Tag Archives: Genius Hour

Thrively Revisited

My first post about Thrively was in 2015.  Since then, the platform has changed a bit.  There is still a free option that includes a Strengths Assessment and links to resources and local activities connected to student interests.  However, there are now journals and online courses, such as, “Find Your Passion” and “Grit.”  There are even more options in Classroom Pro and School Pro that you can see on this pricing comparison page.

I am using Thrively with my 5th grade gifted students.  They completed the Strengths Assessment today and began the “Find Your Passion” course.  With the free version, I have a Teacher Dashboard, so I am able to see their Strength Profiles, Interests, and Aspirations.  I can also read the responses to the journal prompts.  Using the “Class Insights” menu, I can access summaries of class interests and click on each interest to see exactly which students chose each category.  You can also involve parents by inviting them to view their child’s profile.

After discussing the assessment today, one student thanked me for giving him the opportunity to do it.  The entire class was enthusiastic about completing the assessment and continuing with the courses, which are a great tie-in to working on Genius Hour.

Thrively is a great tool to help you learn more about your students – and for them to learn more about themselves.  One student ironically commented that she was pretty certain that she was not assertive like her assessment claimed – until we discussed the meaning of assertive and she realized that it can be a great strength.

Due to the vocabulary and the amount of reading involved, I would not recommend using Thrively with students younger than 5th grade.

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Genius Camp 2017-2018

In addition to doing Genius Hour with my 3rd-5th grade gifted students, I have been guiding 5th grade students through what I like to call, “Genius Camp” during our school’s weekly enrichment time for the past year and a half.  For my first post on this, which explains the logistics of the time, you can read here.  Basically, I work with one 5th grade homeroom for 45 minutes per week for about 6-8 weeks. (It was 6 weeks last year, but we changed the timeframe this year.) During the last session, the students teach lessons to the rest of the students in 5th grade.  It’s kind of a Genius Hour/EdCamp hybrid because there are students choosing what they want to present and other students get to vote on which session they would like to attend.  (You can go to this folder to make copies of all of the templates listed below.)

  • Week 1 – Intro. to Genius Camp, brainstorming ideas for sessions
  • Week 2 – Going over “what makes a good session” and brainstorming more ideas
  • Week 3 – Signing up for sessions (in groups of 1-3 students), Planning the session, including step-by-step instructions
  • Week 4 – Completing planning sheets, giving peer feedback and revising
  • Week 5 –Going over reflection sheets, and practicing sessions.  Send out reminder letter.
  • Week 6 –Practicing and critiquing each other’s sessions (all materials due this day or students cannot present the next week)
  • Week 7 – Other homerooms fill out Google Form selecting 1st, 2nd, 3rd choice for sessions.  Sessions are presented during enrichment time that week.  Each participating student receives a label with name, session name, and location.  There is an adult supervisor at every location.

As you can see from this post that I did toward the end of last school year, Genius Camp has not been perfect.  But I have seen many, many successes that have outweighed the obstacles.  My favorite part has been witnessing students shine who often don’t get the opportunity to demonstrate their interests or their strengths during the school day.  Every 5th grader gets to participate in Genius Camp, and I enjoy discovering their passions.  Many times I hear comments from the adult supervisors like, “I had no idea so and so has such a natural talent for teaching!” or, “I never knew so and so knew so much about World War II!”

If you can find a way to bring Genius Camp to your school, whether through enrichment time, an after-school club, or by carving out time in a regular class, you and your students will find that it is time well spent.

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Students learning how an engine works during Genius Camp

The 6 P’s of Genius Hour

Last week I mentioned that one of the best parts of attending ISTE is meeting up with people who share our desire to make school amazing for our students.  One of those people is Andi McNairan (@mcnairan3).

Until recently, Andi taught gifted students (she now works for a regional service center), and also integrated Genius Hour into her classroom.  We would touch base with each other to share ideas, read each other’s blogs, and try to meet up at TCEA whenever we could.

Andi recently published a book, called, Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry.  In the book, and in her ISTE presentation, Andi talks about the “6 P’s of Genius Hour”: Passion, Presentation, Pitch, Product, Project, and Plan.  At ISTE, Andi went over some of the tech tools that have helped her students in each of these areas.  For example, she provides the students with QR codes for each of the phases.  They can scan these and instantly be on a web page that gives instructions and resources for that phase.  Because Andi also thinks that reflection is vital, she gives the students a QR code that leads to Tony Vincent’s reflection generator – which offers a randomly selected reflection question each time you visit the page.

Do you have students who have difficulty coming up with topics for Genius Hour?  Andi suggests using A.J. Juliani’s “Passion Bracket” to help them brainstorm. On one side, students brainstorm things that they love, and on the other they think about things that bother them.  By the time they reach the middle, narrowing down favorites, they have potential topics for research.

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A favorite tool of Andi’s that I keep meaning to try is Trello.  Trello can be used by the individual students to keep track of their own progress, but it can also be used by the instructor to determine what phase each student is currently working on.  The name blocks under each category can be easily dragged to a new column.

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Andi and I are both keen on students interviewing outside experts for their projects.  To find those experts, she suggests using Nepris, which matches classroom teachers with industry experts for video conferences.  Like many edtech companies these days, Nepris has limited free options and a subscription option.  One great tip that I learned from Andi is to have the students record their interviews, so they don’t have to take notes. This frees them up to look at the person they are conferencing with, and to pay attention to the topics.  She also mentioned that she has the students prioritize their questions before the interview in case not everything can be covered during their 30 minute time period.

You can find out more about Andi’s extremely helpful tips by visiting her website – appropriately titled, A Meaningful Mess – or purchasing her book.

For more Genius Hour resources, here is my page that includes helpful links, my own personal journey with Genius Hour, and some downloadable activities.

Navigating Uncertainty

In the opening keynote of ISTE 2017, Jad Abumrad, creator and co-host of RadioLab, spoke about the creative process.  He reminded us that all creators regularly oscillate between excitement and self-doubt.  As Abumrad described some of his experiences developing stories for the RadioLab podcast, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the many Genius Hour projects I’ve done my best to facilitate over the years.  Beginning with brainstorming questions, selecting one that resonates, researching the question, and running into obstacles, RadioLab is the embodiment of my students’ attempts to complete their quests for answers.  And, just as my students sometimes run into perceived dead ends, so do the hosts of RadioLab.  But by paying close attention, they may find paths that lead to something even better.  As Abumrad says, “If you commit to the questions, you probably will not get to where you want to go, but you could get somewhere else.  And it could be beautiful.” (This is why I think it’s important to tell students to “Get Lost” and advocate for Trailblazing.)

Our job as educators is to not only help our students “navigate uncertainty,” but to teach them to seek it out.  Abumrad calls this, “The German Forest,” (based on an extremely difficult story he pursued regarding Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”).  Going into the forest is always intimidating, yet exhilarating when you are able to make it to the other side.  The more often you subject yourself to this, the better equipped you will be.  Though the trials may never get easier, you will be able to reassure yourself that you have encountered this before – and succeeded.

During his presentation, Abumrad showed a favorite video of mine that features Ira Glass speaking about storytelling.  Glass’ German Forest is “The Gap,” and it can only be bridged by constantly creating and endlessly honing your craft.

These are the lessons that we must impart to our children:

  • Seek out what interests you, and be willing to take it where it leads you – even if that is not what you envisioned
  • Take calculated risks
  • It is normal to be uncertain, and to question your abilities
  • Allow self-doubt to guide you to improvement rather than to stop you from trying

To those ends, ISTE promotes its students’ standards, which you can learn more about in the awesome Flocabulary video embedded below.

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The Curiosity Workshop

The Curiosity Workshop is a website founded by Mia Nicklin, who began to write daily “curiosities” for her son when she observed that his school experiences did not seem to be stimulating his interest in learning. Among the staff and contributors, The Curiosity Workshop also has a teacher advisory board and a student one that includes children between 8 and 12 years old.

On The Curiosity Workshop site, readers can find interesting nuggets of information along with great images, like this article about Sweden’s Ice Hotel.  The “Weekly Wisdom” page offers a quote from a famous individual each week, and includes a young person’s interpretation of the quote.

Somewhat of an online magazine for children, The Curiosity Workshop is certain to motivate readers to learn more with its amazing pictures and kid “bite-sized” information .  It does not yet have the substantive number of resources that you can find on sites like Wonderopolis, but it does have an interesting “hook.”  With parent permission, students can register for the “Read for Good” program, which allows participants to collect online “stamps” as they correctly answer questions about each of the posts.  With a mere 50 stamps, they can choose a charity to which to donate, such as saving elephants or providing soccer balls to impoverished communities.

This site has a lot of potential, and I hope that it will expand over time.  In the meantime, share it with students and parents if you are interested in nourishing curiosity and the world at the same time.

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image from Pixabay

Weebly for Education

Google Sites are blocked for our elementary students, so I show my 5th graders the Weebly for Education site if they are interested in designing their own websites. Sometimes students create them for Genius Hour projects.  This year, my students were so excited about the manifestos they created in Canva that I suggested they use the images as launching points for websites that reinforced their core beliefs.

Students seem to understand the Weebly tools very quickly.  In fact, as soon as they see all that they can do, they want to do it all – add images, video, quotes, links, etc… Many of them immediately went home the first day to add to their sites and are super proud to present them.

For this particular project, I asked the students to include their manifestos, along with a page that describes their “Dream Team” – famous people who lived lives that modeled the beliefs in their manifestos.  (They used Academy of Achievement’s “Role Model” tool to help them discover potential Dream Team members.) They could also include inspirational quotes and videos.

Weebly for Education is different from the main Weebly site because the education version allows teachers to have a dashboard of students for free. However, from what I have been able to see, there is no way to view a student’s website through the dashboard until he or she publishes it.  This is a little inconvenient as they are editing, but the benefit of all of the other free features far outweighs this issue.

You can see a screen shot from one of my student’s websites below, and click on the link to visit his site.

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screen shot from “Manifesto Mania” site by Cristian on Weebly for Education 

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.