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.
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?”
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.
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.
Like “Common Mythconceptions,” I would not recommend the entire site of Visualistan for elementary students, but single infographics from the site could certainly be used at all levels. There are many real-life math applications and engaging topics, from “Lego Bedrooms,” to the “Evolution of Video Games.” You could create your own questions, have students create questions, and eventually allow students to create their own infographics!
Did you know the Great Wall of China is not visible from space, you can’t kill someone by dropping a penny from the Leaning Tower of Pisa (or any other building), and bananas don’t grow on trees? These are some of the “Common Mythconceptions” you can find on Information is Beautiful. The visualizations on this page are just a snippet of what you can get in the infographic book titled, Knowledge is Beautiful, but they are fascinating to read. There are different colors to represent various topics, such as science and sports, and the size of the circular icon for each fact denotes the “virulence of the idea.”
You might not want to set younger student loose on this site, as it does include some sensitive topics. As an elementary teacher I would use it as a resource for some google search challenges to give my students. It would be fun to develop a “how certain are you” quiz a-la Russel Tarr with some of the information on the site.
In a world where tsunamis of information overwhelm us every time we turn around, one of the best things we can do for our students is to help them learn how to distinguish the facts from the “mythconceptions.”
Just to clarify, “It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a presentation I saw at TCEA this year; I’m not making any kind of commentary on the people attending the conference 😉 In fact, I was so blown away by the incredible sessions I was able to see over the course of my three days in Austin that I tweeted something about how TCEA reaffirms my belief that there are so many unbelievably passionate, gifted teachers in our world working to improve education each and every day.
“It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a TCEA presentation by Dina Estes and Kerry Woods from Lewisville ISD in Texas. They teach a multiage K/1 class, and have done this particular project based learning unit for a few years. The students research animals, draw pictures, and use digital tools to record information to present. Then, they create a virtual zoo in the hallway to display what they have learned. Zoo visitors can scan QR codes to watch and listen to the students present. The zoo looks different each year because these awesome teachers allow the students to plan it. One group wanted to group the animals by habitats, and other groups had their own ideas. No matter what, the display is open to the rest of the school to visit – giving the students a genuine audience for their hard work.
Anyone who balks at having students this age do research, participate in project based learning, or make use of technology needs to look at this presentation. The teachers provided tools, including a timeline, that show how all of these things can be done successfully.
Thanks to teachers like these, hopefully even more educators will be inspired to try this project!
I asked my 1st grade gifted students today to try to think from their parents’ perspectives of what they would like for Valentine’s Day besides food or flowers. The first student said that her parents would want, “my sister and I to stop fighting,” which seemed like a pretty good response. Then the next student said, “Yeah, my mom would want to rest in peace.” I think I know what he meant, but you can never be sure. Then another student said, “Beer!” which brought up an interesting discussion as to whether or not that could count – because “it’s a food!” as some of the students declared…
Sometimes my job just makes me smile 🙂
Anyway, this all started because we are studying different countries, and learning about the Depth and Complexity icon, “Multiple Perspectives.” I signed our class up to participate in a Virtual Valentines project, and we will hopefully be exchanging Valentines with a class in another country. It occurred to me that are probably very few countries that actually celebrate this holiday, but I did some research and found out that several places around the world either have Valentine’s Day traditions or other similar variations. (I’m still trying to figure out why “Love Spoons” haven’t caught on yet in the USA.)
I signed us up for Level 2 of the Virtual Valentines Project, which means that we will not only make virtual Valentines, but try to exchange them with another class. If that is too much pressure, you can also choose Level 1, which just legally binds you to having your class create virtual Valentines. Which I read to mean, “I am putting my name down, but my life is crazy and it’s quite possible that by ‘virtual’ Valentines I mean that my students will just create some in their imagination, so I refuse to commit myself to them doing anything that isn’t somehow tied in to standardized testing.”
The Virtual Valentines Project has a resource page, which gives suggestions for tools to use to create your digital cards. I would add to this list the Quiver App’s free augmented reality Valentine’s Day page, which you can find here.
For more Valentine’s Day ideas, you can look at last year’s blog post. I’ll probably update and re-blog it in the near future.
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.
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!