Category Archives: Research

Genius Hour Alpha Testing

One of the biggest changes I made to our Genius Hour projects this year was to insist that the students do practice presentations for small audiences before they do the “real thing” – kind of like the “Alpha Testing” often used on products before they go on to “Beta Testing” and then full release.  In the past, my students have always given one presentation, and this was the summation of their learning.  After watching Austin’s Butterfly last year, I realized that this was unfair to all of us.  Even though the students were getting peer and teacher feedback throughout the Genius Hour process, their final products were, well, FINAL.  A most of those final products had room for improvement. Some of them had mansions of rooms for improvement…

A few weeks ago, I wrote, “What to do when Genius Hour Sucks,” because some of the practice presentations deeply disappointed me.  Now, many of my students are ready to try again after making revisions based on class feedback, and I’m not feeling defeated anymore.  They really took the suggestions that were made to heart, and have shown great improvement.  A few of them are ready to share with a bigger audience – classmates in their homerooms, students in younger grades, administrators, and parents. Some of them will need to do a third practice, but have still made great strides.

It’s kind of incredible to see students make such an effort – particularly when they are not graded on these projects.  I believe they are motivated by their interests in the topics they chose, and by the knowledge that people outside their usual sphere will be viewing their presentations.  I also believe that our systematic feedback and time for multiple opportunities to practice has made a huge difference.  In school we often tell students what they could have done to improve – and then give them no time to try out those improvements.

Want to see one of the student products?  Here is a Scratch presentation that one of my 4th graders did on sleepwalking.  (She did a verbal introduction to our class, telling a personal story about why this topic was important to her.) Just press the green flag, and you will see what she came up with.  Her product has been Alpha and Beta tested, and is now ready to share with the world!

For more Genius Hour Resources, click here!

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Screenshot from Scratch “Sleepwalking Show” by Olivia O.

Flipgrid Explorer Series: Raptors

About three years ago, we tried out a tool called, “Flipgrid” for a project that my students were doing for Genius Hour.   We were using a trial version and I decided against a paid subscription and I didn’t think I was ready to invest in that at the time. However, I am seeing a lot of features that make Flipgrid a potentially exciting classroom tool.  Basically, Flipgrid allows you to create a topic, and other people can add videos to respond to the topic.  All of the video responses are collected on one page, which makes it easy to access them.  This means that people can reply asynchronously, (as opposed to a Skype interview, for example) which allows for participants from all over the world to add videos when it is convenient in their time zones.  For global learning, this can be an invaluable tool.

Recently, Flipgrid started offering a free account.  Although it obviously offers less features (you are limited to one grid instead of unlimited, for example), it is still something worth trying.  One grid still allows unlimited topics.  Another way that you can experience Flipgrid for free is to participate in its “Explorer Series.”  In the first edition of this series last October, Flipgrid offered weekly videos from an Antarctic marine biologist along with questions to which students could respond.  Flipgrid just launched the second edition, which will be two weeks of posts from Mike Billington of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center.  The first topic is, “What is a common bird in your community? What can you do to support their environment?”  Mike’s first video shows him with a live bald eagle, a site many students don’t get the chance to see.  It would be interesting to connect this experience with Beauty and the Beak, and certainly a great way to make the last few weeks of school engaging and educational.

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image from Pixabay

What to do When Genius Hour Sucks

I’ve been doing Genius Hour for several years with my gifted and talented students in 3rd-5th grades.  Yet, every year I end up thinking that I could have facilitated it better. Because I want to keep improving, I’ve documented some of my ups and downs on my Genius Hour Resources page.  It helps to look back at some of those posts and remind myself that Genius Hour doesn’t always go well and that I’ve come a long way from my first Genius Hour attempt – when my 5th graders rewarded me with blank stares after I announced they could study anything they wanted.

Yes, Genius Hour sucks sometimes.  There are some days I dread it because I know the chaos will drain all of my energy, or because I just can’t think of any other way to explain how to summarize research without copying, or because everyone will have a Genius-Hour-Emergency-that-only-Mrs. Eichholz-can-handle at exactly the same time, or because a student will refuse to believe me when I say that no one wants to read 1000 words in tiny text on a slide that is going to be read out loud anyway, or because I have to keep repeating, “Yes, I know you are passionate about meat [or other randomly chosen topic], but how will you convince your audience that they should care?”

Yep.

Exhausting.

So, I try to remind myself of all of the obstacles we’ve already overcome, that the students will become more independent if they are given more opportunities to practice being independent, and that we are all learning. A lot.

The other day I felt a bit defeated because I realized I was wrong when I thought I had figured the solution to getting more substance out of the presentations rather than fluff. A few students did practice presentations for a “focus group” of peers, and my heart sank when it became apparent that, once again, the fluff far outweighed the stuff.

During a break, I quickly Googled student Genius Hour presentation videos online to see if I could find an exemplar to give the students.  As I watched several videos, I realized that they also didn’t meet my expectations.

The logical conclusion?  My expectations are too high.  I was being too hard on these kids.  After all, what did I expect – a TED Talk?

Whew! What a relief.

I came home and started preparing my next blog post, looking up some articles I’ve bookmarked on Pocket.

How to Get the Best Work From Your Students,”  caught my eye.  I clicked on it.  And discovered the harsh truth.

I’m not done yet.

I have done a lot of what Eric White suggests.  I am creating rites of passage, critiquing the critiques, etc…  But this is where I need to dig in and keep going – not give up.  Yes, I have high expectations.  Yes, it may take several rewrites and rehearsals for the groups to meet my expectations.  After watching Eric’s video of the student who had revised several times, I see it is worth it.  The sense of pride she felt when she met those high expectations was visibly joyful.

So, if Genius Hour isn’t working for you, and you feel somehow guilty that you aren’t doing it right, you are not alone.  Maybe we are the only two teachers in the world having trouble with it, but at least you know there is someone else out there who questions its worth.  I can also tell you, though, that I’ve seen it work.  That’s why I keep trying and why I think you should, too.

UPDATE:  Here is a post I did after I kept trying!

I Don't Know What I'm Doing
image from: Duncan C on Flickr

Visualistan

Perhaps my interest in the infographics on “Common Mythconceptions” led me to Visualistan, which I bookmarked in my Pocket account awhile ago.  The specific infographic I thought might be useful for my students was, “How Long Did Famous Structures Take to Build?

How Long Did Famous Structures Take to Build? #infographic

Having time during this Spring Break, though, I found some others that might be of interest in educational settings. For example, if your students are doing animal research, you might want them to take a look at, “Travelling Speeds of Animals,” or “Sleep Habits of the Animal Kingdom.”

Travelling Speeds of Animals #InfographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan

Sleep Habits of the Animal Kingdom #InfographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan

Another one that I find intriguing is, “Cultural Differences in Teaching Around the World.

Cultural Differences in Teaching Around the World #infographic

Like “Common Mythconceptions,” I would not recommend the entire site of Visualistan for elementary students, but single infographics from the site could certainly be used at all levels.  There are many real-life math applications and engaging topics, from “Lego Bedrooms,” to the “Evolution of Video Games.”  You could create your own questions, have students create questions, and eventually allow students to create their own infographics!

It’s a Zoo Out There – #TCEA17

Just to clarify, “It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a presentation I saw at TCEA this year; I’m not making any kind of commentary on the people attending the conference 😉  In fact, I was so blown away by the incredible sessions I was able to see over the course of my three days in Austin that I tweeted something about how TCEA reaffirms my belief that there are so many unbelievably passionate, gifted teachers in our world working to improve education each and every day.

“It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a TCEA presentation by Dina Estes and Kerry Woods from Lewisville ISD in Texas.  They teach a multiage K/1 class, and have done this particular project based learning unit for a few years.  The students research animals, draw pictures,  and use digital tools to record information to present. Then, they create a virtual zoo in the hallway to display what they have learned.  Zoo visitors can scan QR codes to watch and listen to the students present. The zoo looks different each year because these awesome teachers allow the students to plan it.  One group wanted to group the animals by habitats, and other groups had their own ideas.  No matter what, the display is open to the rest of the school to visit – giving the students a genuine audience for their hard work.

Anyone who balks at having students this age do research, participate in project based learning, or make use of technology needs to look at this presentation.  The teachers provided tools, including a timeline, that show how all of these things can be done successfully.

Thanks to teachers like these, hopefully even more educators will be inspired to try this project!

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image from: Pixabay 

Visual Hexagons

When I last posted about Hexagonal Learning, I mentioned an article I had seen about using Visual Hexagons, which I was eager to try.  So, as my 4th grade students are beginning a unit on mathematical masterpieces, I thought I would use Visual Hexagons to introduce the topic.

Not my best decision ever.

Here’s what I did wrong:

  • I put together a bunch of images that most of the students could not identify.  This made it difficult for them to figure out how they were connected.
  • I forgot to put a guiding question on the paper.
  • Some of the connections were a bit too abstract.  (I had a picture of a yellow spiral, which I was hoping they would see as a “Golden Spiral,” and that they would relate that to spirals in nature such as the ones on the pinecone picture I included.)
  • Some of the pictures were unrecognizable – such as the aforementioned pinecone which appeared to most of the students to be an orderly collection of rocks or fish scales.

untitled-design

Did I do anything right?  It depends on what you define as “right.”  And what you define as me doing…

  • I used Canva to make my Visual Hexagons, which made it very simple to pull pictures into the hexagon-shaped image holders.
  • I accidentally printed to the color printer. But that looked better anyway.  So I printed out 4 more.
  • Once the activity got started, I noticed the students were struggling, so I quickly pulled up a backup plan that is a video on Discovery Streaming about nature, math, and beauty.
  • I was trying to decide at what point I should show the video when two men from the district came into the room to replace my wifi – which meant the students couldn’t research on their iPads anymore.
  • I showed the video (effectively damming the stream of students who were now lining up to ask to go to the restroom – a clear sign of a lesson gone awry), which explained nearly all of the pictures and how they related.

As regular readers may note, I generally share things that have worked well in my classroom on this blog, so you can try using those activities as well.  However, I fear that may have given some of you a distorted version of what goes on when I teach.  I have plenty of epic fails.  I like to share the failures that have some sort of potential as long as you avoid all of the pitfalls I seem to have discovered.

Basically, if you learned from reading this that you should always have a backup plan even when you are really excited about a lesson that you are positive will be engaging, I figure my work is done.

But you knew that already, right?

Google Expeditions

Like many people, the first time I experienced the Virtual Reality of Google Expeditions, I thought it was pretty cool.  Like many teachers, however, I wondered about the practicality of using it in my classroom.  Getting VR viewers, like Google Cardboard, doesn’t seem to be a big deal.  But getting devices that fit in them (in other words, smartphones) and also that work with our district network turns out to be a bit more of a challenge.  This is especially so for elementary school, where smartphones are not quite as ubiquitous has in many secondary schools.

I was so focused on solving the problem of getting devices that I didn’t realize that we could still use Expeditions in our class without the VR feature.  We have plenty of iPads in our class, and you can actually get some decent 360 degree footage without being immersed in the scene.  It’s not quite as awe-inspiring, but certainly more engaging than still photos in a textbook.

This Smore from Karly Moura has several great links for beginners in case you are planning to embark on a journey of your own.  My favorite link leads to a list of available Expeditions that has incredible details on each tour.  After searching the internet up and down for something like this, I am thankful to Jennifer Holland and Lauren Carroll for creating and updating the document, as well as Karly for sharing the link!

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image from Pixabay