Category Archives: Independent Study

Reliable Websites

As my students begin to do research for their Genius Hour projects, I find it important to help them learn how to find good information online.  Over the years I’ve used various lessons and videos, but I recently found this one by Jillianne Jastren that succinctly details what to look for in a reliable website.  Although this video uses safesearch.org as the starting place, my older students often use the Google Explore tool (formerly known as the Research tool) in addition to our own library’s electronic resources.  After watching the video, the students are able to explain the pros and cons of different types of domains and the tell-tale signs of inaccurate or biased websites.  I hear them discussing with their partners whether or not they should trust information that they find on a site or telling them to find a site that is more balanced and less biased. In my opinion, finding reliable websites is a critical survival skill in today’s world – not just for school research projects – and this video gives an excellent brief lesson on how to do just that.

image from Chris Pirillo on Flickr
image from Chris Pirillo on Flickr

This video does direct the viewers to turn in an assignment on Moodle at the end, but it’s easy enough to say, “That doesn’t apply to you.”

Or I guess you could just look at your class expectantly and say, “What are you waiting for?  Follow her directions!”

And they could say, “How are we supposed to put an assignment on a noodle?”

And you could just shake your head and say, “Aren’t you guys supposed to know more about technology than I do?”

And then they will start blurting out how to build rocket ships that make your dinner for you in Minecraft (even though I don’t think that’s really a thing, but I would like someone to teach me if it is).

And your entire lesson will derail spectacularly – most likely all of this happening while you are being observed by an administrator.

How you handle things is completely up to you…

Genius Hour Digital Resources

In my never-ending quest to refine Genius Hour for my students and make it meaningful, I have created a few new digital resources that I intend to use this year with my 3rd-5th grade students.  We will be using Google Classroom, so I decided to design some Google Slides presentations that the students can use for collecting research and keeping track of what needs to be completed.  Here is the link to the folder of resources, which you can copy and edit to suit your needs.

My plan:

  • Assign the Research Planner as a copy to each student.  Reflections 1 and 2 are to be done at certain points as students progress through the Research Planner. The Research Planner also has links to some other helpful resources, and a great activity from Ian Byrd to help write good research questions. This slideshow is not their presentation – just a collection of notes.
  • Assign the Exit Tickets presentation as one copy to be edited by the students in the classroom at the end of each Genius Hour.
  • Include the Skype Interview and E-mail templates as assignments for students to complete when appropriate.
  • Once students finish the Research Planner to my satisfaction, they will be allowed to continue to the Presentation Planner.  This includes links to “What Would Steve Jobs Do?” and “The Worst Preso Ever,” both of which are great to show students before they design their presentations.  It also includes links to two TED Talks given by students.
  • After students successfully complete the Presentation Planner, they will be allowed to make their presentations, create interactive portions to follow up on the information given, and rehearse.
  • Finally, they will present!

If you’ve followed my Genius Hour adventures at all, you know that this plan will not work as hoped.  I am pretty sure that it will be an improvement over what I’ve done in the past, though.

Maybe…

Genius Hour Digital Resources
Genius Hour Digital Resources

The L.E.A.D. DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher’s incredible 5th grade GT students are currently hosting a “pop-up” museum at their school.  Inspired by San Antonio’s new hands-on children’s museum, the DoSeum, the students designed their very own interactive exhibits, and invited select guests to visit.  Here is the invitation they designed.

The L.E.A.D. (Learn, Explore, And Discover) DoSeum consists of three rooms: The Seeker Space, Puzzle Parlor, and Tech Town.  You can see descriptions of the rooms in the invitation linked above.

LEAD DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher chronicled the process of creating the L.E.A.D. DoSeum from its inception.  You can read her blog posts and see pictures of the DoSeum here.

I think that this is such a wonderful idea, giving students the opportunity to take charge and plan with an authentic audience in mind.  It’s also nice to do near the end of the school year, as other teachers on the campus will probably be more than happy to take their students on a tour!  Even if you don’t have 3 rooms to spare, you could consider working with other teachers for the last couple of weeks of school to split your students into teams to each design an interactive museum room in their classroom.

Thanks for sharing this, Mrs. Lasher and 5th grade GT students!

 

Encouraging Young Entrepreneurs to Change the World

Suzanne Horan and her 5th grade class of gifted and talented students were recently showcased on our district website for an outstanding project they did this year.  They each planned, researched, and developed products that could make a positive difference in the world.  From a 3-d printed model of a staircase that collapses into a ramp for those who are wheelchair bound, to improved fitting for a prosthetic leg, these imaginative and empathetic students created an array of marketable products that could truly be practical and helpful.

The students dressed up for presentation day because they knew their work would be evaluated by an objective panel of judges who would score them based on, among other things,  their research, passion for their topic, uniqueness of their product, and its usefulness.  For the next stage, Mrs. Horan has invited a patent lawyer to speak to the class about the steps to take to market their products.

This is exactly the type of project that students need to be doing.  It is relevant, based on student interests, and incorporates a multitude of thinking skills.  I would like to bet these 5th graders will never forget this experience, and that it will inform many of their later important decisions in life.

To read more about the fabulous inventors in Mrs. Horan’s class, you can visit our district website, or their class blog for some great pictures from the presentation day!

A student in Mrs. Horan's class shows others his idea for collapsible stairs
A student in Mrs. Horan’s class shows others his idea for collapsible stairs

#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.