Category Archives: Student Products

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

TED Ed Club Video Guides

TED Ed Clubs are one way to encourage students to speak about their passions.  In a recent e-mail from TED Ed that was chock full of resources, there was a reference to some video guides that are posted on YouTube to help speakers refine their presentations.  You don’t need to be in a TED Ed Club to access these videos, and they give some great advice on the different parts of a great presentation.

Kudos to Timmy Sullivan, the student who speaks so eloquently in each video.  I definitely think these would be great to show students who are making any kind of formal presentation – including Genius Hour reports.

Click here to go to the Video Guides.
Click here to go to the Video Guides.

Top 10 Myths in Gifted Education

Even though I teach elementary gifted students, I consider myself an advocate for all students.  When I brainstormed titles for this blog many years ago, I chose, “Engage Their Minds,” because I believe all students have a right to learn through lessons that are exciting and relevant to their lives.  That being said, it bothers me that students who are identified as gifted sometimes don’t receive a lot of support because they are perceived to need less help – and this is certainly not the case.

I ran across this video while researching an upcoming presentation I will be doing.  Here are some gifted kids speaking out about the myths that have unfortunately impacted their educational careers. Hopefully, sharing this will help to dispel some of those myths.

The Faces of Gifted Students
The Faces of Gifted Students Who Want You to Know Their Truths

International Dot Day 2016

International Dot Day, 2016, falls on September 15-ish.  I never feel like the school year has truly begun until we celebrate Dot Day.

Here are some of my past posts about Dot Day:

I hunted on Pinterest to find some ideas I hadn’t seen before, and this is what I found:

There are plenty more creative people out there with Dot Day activities to share.  So, don’t forget to get out there and, “Make your Mark!”

image from Flickr
image from Flickr

5 Genius Hour Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The Genius Hour pages on this site seem to be getting a lot of views lately, which is good to see.  As teachers prepare for a new school year, I am hopeful that more Genius Hours will be incorporated into curriculums around the world.  Since I have been doing Genius Hour for several years, I thought it might help for those of you who are new to it to learn some of the giant mistakes I’ve made so you can try to avoid them.

Genius Hour Mistake #1 – Allowing Students to Work on Anything They Want  

I have never known what people meant by “deer in the headlights” until the day I announced to my 5th grade class that they would have the opportunity each week to work on a topic they chose.  Instead of the expected enthusiasm and “what an awesome teacher you are” smiles, I got a roomful of confused panic.  These students had already spent at least 5 years in school being told what to learn every minute of the day.  Suddenly being offered unlimited freedom was more debilitating than empowering.  I learned that I needed to scaffold the process of choosing topics by guiding them through brainstorming passions, and teaching the students how to select a good research topic that was not too narrow or too wide.

Genius Hour Mistake #2 – Telling Students They Could Choose Any Way to Present their Topic

Don’t get me wrong.  One of the most wonderful things about Genius Hour is that the final products can be in any format – even a puppet show.  However, when I told the students to, “Begin with the End in Mind,” I discovered the hard way that most of them only had the end in mind. They couldn’t wait to add their creative touch to the presentations, but that meant that there was little substance or learning in the research.  Now, I don’t even let them decide on a final product until they have shown quality research.

Genius Hour Mistake #3 – Thinking You Can’t Teach During Genius Hour

I wanted Genius Hour to be a sacred time of independent learning, and was reluctant to ever do lessons during that time.  However, when I noticed that many students were encountering similar challenges (such as searching for reliable information), I began to offer mini-lessons during Genius Hour every once in awhile to help everyone get back on track.  They never last more than 10 minutes, but can quickly help to fill in gaps that a large portion of the class may have when it comes to research, copyright reminders, and other general information.

Genius Hour Mistake #4 – Leaving No Time for Reflection

Giving students time for reflection has always been a weakness of mine.  We often get caught up in what we are doing and realize it’s time to go seconds before class is over.  I’ve been working on that for awhile, and one thing I have learned is how essential reflection is for Genius Hour.  It has to be varied, so it doesn’t become boring and rote, but it is so valuable to do it.  Regular feedback throughout the project from the student, peers, and the teacher will definitely help to make it better.  Last year, we did our research in Google Classroom, making it easy for all of us to give each other feedback and improve.

Genius Hour Mistake #5 – No Presentation Rehearsal

When students finish a Genius Hour project, that should mean that they are ready to present.  However, if it’s left up to them, they will spend very little time practicing, and just inform you that they are done.  After the first couple of years of erratic final productions,  I came across the, “What Would Steve Do?” slideshow that includes the following image.

RehearsalI show this to my students every year.  We talk about the ratios on the slide and how you should spend just as much time on practicing as you do on each of the other steps.  Sometimes, we choose a sample of students from the class and the presenters go to another room to practice in front of them and get feedback.  Keep in mind that some of their presentations are game shows and other interactive ideas, so it’s not always slideshows.  However, students can use slideshows with the simple rule that what they are telling us cannot be text on the slides (another suggestion from, “What Would Steve Do?“)

These are the 5 biggest mistakes that I’ve made while incorporating Genius Hour in my classroom – but there are many more errors I make each year.  Genius Hour/Passion Time/20% Time, or whatever you want to call it, is an inexact, often chaotic process.  It’s hard to decide when to add your voice to the mix and when to stand back. Sometimes everyone needs you at once, and other times you walk around a surreally silent classroom as each student immerses him or her self in research.  I often dread Genius Hour because so much is out of control.  I often can’t wait for Genius Hour because I learn so much from giving the students control.  Genius Hour makes all of us vulnerable and reveals who we really are.

It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.

Iterationists

I would like to give Krissy Venosdale (@krissyvenosdale) credit for the awesome image below, and possibly for coining a new term: “iterationist.”  When I saw the image tweeted by her the other day, I knew right away it would be a new mantra for me.  Considering the experience I described from our robot camp on Monday, Krissy’s quote perfectly states what I need to encourage more from my students (and myself).

“Iteration”  is a word that is used quite a bit when people discuss Design Thinking.  Anyone who has created something of substance will agree that a new work goes through many drafts before the maker feels satisfied.  Those iterations are important to the process; in fact some even argue that they are more important than the final product.

What I learned from my robot camp experience is that I not only need to make students more aware of the importance of iterations, but also how to learn from them.  As I mentioned, some of the teams had no problem trying again when their designs didn’t work. However, they didn’t spend enough time on trying to figure out why they weren’t working, and subsequent iterations tended to be just as inefficient.

In school, we usually don’t give students time for multiple iterations, unless we are preparing them for a standardized writing test or telling them to correct failed assignments. If we could make “iterationism” a habit, rather than a consequence or forced strategy, students would be more comfortable about taking risks and we would see a lot more “bravery.”

by Krissy Venosdale
by Krissy Venosdale

 

Undercover Robots Camp – Pageant Edition

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we had our second session of Undercover Robots Camp last week.  The theme was, “Pageant Edition,” with the scenario being that the Dash robots had been sent on their first undercover assignments to the Annual Robot Pageant, where they were to investigate a potential saboteur.

Only a few of the students had attended our first session, Spy School, the week before, meaning that there were various levels of skill.  This is what I love about programming with open-ended challenges, especially with the Dash robots.  The activities allow for the contributions of all abilities.

The week was interspersed with design and logic activities.  Of course, costumes needed to be created since it was a pageant. Puzzles needed to be solved to find the identity of the saboteur.  I even borrowed some ideas from Breakout EDU.

One of the favorite activities was the pageant interview.  The students had to program their robots to respond to my questions – but they didn’t know what the questions would be!  I told them to come up with three responses: a plural noun, a verb ending in -ing, and a name of a place.  I had a set of questions for each robot, who also had to be programmed to come out on stage and then leave the stage.  I embedded an example below (make sure your volume is high so you can hear the robot responses).

The students also had challenges to program their students to do an art project, launch ping-pong balls into cups to gather evidence, and to save the other contestants from the saboteur. The latter is when the students learned that less can be more, as the least elaborate contraption attached the robot actually “saved” the most plastic figures (see the pic with the colored pencils attached to the robot below)!

During the week, we also worked on choreographing a final dance number for the pageant.  It’s good we started early because there were many, many, many flub-ups!  The video embedded below is what we showed the parents.  Unfortunately, it still didn’t go quite as planned; we learned that “tired” robots get a bit rebellious about their programs as their batteries wear down!

I absolutely adored seeing everything the students accomplished last week, and I can’t wait to do Undercover Robots Camp again next summer!