Genius Camp Update

In a recent post by Jennifer Gonzalez, author of the Cult of Pedagogy blog, she gives an incredible list of things to do on “Lame Duck School Days.”  You know, like the day after you’ve finished all of your standardized testing for the year, or the two weeks before the end of school when all of your textbooks and sometimes your computers have been collected for “inventory,” or the hour before you go on your final field trip the day before the last day of school.

One of the suggestions given by Jennifer is an “unconference” where, “Using a chunk of hours or a whole day, teachers and students plan short lessons on things they are interested in outside of school (crafts, yoga, cooking, martial arts, music, dance, technology), then sign up for time slots like an EdCamp.”

We have been doing this type of event at our school with our 5th graders this year, and Jennifer’s post reminded me that I owe you an update on its progress.  As regular readers may know, I try to give you the good, the bad, and the “please avoid these mistakes if you value your sanity” about projects like this.

First of all, here is the first post that I did in October about our Genius Camp.  If you read it, you will see that I gave some precautions along with the positive outcomes at that point.  Since that post, all four of our 5th grade classes have each taken a turn “teaching” sessions at Genius Camp.  We have now embarked on the 2nd round, which consists of shorter rotations since the students have some experience.  Now, each class meets twice before presenting on the third week (before, it was 5 meetings with Genius Camp on the 6th week).  The other change that we are making for this round is that the students are being judged using this rubric.  The adults who monitor each session are doing the judging, so we can choose some exemplary sessions the students can demonstrate for this year’s 4th graders (who will be leading their own sessions next year).

Some things that haven’t gone well so far (2 homerooms have completed their second round):

  • Some students are getting silly this time of year, and prefer to generate what they think are humorous ideas, such as (and I promise you someone suggested this), “teaching how to bounce a ping-pong ball into a red cup.”  For many reasons, I rejected that proposal…  Also rejected, “how to play poker – but we won’t call it that.”
  • For the first time this whole year, I had two groups who did not bring supplies on time – so the people who selected their sessions had to be placed in other ones at the last minute. Even though every student had originally given 3 choices when filling out their session surveys, many of their choices were full at that point.  This resulted in a bunch of students going to sessions that were not interesting to them.
  • Also for the first time this whole year, I had to exclude some students from participating because they would not stay on task to plan their sessions.
  • Two students chose to go to a different session than what they were assigned, resulting in behavior issues the student teachers shouldn’t have had to address. (Every student wears a label with name and session title, but these were not checked, unfortunately.)

After some of these experiences, I’ve come close to declaring, “I guess we just can’t have nice things,” and shutting the whole experience down.  However, there are some kids – maybe even more than the number of kids who want to sabotage the activity – who seem to actually love participating and teaching the sessions.  So, I’m trying to keep these positive moments in the forefront of my mind:

  • When her teacher came to check on the session one Special Ed. student was leading, the girl who exclaimed proudly, “It’s going so well!!!!” (and it was)
  • The girls who confided, when they were placed in Football for Beginners due to scheduling snafus, that they “actually learned a few things!”
  • The boy who wore a suit to teach his session on drawing – and did a fine job
  • The boy who built a working engine model for the students to try in his group’s session, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Engines,”
  • The girl who doesn’t like dancing in front of people, but agreed to teach a dance with her partner after I told her that I regret always caring too much about what other people think of my dancing,
  • The boy who whispered to the adult monitoring his session, “Now I know what teachers go through,” when he kept asking his group to quiet down so they could hear instructions.
  • My principal, who monitored a session on making video blogs, and allowed his “teacher” to record him doing the mannequin challenge.

I’m pretty sure there are more that I could add to the second list.

It would be so much easier to show movies or give out worksheets during these last weeks of school.  But I can’t help thinking that this is the last chance that we have to teach students some important lessons before they move on to middle school.  For some of them this might be their chance to show that they are really good at doing something that isn’t academic or to learn that they enjoy being in a leadership role.  For others, they may develop more empathy for people who teach – or for people trying to learn something new.

Or, it just might be fun.

Photo Mar 30, 2 01 40 PM
Students try out a model of an engine.
Photo Mar 30, 2 06 56 PM
Our video blogger gets students excited about creativity online.
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