Tag Archives: research

5 Genius Hour Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The Genius Hour pages on this site seem to be getting a lot of views lately, which is good to see.  As teachers prepare for a new school year, I am hopeful that more Genius Hours will be incorporated into curriculums around the world.  Since I have been doing Genius Hour for several years, I thought it might help for those of you who are new to it to learn some of the giant mistakes I’ve made so you can try to avoid them.

Genius Hour Mistake #1 – Allowing Students to Work on Anything They Want  

I have never known what people meant by “deer in the headlights” until the day I announced to my 5th grade class that they would have the opportunity each week to work on a topic they chose.  Instead of the expected enthusiasm and “what an awesome teacher you are” smiles, I got a roomful of confused panic.  These students had already spent at least 5 years in school being told what to learn every minute of the day.  Suddenly being offered unlimited freedom was more debilitating than empowering.  I learned that I needed to scaffold the process of choosing topics by guiding them through brainstorming passions, and teaching the students how to select a good research topic that was not too narrow or too wide.

Genius Hour Mistake #2 – Telling Students They Could Choose Any Way to Present their Topic

Don’t get me wrong.  One of the most wonderful things about Genius Hour is that the final products can be in any format – even a puppet show.  However, when I told the students to, “Begin with the End in Mind,” I discovered the hard way that most of them only had the end in mind. They couldn’t wait to add their creative touch to the presentations, but that meant that there was little substance or learning in the research.  Now, I don’t even let them decide on a final product until they have shown quality research.

Genius Hour Mistake #3 – Thinking You Can’t Teach During Genius Hour

I wanted Genius Hour to be a sacred time of independent learning, and was reluctant to ever do lessons during that time.  However, when I noticed that many students were encountering similar challenges (such as searching for reliable information), I began to offer mini-lessons during Genius Hour every once in awhile to help everyone get back on track.  They never last more than 10 minutes, but can quickly help to fill in gaps that a large portion of the class may have when it comes to research, copyright reminders, and other general information.

Genius Hour Mistake #4 – Leaving No Time for Reflection

Giving students time for reflection has always been a weakness of mine.  We often get caught up in what we are doing and realize it’s time to go seconds before class is over.  I’ve been working on that for awhile, and one thing I have learned is how essential reflection is for Genius Hour.  It has to be varied, so it doesn’t become boring and rote, but it is so valuable to do it.  Regular feedback throughout the project from the student, peers, and the teacher will definitely help to make it better.  Last year, we did our research in Google Classroom, making it easy for all of us to give each other feedback and improve.

Genius Hour Mistake #5 – No Presentation Rehearsal

When students finish a Genius Hour project, that should mean that they are ready to present.  However, if it’s left up to them, they will spend very little time practicing, and just inform you that they are done.  After the first couple of years of erratic final productions,  I came across the, “What Would Steve Do?” slideshow that includes the following image.

RehearsalI show this to my students every year.  We talk about the ratios on the slide and how you should spend just as much time on practicing as you do on each of the other steps.  Sometimes, we choose a sample of students from the class and the presenters go to another room to practice in front of them and get feedback.  Keep in mind that some of their presentations are game shows and other interactive ideas, so it’s not always slideshows.  However, students can use slideshows with the simple rule that what they are telling us cannot be text on the slides (another suggestion from, “What Would Steve Do?“)

These are the 5 biggest mistakes that I’ve made while incorporating Genius Hour in my classroom – but there are many more errors I make each year.  Genius Hour/Passion Time/20% Time, or whatever you want to call it, is an inexact, often chaotic process.  It’s hard to decide when to add your voice to the mix and when to stand back. Sometimes everyone needs you at once, and other times you walk around a surreally silent classroom as each student immerses him or her self in research.  I often dread Genius Hour because so much is out of control.  I often can’t wait for Genius Hour because I learn so much from giving the students control.  Genius Hour makes all of us vulnerable and reveals who we really are.

It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.

Musicmap

Musicmap is an incredible interactive website project by Kwinten Crauwels, which endeavors to offer an  encyclopedic collection of music genres and their histories.  When you first visit the site, you will probably be familiar with most of the titles on the home page.  Click on any type of music, however, and you will be able to access many genres that, if they ever crossed the thresh-hold of your eardrums, you would be hard-pressed to identify their names.

Pop music, for example, offered up “Brill Building” and “Shoegaze,” two genres that sound more like commercials for men’s products to me than musical categories.  In case I had any doubt these existed, though, all I had to do was click on either one to get a definition, time context, and a suggested playlist of examples.

I can’t attest to the accuracy or reliability of Musicmap, but I certainly can recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of music and in learning more about its extensive diversity.

Pop Genres, according to Musicmap
Pop Genres, according to Musicmap

 

 

A Bird’s Eye View

Located in the southern part of San Antonio, TX, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is dedicated to the conservation of birds. Though it’s open to the public, the majority of the tourists are the birds who stop in the area during their migrations.  The Center offers field trip and guided tours, and is a must-see destination for local birdwatchers.

When planning a drone demonstration for my gifted students with Justin Moore, @texasbyair, Mr. Moore mentioned that he had done some work with Mitchell Lake.  My 5th graders were researching field trip locations, and I thought it might be the perfect match as they seemed mostly interested in nature and wildlife.  The staff at Mitchell Lake, especially Jake Stush, were very accommodating as we worked with them to customize a unique field trip for the students.  Mr. Moore and Mr. Stush teleconferenced with the 5th graders a couple of times to finalize the plans before the tour.  We wanted to show the benefits of using drones, and give the students the opportunity to learn more about the habitats the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is trying to preserve.

On the day of our trip, 23 gifted students from 3rd-5th grades visited Mitchell Lake.  We separated the students into two groups. Mr. Stush took one group on a hike of the area near Bird Pond to learn more about the resident birds and how the sanctuary has changed over time.  Mr. Moore took the other group to get some drone footage of the region.

As the students learned about the importance of preserving areas like Mitchell Lake and used their binoculars to see some of the birds and other wildlife up close and personal, they also got to find out how drones can be used for scientific research.  Mr. Moore divided the students up into groups to give them jobs for the drone flight – allowing them to look up weather conditions, keep the launch/landing pad area cordoned off, take pictures and video, and to keep the drone in sight and away from obstacles and predators.

It was incredible to learn about this lesser-known part of San Antonio which actually has a huge impact on the ecosystem, as well as to allow students to see the amazing potential of drone technology to help us to work on improving our environment.

As I watched the drone take off, and saw curious birds circle it from a cautious distance while my students watched from the earth below, I felt that I was witnessing a certain kind of tentative balance among man, machine, and animal as we all try to learn how to exist together.

The next day, Mr. Moore sent us a highlight reel of our trip, using video from the drone, as well as video and pictures taken by the students.  He also sent a digital 3d map that was created from the drone’s footage.  It even included our school bus!  We talked about how the information could help the researchers at Mitchell Lake and how much we enjoyed our trip.

For more information about using Drones for Education, check out this post.  Thanks to Mr. Moore (@texasbyair) and the staff of Mitchell Lake (@MLAudubonCenter) for making our field trip so memorable!

Mitchell Lake

Don’t Gross Out the World

Creator of ClassTools.net, @RusselTarr, tweeted this site the other day.  My 1st graders have been studying countries around the world, and we have recently been discussing foods.  They really enjoyed “Don’t Gross Out the World,” from FunBrain because they thought many of the cultural traditions were unbelievable.  For example, how can it be true that some people think that it’s a compliment to burp loudly after a meal? Or, that asking for catsup could possibly be an insult in some countries?  I learned a few new things myself by playing this game with the class🙂

Don't Gross Out the World game from FunBrain
Don’t Gross Out the World game from FunBrain

SXSWedu 2016 – Smithsonian Learning Lab

One of the interesting new resources I discovered at SXSWedu this year is the Smithsonian Learning Lab.  This ambitious project spearheaded by The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access aims to give unprecedented access to the massive collections that have been digitized at the Smithsonian’s network of museums and research centers.  You can learn more about the Learning Lab’s intended mission here.

The Learning Lab offers images, recordings, and texts that you can, as a free registered member, curate into your own collections.  You can then annotate and make notes in your collection.  Adding your own files to the collection is another noteworthy feature. Collections can be shared, and teachers can assign collections to students in their rosters (similar to Google Classroom).  Here is a link to how teachers can use the Learning Lab.

Students under 13 need special permission to create collections of their own.  However, an elementary teacher could certainly benefit from using the images and other resources to supplement lessons. In a way, this Learning Lab is another type of virtual field trip, allowing students to see high resolution images of objects that might not even be on display at the museum any longer.

Here is a picture I found to place in my “Inventions” collection.  Any guesses as to the purpose of this object?

Image from Smithsonian Learning Lab: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Image from Smithsonian Learning Lab: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

 

Tried and True – Genius Hour

Students involved in an "Interactive Genius Hour Presentation"
Students involved in an “Interactive Genius Hour Presentation

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.

Some might call it 20% Time.  Others call it Passion Time.  My first encounter with it was as “Genius Hour,” and so I’ve kept that label.  There are many versions, and many recommended ways to do it.  The crux of the matter, however, is that many educators have found that it is important to allow students to pursue studies in topics that interest them and have relevance to their lives.  I began doing Genius Hour several years ago with my GT 5th graders.  This past year, I expanded it to 3rd and 4th grades.  Every year, and with each grade level, I’ve done things a bit differently.  But I continue to do it because I have definitely seen the value.  I can’t imagine my classroom without Genius Hour – and once I introduce it to a group, they will not stand for it to be taken away from them.  If we ever miss it because of scheduling conflicts, I have a near mutiny on my hands.

You can see my Genius Hour Journey by going to the Genius Hour Resources page (there is a tab at the top of this blog).  I also have downloadables (I highly recommend the Challenge Cards – a big hit with my class this year!), as well as links to other fabulous Genius Hour Resources.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you will see some recommended articles for “newbies” to Genius Hour.

Genius Hour is messy.  It’s loud, and there is absolutely no sitting down on the teacher’s part.  Most of the time, your students are learning about topics in which you have no expertise whatsoever.  It can be frustrating and extremely challenging to your sanity.

But, once you see the impact it has on your students, you will find that it changes your philosophy of teaching.  And, even the moments that are not dedicated to Genius Hour in your classroom will slowly become more student-centered and more meaningful.

 

Camp Wonderopolis

campwonderopolis

Many of you may be familiar with Wonderopolis, a fun site to learn about all kinds of topics that may have piqued your curiosity at one time or another – and even topics that you didn’t know might cause you to wonder.  This summer, the site is offering another free, online camp.  It looks a bit different than last year’s camp, as this year’s description suggests that you will be able to follow your own path of wonder, and there will be photo and video contests in addition to hands-on activity suggestions.  For more about Camp Wonderopolis, click here.