Tag Archives: Genius Hour

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!

Photo-Dec-12-10-41-21-AM-1s4meef.jpg
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!

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.

Ada Twist, Scientist

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts have outdone themselves with their latest book, Ada Twist, Scientist.  Beaty (author) and Roberts (illustrator) made their mark in children’s literature with their two previous books, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Rosie Revere, Engineer. Demonstrating the sometimes exasperating, but always creative, personalities of inquisitive and innovative children, these books have become favorites for those who champion maker education and S.T.E.M.  They are also great examples of growth mindset and passion based learning.

Ada Twist, Scientist tells the story of an adorable young girl whose curiosity knows absolutely no bounds.  Her parents fondly support Ada’s intellectual investigations until she decides to throw the family cat into the washing machine in an attempt to find the origin of a terrible smell, at which point Ada is exiled to the “Thinking Chair.”

You will have to read the book yourself to find out how Ada handles her isolation and whether or not she solves her stinky mystery. Suffice it to say that the book has a happy ending and will inspire parents and children to see questions as exciting learning opportunities rather than as time-wasting obstacles.

For a teaching guide and links to other related activities, visit the Ada Twist website.

You can’t resist Ada Twist, Scientist!

image from Ada Twist, Scientist
image from Ada Twist, Scientist

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.