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.