Tag Archives: Genius Hour

Genius Camp Update

In a recent post by Jennifer Gonzalez, author of the Cult of Pedagogy blog, she gives an incredible list of things to do on “Lame Duck School Days.”  You know, like the day after you’ve finished all of your standardized testing for the year, or the two weeks before the end of school when all of your textbooks and sometimes your computers have been collected for “inventory,” or the hour before you go on your final field trip the day before the last day of school.

One of the suggestions given by Jennifer is an “unconference” where, “Using a chunk of hours or a whole day, teachers and students plan short lessons on things they are interested in outside of school (crafts, yoga, cooking, martial arts, music, dance, technology), then sign up for time slots like an EdCamp.”

We have been doing this type of event at our school with our 5th graders this year, and Jennifer’s post reminded me that I owe you an update on its progress.  As regular readers may know, I try to give you the good, the bad, and the “please avoid these mistakes if you value your sanity” about projects like this.

First of all, here is the first post that I did in October about our Genius Camp.  If you read it, you will see that I gave some precautions along with the positive outcomes at that point.  Since that post, all four of our 5th grade classes have each taken a turn “teaching” sessions at Genius Camp.  We have now embarked on the 2nd round, which consists of shorter rotations since the students have some experience.  Now, each class meets twice before presenting on the third week (before, it was 5 meetings with Genius Camp on the 6th week).  The other change that we are making for this round is that the students are being judged using this rubric.  The adults who monitor each session are doing the judging, so we can choose some exemplary sessions the students can demonstrate for this year’s 4th graders (who will be leading their own sessions next year).

Some things that haven’t gone well so far (2 homerooms have completed their second round):

  • Some students are getting silly this time of year, and prefer to generate what they think are humorous ideas, such as (and I promise you someone suggested this), “teaching how to bounce a ping-pong ball into a red cup.”  For many reasons, I rejected that proposal…  Also rejected, “how to play poker – but we won’t call it that.”
  • For the first time this whole year, I had two groups who did not bring supplies on time – so the people who selected their sessions had to be placed in other ones at the last minute. Even though every student had originally given 3 choices when filling out their session surveys, many of their choices were full at that point.  This resulted in a bunch of students going to sessions that were not interesting to them.
  • Also for the first time this whole year, I had to exclude some students from participating because they would not stay on task to plan their sessions.
  • Two students chose to go to a different session than what they were assigned, resulting in behavior issues the student teachers shouldn’t have had to address. (Every student wears a label with name and session title, but these were not checked, unfortunately.)

After some of these experiences, I’ve come close to declaring, “I guess we just can’t have nice things,” and shutting the whole experience down.  However, there are some kids – maybe even more than the number of kids who want to sabotage the activity – who seem to actually love participating and teaching the sessions.  So, I’m trying to keep these positive moments in the forefront of my mind:

  • When her teacher came to check on the session one Special Ed. student was leading, the girl who exclaimed proudly, “It’s going so well!!!!” (and it was)
  • The girls who confided, when they were placed in Football for Beginners due to scheduling snafus, that they “actually learned a few things!”
  • The boy who wore a suit to teach his session on drawing – and did a fine job
  • The boy who built a working engine model for the students to try in his group’s session, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Engines,”
  • The girl who doesn’t like dancing in front of people, but agreed to teach a dance with her partner after I told her that I regret always caring too much about what other people think of my dancing,
  • The boy who whispered to the adult monitoring his session, “Now I know what teachers go through,” when he kept asking his group to quiet down so they could hear instructions.
  • My principal, who monitored a session on making video blogs, and allowed his “teacher” to record him doing the mannequin challenge.

I’m pretty sure there are more that I could add to the second list.

It would be so much easier to show movies or give out worksheets during these last weeks of school.  But I can’t help thinking that this is the last chance that we have to teach students some important lessons before they move on to middle school.  For some of them this might be their chance to show that they are really good at doing something that isn’t academic or to learn that they enjoy being in a leadership role.  For others, they may develop more empathy for people who teach – or for people trying to learn something new.

Or, it just might be fun.

Photo Mar 30, 2 01 40 PM
Students try out a model of an engine.
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Our video blogger gets students excited about creativity online.

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.

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

Anything But Jeopardy

Many of my 4th graders embarked on the “Presentation Planning” stage of their Genius Hour projects this week.  I require their presentations include an interactive portion for the audience.  When they saw “game show” as one of the choices, that became an instant favorite.  The problem with this is that the default game show format for my students always seems to be “Jeopardy.”  There is nothing wrong with Jeopardy, but I’ve been guiding Genius Hour projects for several years, and would like to see a little more variety in this area.

Thankfully, I obsessively save websites to look at later with my Pocket app, and recalled there was a blog post about game shows.  Although the post was written with teachers in mind as the hosts, many of the suggestions in “30 Activities Inspired by Game Shows” are ones that could be used by students.

Another possibility would be to encourage the students to create their own game show format.  You never know who in your class might be the next Merv Griffin!

Jeopardy
image from Steve Jurvetson on Flickr

 

 

Skype in the Classroom

We have been using Skype for a few years in my classroom.  Sometimes we have chatted with experts for genius hour projects and other times we have talked with classmates who have moved away.  A couple of times we have used it to talk with app developers about products the students were beta testing.

As many educators know, inviting other adults into your classroom, whether virtually or physically, can be extremely unpredictable.  While these adults may be experts, that does not guarantee they are able to impart their knowledge effectively to young people.  They may have great intentions, but might have a hard time keeping your students interested.

This is what is great about using the resources from Skype in the Classroom.  On this site, you can look for guest speakers, virtual field trips, and other classrooms to collaborate with.  The people who have volunteered to have information posted on the site are experienced working with students.  Your chances of having a great Skype lesson are increased when choosing a contact who is prepared to speak to a young audience.

Right before the Winter Break, students in a couple of my gifted and talented classes had successful Skype conversations.  My second graders benefited from a virtual field trip  to Buffalo Bill Center of the West near Yellowstone Park as they learned about animal adaptations, while my 3rd graders spoke with a reporter about protecting the oceans from overfishing.  Both sessions were scheduled through the Skype in the Classroom site after I did some filtered searching based on topics and grade level.  Once they were scheduled, I received e-mails with further details to prepare for the Skypes, and reminders the day before each session.

After each Skype, my students and I felt very gratified that the hosts were willing to volunteer 45 minutes out of their days to help the students understand their topics better. The experts were able to offer perspectives and ideas that were new to all of us, and we agreed we definitely learned quite a bit.  I must admit, also, that I was relieved that the presenters were not only very knowledgeable about their subjects, but excellent at communicating with children.

If you want to use the Skype in the Classroom site, you will need to have a free Skype contact already created, and to register with the Skype in the Classroom site.  If you are a beginner, don’t worry.  There are tons of resources on the site to get you started.  In addition, you will find the people who respond to your interview requests are very happy to help as well.

Take your students to places and people they might not otherwise ever encounter with Skype in the Classroom.  It will deepen everyone’s learning, including your own.

UPDATE 1/8/17: I just found this fantastic blog post that gives suggestions for Skype Virtual Field Trips from Skype Master Teachers!

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A student shares her animal adaptation research with a docent from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

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 Camp

Earlier this year, I mentioned a school in Texas that does a school-wide Genius Hour and has student-led EdCamps.  As an elementary teacher of gifted and talented students, I’ve done Genius Hour with my own small classes, but was intrigued by the idea of doing something school-wide.  With some creative scheduling spear-headed by our principal, we have been able to do something along these lines with an entire grade level, and I thought I would share it here.

Every grade level at our school has an extra planning time once a week so the teachers can conduct Professional Learning Communities. To make this work, the “special” teachers (P.E., Music, Librarian, Nurse, Counselor, Reading Specialist, and I) take students for an enrichment time.  This means that I am able to meet with a 5th grade class once a week.

With the help of the rest of the Specials team, we arranged to each meet with the same 5th grade homeroom 5 weeks in a row.  This enabled me to work with one homeroom class to offer what I’m going to call a “Genius Camp” (since it is kind of a hybrid of Genius Hour and EdCamp).

Basically, the students of one homeroom brainstorm things they would like to teach other students. They work on their presentations for 5 weeks.  At the beginning of the 6th week, the students in the other classrooms sign up on a Google form for the sessions they would like to attend.  For the enrichment time on the 6th week, the entire grade level has “Genius Camp” with one homeroom organizing and the rest attending.

Here are what the weeks look like (each enrichment period is 45 minutes long):

  • Week 1 – Brainstorming ideas for sessions
  • Week 2 – Going over “what makes a good session” and signing up for what they want to teach
  • Week 3 – Planning the session, including step-by-step instructions
  • Week 4 – Going over reflection sheets, and practicing sessions
  • Week 5 – Practicing and critiquing each other’s sessions (all materials due this day or students cannot present the next week)
  • Week 6 – Other homerooms fill out Google Form selecting 1st, 2nd, 3rd choice for sessions.  Sessions are presented during enrichment time that week.  (All homerooms meet in cafeteria first to go over expectations.  Reflections are filled out at every session and turned in at the end.)

So far, we’ve gone through one complete Genius Camp cycle. (All but one student in the whole grade level said that they would like to do this again.) Overall, it was successful, but there were some issues:

  • Time is a huge factor.  Some sessions didn’t take up enough time, but most of students felt like they didn’t have enough.
  • Some students were not good at “managing” their peers.  For this round, we will go over pointers for that.
  • Some students felt like they didn’t really learn anything new.

We have four 5th grade classrooms.  The plan is to let all four present and participate, and then possibly do another Genius Camp allowing the outstanding sessions to be offered again.

Most of the students have been very excited about participating and presenting.  They are allowed to present in groups of 1-3 people, so those who aren’t comfortable doing the actual teaching can still help out.

Some of the sessions we did during our first round were:

  • How to Train a Dog to Lay Down
  • How to Make Slime
  • Model Rockets
  • How to Make Sock Puppets

There are logistics to consider, of course.  You need to think about the number of sessions you need to make groups manageable (I limited it to 8 students in a session) and the locations of the sessions. After the Google Form was filled out, I assigned students to sessions and printed name tags with their session titles and locations.  On the day of the session, I made sure all of the required materials were delivered to their locations prior to the beginning of the Genius Camp – including pencils to fill out the Reflection Forms.  We also made sure an adult was present at every session, which means you really need to have a team who is on board and awesome, like mine!

UPDATE 4/25/17 – Here is a link to my April Update on how Genius Camp progressed through the year!

Learning how to make sock puppets at Genius Camp
Learning how to make sock puppets at Genius Camp

 

We’re All Scared

One of the Gurus of Genius Hour, Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr), shared a document of “Videos for Genius Hour” on Twitter recently.  There are many videos on there that I haven’t seen, so I truly felt like I came across treasure of immense proportions when I opened the link to Joy’s document.  Whether it’s because it’s the month of October and ghouls and goblins haunt most of the yards in my neighborhood, or for other reasons, We’re All Scared was the first title that caught my attention.

image from Wikimedia
image from Wikimedia

We’re All Scared is about creativity and the fear that we all have of sharing our creations because, well, JUDGEMENT!  The part that intrigued me the most was when the host, Hank, argues that we all are creators because, at the very least, we spend our lives creating ourselves.  The reason we fear judgement is because we don’t want someone to create a wrong or incomplete image of us in their own minds – which pretty much supports my theory that we are not only all scared, but we are also all CONTROL FREAKS and the people who call me a control freak (who shall remain nameless) should not throw stones in glass houses, or at my creations, for that matter.

It’s quite likely that your students will not read quite as much into the video as I did.  However, I think We’re All Scared is great to show older students who have a few more inhibitions than the primary kids who proudly exhibit every unidentifiable thing they make with the earnest expectation that you will frame it immediately 😉

For more Genius Hour Resources, click here.