Long ago – during the first semester – my GT 3rd graders decided that they wanted to do their Genius Hour project on volcanoes. (My 3rd grade class is only 3 students this year, so they are doing their project together.) To narrow things down, we decided to learn more about shield volcanoes. Specifically, Kilauea.
You can probably see where this is going. After months of research, writing a script for a newscast, dealing with many device issues and lost footage, we finally had everything together.
Then Kilauea erupted.
Actually, of course, Kilauea has been erupting. For years. But in the last few weeks it has been more insistent on being noticed. A neighborhood needed to be evacuated because lava flowed into it, and the toxic fumes aren’t too hospitable either. In addition, more violent eruptions may happen in the near future.
Our video needed to be rewritten and re-filmed. Again. The students, of course, wanted to keep all of their “humorous” sections. I wanted to make sure it didn’t look like we were making light of a serious situation that has caused Hawaii’s governor to declare a State of Emergency.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.