Education, Independent Study, K-5, Motivation, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Genius Bar Update

A genius explains her global coin collection.
A genius explains her global coin collection.

At the beginning of the school year, I got an idea from an article that I was reading about changing the design of the classroom.  It briefly alluded to a class “Genius Bar,”  (using the term for the Help Desk in Apple Stores.)  I decided to re-purpose the sad-looking classroom bookshelf into a Genius Bar.  You can read more about the transformation here.

In my GT classroom, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders are doing a Genius Hour this year.  The kids are excited.  But there is one problem.  For Genius Hour, I insist that they learn about something new to them.  I really want to avoid them using Genius Hour as a means of extending a hobby that they already devote plenty of time to at home.  But some kids really, really want to talk about those hobbies…

If you ever have participated in “Show and Tell”, you know that many students love to be the center of attention, and to “tell” all that they know about something. Sometimes, though, their audience is not quite as interested in the topic.  I’m hoping that the Genius Bar will solve this problem.  I’ve invited the students who reach Level 3 in my classroom (you can read more about our “Level Up” system here) to bring something to show at the Genius Bar during Center Time.  At the beginning of the day, they tell what they have brought, and the other students can sign up to learn about the item.  This way, students who are genuinely interested can learn.

Because I only meet with my students one day a week, only four or five of them had reached Level 3 by the holidays.  They kept forgetting to bring their items on GT day, but finally one student remembered.  She brought some coins from different countries.

Since there was only one “Genius”, I did not have the students sign up.  I approached Center Time with a bit of trepidation, though, because I was concerned no one would want to learn about the coins.  This was 5th grade, and they sometimes like to pretend they already know everything 😉 I already had a speech in my head to console the student: “Sometimes the things that we find fascinating aren’t always interesting to others.  Maybe you can think of a ‘pitch’ to sell it next time if you really want to share the coins.”

I had nothing to worry about.  I should have had the kids sign up – for time slots. When I announced that it was Center Time and that the Genius Bar was now open, just about everyone flocked there immediately.  They listened to the student, examined the coins with and without the magnifying glass, and showed true interest.

So it turns out that, once again, Voice and Choice won out in the classroom.  Our “Genius” got to share something that mattered, and her classmates got to choose if they wanted to hear about it.

When we return to school, I plan to pre-emptively remind the students that “Genius Bar” is not about popularity, and that they should base their choices on interest in the topic.  I decided that each week’s “Geniuses” will give me their topic privately, and students will sign up to learn about the topic without knowing who the presenter is.  And, I will gently remind each presenter that some topics may be more popular than others.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Education, K-12, Motivation

Step Right Up to the Genius Bar!

Remember this?

The kind-of-before pic of my classroom Genius Bar
The kind-of-before pic of my classroom Genius Bar

It turned out like this.

Click on the picture so you can see a slightly bigger, though still kind of unfocused, view!

This is our class Genius Bar, inspired by the classroom make-over mentioned in this post.

I apologize for the blurriness of parts of the picture.  The lighting in my classroom is not the best – plus I’m a horrible photographer!

close-up of the Quote of the Day frame I am using - with a quote from Kid President
close-up of the Quote of the Week frame I am using – with a quote from Kid President
I put chalkboard paint on top, and the students will have a question they can respond to with the neon chalkboard markers each week.
I put chalkboard paint on top, and the students will have a question they can respond to with the neon chalkboard markers each week.
I found this picture, and made it my desktop pic on the laptop to reinforce my theme.
I found this picture here, and made it my desktop pic on the laptop to reinforce my theme.

How do I plan for the kids to utilize the Genius Bar?  I will be “gamifying” our classroom, and the students will get privileges at each of the levels.  One privilege will be to access the reference materials, including the computer (and I will probably add an iPad) whenever needed – as we do not, unfortunately, have a 1 to 1 classroom.  They will also be able to use the neon chalk markers to respond to a weekly question.  Another level will allow them to access the “fun” books and games.  And, yet another level will allow them to check out the books and games for home use.  (I’ll share the “Level Up” poster as soon as I finalize it.)

And what’s a Genius Bar without the advice of a Genius?  I am thinking of using the info from the “What are My S.K.I.L.L.Z.” sheet, and letting kids sign up to get advice from one of our resident geniuses on a topic.

I’m still working on other parts of the room (school has started, but I test for the first few weeks, so I have a bit of time before classes begin.) And, if you recall, I mentioned that I got permission to use the classroom next to me.  I’m going to have the kids help me create a Maker Studio.

Do you have any other suggestions for our Genius Bar?

(Update:  I just saw this post from Erin Klein on her own classroom transformation that you might find interesting.  Her pictures are much better than mine!)

Education, K-12, Teaching Tools, Universal Design for Learning

Rows of Desks are SO Yesterday

Remember the post I did on adding a Genius Bar to your classroom?  Well, I decided that I must do exactly that.  So, I have been working on re-purposing an old bookshelf to become the countertop of my Genius Bar.  Have I mentioned that I am not very good at DIY projects?  First of all, I often forget to do a “Before” picture, so I only have a “During” one.  Secondly, it’s possible I killed more than one brain cell while I spray-painted this monstrosity – and that’s slightly ironic considering the fact that I am calling it a “Genius Bar.”   However, I cannot wait until the students see the finished product.  Maybe they will be so excited that they won’t notice my diminished capacity…

My Genius Bar in progress!
My Genius Bar in progress!

I am doing my best to re-design my classroom this year to support the type of learning that I plan to facilitate during the next nine months – lots of collaboration and creation.  I just got some great news – I will be able to use the empty classroom next to me, as well!  I am brimming with ideas.  Unfortunately, I am not not brimming with finances for this endeavor.  I am going to see how much I can re-purpose to create my “Learning Studio,” and then work on getting financing for the rest – perhaps through Donors Choose.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

Speaking of Donors Choose, check out the #RemakeClass Photo Sweepstakes sponsored by Edutopia, in which you can possibly win a gift card from Donors Choose!  If you’re like me, and don’t think you can get it together by the August 25th deadline, you might still want to visit the site to take a look at all of the fabulous photos for some inspiration.  If you are interested in entering the contest, here is a link to the F.A.Q.’s. (Also, here is a link to Edutopia’s weekly giveaways, which also includes a Donors Choose gift card this week for $500!)

For more inspiration, here are a couple of other articles that have great ideas for classroom makeovers:  “How to Make Your Classroom a Thinking Space” by Suzie Boss, and “My Top 10 Learning Spaces – A Universal Design in a Gifted Classroom” by Zoe Branigan-Pipe.