Creative Thinking, Education, Independent Study, K-12, Motivation, Research, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Some Genius Tweaks to our Genius Hour


(If you are unfamiliar with Genius Hour, be sure to visit my Genius Hour Resources Page.)

One of my many goals for rebooting Genius Hour this year was to help the students to create more engaging presentations.  Their passion just wasn’t coming through when it came time for them to share it with their peers.  It intrigued me how, during a reflective discussion about a presentation, many students would suggest making it more interactive or entertaining.  But a few weeks later, when it became their turn to share their own learning, their presentations would follow the same already-determined-to-be-unexciting formula.

This school year, I was determined to change this.  I believe that it was because of some of the change that I made that last week, I was rewarded with some of the best Genius Hour presentations I’ve seen since I started doing GH several years ago.

Change 1: My 4th grade GT students, who had never done Genius Hour before, created proposals for their projects – and then the class voted on them.  I was a little hesitant to try this idea at first, but pleased with the results.  Several proposals were voted down the first time based on the criteria we came up with (will the researcher learn anything new? will the class learn anything new from the presentation? will the class be able to use this new information in a practical way? is it interesting?)  Then the students went back to the drawing board and came up with better ideas, which were approved.  No feelings were visibly hurt, and the topics that seemed weak to me were also the same ones that didn’t receive enough votes from the class.

Change 2: To give my students ideas for alternative methods for presenting, I pointed out that I pretty much never use Powerpoint to give them new information – nor do I talk at them for 20 minutes or longer spouting facts.  Then, I gave them the Show What You Know paper to spark some new ideas for sharing their learning.  When they realized there were so many other options, suddenly Powerpoint lost its popularity.

Change 3: I gave them some tips from the SlideShare presentation, “What Would Steve Do?”  (“Steve” is Steve Jobs.) Specifically, I told them to work more on creating a visual story than on a slide show with bullet points.  And – now this is the big one – I emphasized the importance of rehearsing.  After looking at the SlideShare myself, I realized that this was a major weak spot in my classroom.  Students would spend several days on research, several days on creating the presentation, then – boom! – they would inform me they were ready for an audience.  “From now on, we are giving equal time to all three,” I told the students.  “As much time as you spend on research, you will spend on production and then on rehearsal.”

The first 2 groups were ready to present last week – and, wow!  They blew me away with their creativity and polished performances.

Group 1 presented on “How to Take Better Pictures.”  They first shared a poster with information using examples of pictures and a timeline about the history of the camera.  Then they involved the audience by having a game show to review what they had learned from the poster. They performed like real game show hosts, and used an iPad with the Game Show Sound Board app to make it sound realistic.  They had a name for the show (3,2,1 Snap!), a catchy intro, and even a commercial and poster advertising their show!

Group 2 presented what they had learned about Mars.  They did a well-scripted, well-rehearsed play that involved scenery and props, included a salt-dough representation of Mars, and invited the class to fill out a Venn Diagram comparing it to Earth!

After the two groups were finished, we reflected on both presentations as a class, and the students took notes on what they thought did or did not work.  I told them that I would hold them accountable for those notes.  Whatever they felt needed work in the first two presentations, they needed to be sure to improve in their own.

This was the first time that I saw the entire class engaged in someone else’s projects.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!


3-12, Education, Independent Study, Motivation, Research, Teaching Tools

Great Presentations – My Weak Spot

As an advocate for Genius Hour, I am very passionate about the concept.  But, I will be the first to admit that my facilitation of Genius Hour often does not go well.  One area that has been somewhat unsatisfying has been the final presentation stage.  Many of my students get bored listening to the other students’ spiels, and, amazingly, forget all about this when they are in front of the class and do the exact same, boring things – completely oblivious that they are causing a huge YawnFest of their own.

Some ways I have attempted to combat this are: class reflection of presentations immediately afterward, self-reflection of presentations, examples of dynamic presentations, and “What Would Steve Do?”

The most effective strategy was the last one.  If you have not seen the Slideshare presentation called, “What Would Steve Do? 10 Lessons from the World’s Most Captivating Presenters,” click here.  One of the important precepts was to spend an equal amount of time on planning, creating, and rehearsing the presentation.  Reiterating this quite a few times, I definitely saw improvement toward the end of the year as students realized they were spending the bulk of their time on creating, and practically no time on rehearsing.

This neat graphic that I found on Edudemic would also be helpful for encouraging quality presentations.  I have just placed a portion of the poster here, and you can click here for the rest of the suggestions.  Two of my favorites? Find the joy in presenting, and interact with your audience.

Let’s see if we can keep those yawns to a minimum.

Education, Independent Study, K-12, Motivation, Research, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites

What Would Steve Do? 10 Lessons from the World’s Most Captivating Presenters

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I think that I should show my students that they may grab more listeners by approaching exhibitions of their work as described in #9, “It’s not a presentation.  It’s a performance.”

The other 9 suggestions are also well worth a view.  In addition to the SlideShare, you can get more explanation for each piece of advice at Hubspot in this post by Marta Kagan.

In retrospect, I think I could stand to brush up on my own presentation skills as well!


Creative Thinking, Education, Parenting, Teaching Tools

Is There a Bias Against Creativity?

photo credit: tsevis via photopin cc

The fascinating CNN article, “Is There Bias Against Creativity?” should be read by every person that can impact a child’s learning.  It is an affirmation of the importance of creative thinkers and problem solvers in our current world, yet points to the ways that many of us discourage this type of thinking in others and in ourselves.  This article, by Amanda Enayati, gives some reasons for this bias as well as some important ways to remove it based on her interviews with a neuroscientist and notable some notable designers.  It explains why the life of Steve Jobs really was such a unique success story.  One of the more interesting quotes in the story is: “Technology is an amazing empowerment and a huge disablement,” says Laura Richardson, principal designer at frog design. “We are losing our capacity for resilience.”  I highly encourage you to read this article, and pass it along to others so we can try to work on dismantling this bias.