancing With The Stars,” “The Voice,” “American Idol” – all those have already thought that the way to keep people interested is to give them a voice.”

The way to keep people interested is to give them a voice. Exactly.  This is what Genius Hour is all about.  Even if the teacher does not feel comfortable in surrendering a fifth of the curriculum to the students, that feeling of “investment” Lockhart mentions can still be achieved by offering more choices.

In a separate interview on TED Radio Hour, Guy Raz spoke with Charles Hazelwood, a conductor who has worked with orchestras around the world.  The theme of the show was “Trust and Consequences.” Hazelwood has done a TED talk on “Trusting the Ensemble.”  During his TED talk, Hazelwood quoted a fellow conductor, Sir Colin Davis, who once advised him, “Conducting, Charles, is like holding a small bird in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you crush it. If you hold it too loosely, it flies away.”

I feel that Genius Hour works this way as well.  By giving our students the opportunity to pursue their own interests, we loosen our hold on the small bird.  But we must continue to guide them because allowing them complete freedom before they are ready can have disastrous consequences.

Hazelwood ended his interview with Guy Raz with a piece of advice that truly resonated with me as a teacher.

 

quote from Charles Hazelwood
quote from Charles Hazelwood

Here is a link to some Genius Hour resources in case you are interested.

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius

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.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8485655331/
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8485655331/

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.

Sherlock Holmes’ Resume

My daughter is a huge fan of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series so when I saw this, I had to show her.  We both had a chuckle over the graph of his interests :)

a portion of Sherlock Holmes' resume from Media Bistro
a portion of Sherlock Holmes’ resume from Media Bistro

You can see the infographic in its entirety by visiting Media Bistro. It’s being used to advertise for a new book on infographic resumes from McGraw-Hill.

Students could do a similar activity to analyze a character in any book or a person in history.  This would go along very well as a companion activity to creating a book trailer using the app I mentioned yesterday, “In a World… Drama.”  To create the infographic, students could design their own free-hand.  Or, you can visit this list of suggested websites to make infographics from Richard Byrne.

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…)