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One-Pager for Genius Hour in Kindergarten and First Grades

Many of the Genius Hour resources that I and others have made assume a basic level of reading and research skills. Of course, with Kindergarten and 1st grades, many students may not have those foundational skills. I wanted to round up a few suggestions for primary teachers, so I went in search of resources that I could summarize and/or link to in case you want to save yourself a bit of time.

Of course, Joy Kirr’s Livebinder for Genius Hour is always my first stop because I definitely don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There are many examples of Genius Hour projects from every grade level, as well as links to teacher blog posts that are very helpful. This post is not comprehensive, but might be a good place to begin for some suggestions. As I say when I speak with other teachers, Genius Hour can look dramatically different from room to room while still maintaining the goal of student-directed learning, and its structure should vary based on student needs. It is not a free-for-all time, but it’s also not an “I’m going to tell you what you need to learn, how to learn it, and how to show you learned it” time.

There are three basic steps to Genius Hour: Wondering, Finding and Noting Information, Presenting. With younger students, I would take a very gradual release approach for each of those steps. Begin with whole group modeling, and slowly transition to giving more freedom of choice as students grasp the concept.

How does one begin Genius Hour with the youngest of our students? It’s actually quite easy because they naturally wonder about the world, and haven’t had this curiosity stifled as it often is in later grades. Another Genius Hour expert, Denise Krebs, wrote about transitioning her students from large groups with common interests to smaller, more focused groups in this post. You could also try these suggestions for a “Think, Wonder, Explore” time. Or, try a Wonder Wall, like this teacher. Of course, a favorite way to start is with a picture book. Here are some great recommendations from Gallit Zvi, who wrote The Genius Hour Guide Book with Denise Krebs.

But, wait! What if my students can’t write? You, as the teacher, could write for them, of course. To make this less overwhelming, you could have small groups settle on Wonders. Or, you can do what many of the articles I read seemed to recommend – link your students with Buddies. Whether they are students from another grade level or parent volunteers, Buddies can foster a great sense of community while helping with some of the challenging tasks during Genius Hour time. Another idea is to partner with your librarian. You can also try a rotation process, like this teacher does.

Can students this age really come up with research questions? Sure! Again, modeling with the whole group a few times is key before starting to let students work independently or in small groups. Since these students are new to research, you don’t need to insist on “thick” research questions with complex vocabulary from all of them, but certainly differentiate for advanced students with higher Bloom’s questions. Here are some question stems you could use.

And then they’re going to research? But they can’t even read! This is another phase where rotations, Buddies, and/or your librarian can be essential. One tip that I like from teacher Renee Dooly is to use QR codes to help students find digital information. I used to introduce different types of resources to my students one at a time. For example, I checked out a bunch of books by the same publishing group about different countries, and showed them how to find the information in those books. They had a choice of country, but we stuck to the same type of resource and presentation. As they learned about other resource types, those choices were added in on other projects later in the year. Also, don’t forget about free tools like Immersive Reader, which are getting built in to many online educational resources.

What about methods for presenting what they learned? Some teachers have one way for all students to present, such as using Book Creator. Others give a limited number of choices, as you can see in this blog post. Once the whole class has learned how to do something, make that a new option. Or, get together all of the students who want to do the same type of presentation, such as a video, and give a mini-lesson. (Buddies are good for this, too!) Got a classroom iPad? Record your mini-lessons, upload them to Google Drive, and give students QR codes to scan when they are ready to watch.

Genius Hour can be done with younger students, but a lot of scaffolding is needed. The good news is that students who get this exposure in younger grades will really be able to take the skills for self-directed learning and blossom with them in later grades.

photo of a boy reading book
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Genius Hour Research Notes

First, I want to think my colleagues in Arkansas for a great session last Thursday! I presented “From Jaded to Joyful: Galvanizing Students with Genius Hour,” and the participants could not have been more welcoming and gracious. (Here is my new link to some of the PD sessions I’m offering. More sessions are being added!)

As I mentioned last week, I am doing some updating on my Genius Hour Resources. I’ve taken some of the free downloads down from the website that had broken links and other issues. But I also added something new, which is the Teacher Planner. I want to thank Joy Kirr, who is the amazing person behind the Genius Hour Livebinder for sharing that resource on social media and commenting on the post with an excellent suggestion to read a post that she wrote — the perfect companion to the Teacher Planner.

Over the weekend, I began to redo some of the Google Slides files that I had originally created to help guide my own students through Genius Hour. The first set is now ready to go. Feel free to make a copy and use it with your own students. I developed “Genius Hour Research Notes” because I wanted to help my students keep a digital record of their process from the beginning, and to give them a way that they could work on Genius Hour independently. Also, they were having a hard time separating their learning from their presentation of their learning. My plan is to have the next slide set, which students use to plan their presentations, updated and ready next week.

One more note: I was listening to the Smartless podcast with this week’s guest, Jose Andres, and he made a comment about the way they plan their World Kitchen pop-ups at disasters and other locations that need them that I thought was a good way for teachers to look at things, especially during projects like Genius Hour. In fact, I think it’s a skill we should teach our students, too.

mother helping her daughter use a laptop

Make Code Arcade Beginner Skillmap

The Arcade Beginner Skillmap is a new resource from Microsoft’s Make Code which is perfect for students who want to learn how to design their own video games. It is free, and includes step-by-step tutorials for using block coding to make greeting cards, clicker, and collector games – all within your browser. I don’t have a minimum age suggestion, but would recommend that users have basic reading skills to help them through the tutorials. Once completing the beginner skillmap, burgeoning young game designers may want to work on one of the other skillmaps on the arcade, make their own project from scratch, or take advantage of one of the other tutorials. Then, keep their momentum going by showing them the hundreds of Hour of Code tutorials available on code.org.

camping tent on grass lawn

Camp WeWow

I recently authored an article for NEO about using podcasts in the classroom, but that certainly isn’t the only place educational podcasts can be enjoyed. One podcast for kids and adults to listen to together, Wow in the World, is embarking on a special summer edition beginning next week. On June 14th, the podcast will begin streaming daily through the end of July. Each week will have a theme and the episodes will encourage interactivity with STEM projects and “bonkerball antics galore!” Click here to find out more about Camp WeWow, and mark your calendars for this summer (or winter – depending on which part of the world you live in!) activity the entire family can enjoy.

family of four walking at the street
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Undercover Robots Spy School Free!

This week I am offering some of my TPT resources for free in honor of all of the teachers out there who have been working so hard this year and every year. Check out Tuesday’s post and Wednesday’s, if you missed them, to see the links for S.C.A.M.P.E.R. creative thinking freebies I gave out. Today, I am making my Robot Camp packet – normally $10 – free for all. This is a 38 page packet with 10 “Missions” for robots who are learning how to be spies. With puzzles and programming challenges that were designed to use with the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop, the activities are open-ended enough that you can definitely modify them to use with other robots. You can see some examples of how I used the activities with a summer camp I did here. The students really loved when their robots “graduated” from Spy School!

More Free Stuff!

As we continue Teacher Appreciation Week, I have made more products free on my TPT page. In addition to the packet I mentioned yesterday, you can now download Superhero S.C.A.M.P.E.R. and Back to School S.C.A.M.P.E.R. packets. Not familiar with S.C.A.M.P.E.R.? Learn a bit more here. I guarantee your elementary students will love it!