Today was possibly one of my favorite days as a teacher. I have often had conversations with my students. We've had Genius Hour conferences, brainstorming sessions, and class meetings. But today was different. Today, I let my students negotiate and give input as I completed their 4C Rubrics for the end of the six weeks. I had heard Don Wettrick share how he allowed his students to do this and wanted to give my students the same opportunity.
I met with students individually and shared the rubrics that I had completed. I explained why I rated them the way that I did and then gave them an opportunity to respond. I could have never imagined the amazing conversations that occurred as a result of asking for their feedback.
I finally have time to reflect on this week's experience and write about the wonderful time that I had at LaunchMe in Clearwater, Florida.
So, a few months ago Brad Waid encouraged me to come to the LaunchMe Academy that he was hosting in Florida. I said "sure" but honestly, was a little unsure and insecure about going. I thought I would feel out of place, uncomfortable, and just weird around so many people that I had never met.
It's finally here! Time to start thinking about our Genius Hour projects in my classroom and I could not be more excited. My students have waited all summer to share their new ideas and I have waited all summer to hear them.
As we began to discuss Genius Hour and we what wanted it to look like in our classroom this year, I wanted to have a clear process for my students. Last year we did one project each semester. The problem with that plan was that some students were stretching their projects out just to satisfy the time requirement and others didn't have enough time to finish. So, this year we have decided on no time requirements. In other words, some students may finish in three weeks, others in six weeks, others in a semester, and some projects might take all year.
However, in order to make this work, I needed to have a specific process students were to follow so they would know where to start, steps to take, and how to wrap it up. As I thought about that, I realized that Genius Hour could be summed up with 6 P's.
Passion - Every Genius Hour project starts here. What are you passionate about? What do you WANT to learn about? Passion is what drives the project, makes it meaningful, and makes it theirs. Passion comes from a desire to know more. Merriam-Webster defines passion as "a strong feeling or enthusiasm for something or about doing something". I want my students to be enthusiastic about their projects. I want them to have strong feelings about why their project is important and why they should carry it out.
Pitch - This year, we are really making a big deal out of our pitches. We watched some short clips of Shark Tank today and will be doing our pitches "Shark Tank" style next week. I have read several blog posts about this approach and love it. This was one of the examples we watched today and we talked about the props, persuasion, statistics, and technology that group used to persuade the sharks that their idea was worth the investment. I then gave (4th and 5th grade) students Mariana Garcia's Pitch Planning Sheet that I found in Joy Kirr's Livebinder and asked them to blog their responses. I also asked them to include additional ideas such as props, technology, and statistics/facts that they want to share during their pitch.
Plan - After their pitch, it's time to really plan their project. While they present an overview in their pitch, the planning stage requires more details. This is when we begin to set up our Trello boards. We use Trello to track our learning as we work on our projects. Students will set up lists such as KWHLAQ, Math, ELA, Technology, Links, Resources, and Science/Social Studies. They will document their KWH now, document the standards they are using as they work, and will document their LAQ at the end of the project. This is also when students will decide on an outside expert. This is someone that they feel can offer them the information that they need to learn how their topic relates to the real world. Outside experts are my absolute favorite part of Genius Hour. You can read more about outside experts here.
Project - This is the "doing" part of the project. Students make, design, create whatever it is that they have decided for their project. This is when the learning and the passion become very evident. As students work on their projects, I like to use questioning to weave in the standards. For example, last year two students were using the sewing machine to make pillowcases. They noticed that the markings on the machine were 3/8, 1/2, and 5/8. I used that opportunity to ask what else could be in the place of the 1/2 marking which allowed us to discuss equivalent fractions.
Product - The product is what is produced and can be shared out with the world. This may be a YouTube video, a tangible prototype of their idea, or a digital book that they have written about their topic. Sharing with an authentic audience is an important part of the Genius Hour process as students like to know they are sharing beyond the four walls of the classroom. It makes it real, relevant, and brings even more meaning to the learning.
Presentation - Finally, students present their projects to the class. They can do this in a variety of ways. Some will share images with Google Slides, others will share videos documenting their entire journey, and many will use other technology such as Powtoon and Keynote to share their learning. However it is done, this is simply a time for students to reflect on their learning and share their project with their peers. Reflection is so important and helps students realize what went well, what didn't, and what they learned in the process.
In closing, if you are considering introducing Genius Hour into your classroom, consider using the 6 P's as a map for students to use. It will make the steps clear and help them stay on track as they go through the process. As students experience this process, they will begin to realize the importance of each step. Remember to give opportunities for students to make mistakes and be patient. Genius Hour is not easy and does not always run smoothly. But when you see the connections that are made and the learning that takes place, you will be so glad that you gave your students the opportunity to experience Genius Hour!
Want to learn more about the 6 Ps of Genius Hour? Check out the ONLINE COURSE!
Every student deserves to experience new learning at school. Students should not have to sit through things that they already know simply because the rest of the class doesn't understand yet. They have a right to be exposed to new learning experiences.
So often, students that finish early are asked to tutor their peers, run errands, or help in the classroom. This type of "busy work" is not beneficial and can be frustrating to students. Students want to learn but they want to learn new things.
Sitting through things that you already know is exhausting. Think about yourself when you are in a workshop or professional development session that you thought was going to be awesome. You expected to learn new things that you could take back in and use in your classroom. You entered the workshop with high expectations and willingness to learn. As the speaker begins to share, you realize they are sharing the same things that you heard in an earlier session. They are simply sharing things that you already know. Think about the frustration that you would feel. You would want to be anywhere but there and would probably leave if you were able.
However, our students don't have that privilege. They cannot simply leave a classroom when they already understand the material. All they can do is prove that they have mastered a concept. It is up to us as teachers to respect them enough to offer a variety of learning opportunities that will engage them.
Here are three tools that will engage your students using the computers in your classroom. It will require little to no extra work on your part but will give students an opportunity to experience new learning that is meaningful for them.
Wonderopolis taps into student curiosity and makes learning fun. Students can choose a wonder that is interesting to them or complete the Wonder of the Day. They watch a video, read about the topic, and then take a short quiz to demonstrate their understanding. Students can also complete a vocabulary challenge as part of the wonder.
Students could complete a Wonder and then answer the questions from the quiz on an index card to show completion. If your students blog, they could write about the wonder on their blog.
DogoNews is a great place to find current events that are appropriate for kids. The articles are fun and interesting. Students can click on unfamiliar words and will be given a definition. My favorite feature is that when students click on a location, they are shown a map. At the end of the article, they are asked three article comprehension questions and given a critical thinking challenge.
DogoNews could be done at the computers in your classroom. Students answer the three article comprehension questions on the front of the index card and the critical thinking challenge on the back. Again, if your students blog, they could blog about the article as well.
These are a part of the Mensa for Kids website and they are awesome! Students watch a TED Talk and are then given several critical thinking questions related to the video. The questions really stretch their thinking and encourage deep learning and understanding.
This is an activity that could be done at the student computers as well. Students could use headphones to watch the talk so that they do not disturb the rest of the class. When the TED Talk is over, they can answer their questions on the PDF that is provided or blog their responses.
It's so important that our students realize that we value their time and see them as individuals. By providing new learning opportunities, we are sending that message. Take time this year to find ways to engage students even when it's not easy. After all, "busy work" is a waste of your time and theirs.
This is one of my favorite posters from Krissy Venosdale because I could not agree more. Failure is a necessary part of the learning process and it's unrealistic to make failure a final consequence.
Because I teach gifted students, I believe that struggle and failure is a very important of my classroom. Often times, these students breeze through elementary, middle school, and even high school. When they get to college or enter the real world and experience struggle or an epic fail, they do not know how to react. They've never had the realization that struggle can lead to learning. Instead, they simply see it as failure.
The other day I was driving home and came across a detour sign. And guess what? I didn't stop and sit at the sign as if there was no other way home. Instead, I followed the signs, took a different route, and arrived at home. The result was the same. I still made it. It may have taken longer, been inconvenient, and a little frustrating but I made it. By taking the detour, I saw parts of our town that I had never seen. I was able to experience new things and look at the situation from a different perspective. Ultimately, I reached my destination even though the route didn't look like I had planned.
What if instead of seeing failure as a consequence or end result, students saw it as a detour, a different way of reaching their destination? Failure should be an opportunity, a necessary detour on the trip toward success. Without this part of the learning process, we are giving our students the impression that there is only one road that leads to achievement. In doing so, we are providing a distorted view that gives a false impression.
In my classroom this year, I hope to give my students opportunities to fail often. I want them to struggle, fail, learn, succeed, and repeat. I want them to see me do the same. In doing so, I hope to provide them with the tools that they need to do amazing things. I hope to give them the skills that they need to persevere through struggle and ultimately learn through the failure.
This is one of my favorite things about Genius Hour. Students are determined to work through failure because they are passionate about what they are studying. They begin to see that struggle and failure can lead to wonderful learning opportunities. As a result, they gain the ability to see failure as so much more than a final consequence.
In education, we must stop portraying failure to be a that final consequence. It's time to be real and allow our students to learn from their struggles. Let's open up alternate routes and encourage our students to simply see failure as a detour. Because when we do, we will be leading them toward success.
So it's almost here. The 2015-2016 school year is right around the corner and our summers are coming to an end. While it's been so nice to rest, relax, and get caught up on several things around the house, I'm ready. Ready to see my students and hear about what they did this summer, ready to reconnect and collaborate with my co-workers, and ready to try new things in the classroom in order to give my students opportunities to experience meaningful learning.
That being said, I know the school year will also bring failure, frustration, and fear. Every year I worry that the innovative things that I do in my classroom will not work. What if I'm doing it wrong? What if students don't respond to my teaching style? What if parents aren't on board? What if my co-workers think that my teaching style is too "out there"? What if? That question seems to be something I focus on in every aspect of my life.
As I thought about these questions today and the beginning of the school year, I realized that my what if's could still be my focus. However, instead of focusing on the negatives, I will focus on the amazing possibilities that the new school year brings. What if I'm doing it right? What if my students not only respond but have the best year ever? What if parents appreciate and support our classroom? What if my co-workers are encouraged and inspired by the things that we do in my classroom?
If I am to model what I want for my students, I have to think this way. I want my students to ask themselves...what if I can change the world? What if my thoughts do matter? What if my voice can be heard? What if school can be a springboard toward the career of my dreams? I don't want them to be afraid of falling. I want them to see falling as part of the process, part of the journey.
So as we prepare for the school year, let's allow ourselves to ask what if. But let's use those what if's to allow ourselves to try new things in the classroom. Be brave, take risks, and find ways to make your classroom a place that students want to be. Let's make 2015-2016 a year that our students will remember for the rest of their lives!
It happens every summer...kids get bored. It's too hot, friends aren't home, or they just need something to keep them busy. Check out some of the awesome resources below to offer meaningful learning that is fun and engaging. I love to share these with my parents throughout the summer using Remind.
Camp Wonderopolis - This is a completely free program from Wonderopolis.org. There are six different wonders that students can explore and experience. Each one includes a reading activity, a video, a maker activity, and a dashboard to track progress. This a great way to encourage curiosity throughout the summer. My students love Wonderopolis and Camp Wonderopolis is just a reason to love it even more!
DIY.org - This website is perfect for kids that enjoy making, designing, and doing. They are given a list of skills and choose which challenges they would like to complete. After completing three challenges, students earn a badge and after completing six, they earn the Master Skill badge. I am a huge fan of DIY.org simply because it give students an opportunity to apply their learning in ways that are meaningful for them. If you have not seen this website, check it out and give it a try. You won't regret it.
Camp Google - So I just learned about Camp Google this week. I was so impressed! It is a free camp that is filled with fun science experiments. The learning adventures are led by experts and you can join at any time. Ocean Week is happening now and you can even watch a National Geographic deep sea dive! How awesome is that? Other topics include space, the wild, and music. Students earn badges as they participate and are even challenged to complete hands on activities.
DogoNews - DogoNews has been a favorite of mine for a while. It is a wonderful place to find student-appropriate current events. Each story includes pictures, video, article comprehension questions, and a critical thinking question. I also LOVE that DogoNews offers a map when readers click on a location that they do not recognize. Readers can click words in order to be given a definition as well. There is a Summer Reading Club that encourages students to read and review books throughout the summer.
If you are looking for ways to keep your kiddos busy this summer or just want to offer some meaningful learning experiences, check these out! You will be glad that you did.
So often I hear teachers talk about the negative aspects of being a teacher right now. We complain about testing, our paychecks, and the attitudes of the students that we teach. The teacher's lounge is full of conversations about why we don't want to be at work, how soon we can retire, and what other opportunities might exist outside of teaching.
Since I have become a connected educator, I have come to the realization that teaching is where it's at right now. I know it sounds silly but hear me out. Below are three reasons that I am so excited to be an educator today and look forward to being in the classroom more and more each year.
Collaboration and Relationships - Because I am connected, I have had the opportunity to meet and connect with and learn from some of the most amazing educators on the planet. I have been able to find ways to reignite my passion for teaching, challenge my students, and make my classroom a place that we all want to be. Being connected makes it possible for me to learn all the time. I am able to read about educators that are trying new things, taking risks, and being the change in education. In doing so, I am motivated to step outside my comfort zone and do what is best for my students. I see my role as an educator differently than before.
Just this morning I was able to join Kevin Honeycutt's Periscope to hear Ginger Lewman's Keynote at Podstock. Even though I wasn't able to attend the event, I was still able to learn and experience a little piece of Podstock from my couch. Personalized learning is waiting for me every single day on Twitter, Periscope, Voxer, and Google+.
Connecting with the World - My classroom no longer revolves around me and my students. Because of technology and social media, we are able to share our work with the world as well as connect with outside experts to help us experience real world application. Skype and Google Hangouts make it possible to connect with people and give my students a chance to see how their learning can be applied in real world situations. This changes everything and makes the learning real.
Learning Outside the Classroom - Learning doesn't have to be limited to the classroom anymore. Tools such as Edmodo, Google Classroom, and Remind101 give me the ability to stay connected to my students and their parents throughout the summer. I am able to share things like Camp Google, DIY.org, and Camp Wonderopolis with them in an effort to encourage students continue to learn even when they are not at school.
We have even taken some of our field trips this summer that we were able to take throughout the school year. The student in this picture made a donation to the local humane society and was recently interviewed by a local magazine about her Genius Hour project and desire to help animals.
I can't help but be super excited about education right now. We have the ability to give our students the world as well as opportunities to experience learning by application. We are no longer confined to the four walls of the classroom. Encouraging them to be world changers, difference makers, and dream chasers gives me purpose. We are impacting the future and our jobs are meaningful. It's time that we start realizing how awesome it is that we get to do what we do every day! Being a teacher is where it's at and I am so glad to be a part of it all!
So I have gotten a little behind on blogging but have had such a busy summer, I just haven't had a chance to sit down and write. But this morning as the kids sleep in and I have a few quiet moments, I thought I would share about Innovation Day and what we learned.
After reading about many different schools and their Innovation Day experiences, we decided to give it a try on our campus. I say this often but I am so blessed to work for an administration that is willing to think outside of the box, try new things, and take risks to give our students meaningful learning opportunities.
So on May 29th, we held our 1st Annual Innovation Day. I was lucky enough to have connected Heather Russell from Region 10 earlier in the year and she shared all of their resources. A few weeks before Innovation Day, I visited each grade level and talked about what innovation is and why this day was so important. We watched Caine's Arcade and then I challenged them to think about what they would create, make, or design on Innovation Day. The teachers were given a link to share with their students. This link took them to the Google Form where they were asked what they were going to make on Innovation Day.
After all of the students completed the form, we sat down and divided them into rooms based on their projects. After looking at the projects, we came up with the following rooms: Cardboard, Architecture, Engineering, Technology, Art, Culinary Arts, Science/Math and Physical Education. The most popular rooms were Cardboard and Culinary Arts. Students were so excited to design their amazing creations from cardboard and actually mix, blend, and cook at school. We didn't even look at grade levels as we wanted the rooms to be multi-age.
We also asked our teachers to choose rooms that they would like to supervise. While some of our teachers were nervous about Innovation Day just because it was unlike anything we had ever done before, they were excited and willing to give it a try. We encouraged the teachers to choose a room that would give them an opportunity to learn. So we didn't want the teachers that loved to cook in the Culinary Arts room. Instead, we wanted the teachers to learn from the students. We wanted the students to be the experts and we wanted to learn from them and their creations. Before the big day, I shared this information with our teachers to prepare them for the big day.
Taking Heather's advice, we also had Wild Card options for students that didn't bring their materials, finished early, or just couldn't decide what to do. This was simply a list of projects that students could choose to complete. We offered a variety of options hoping they would find something that they would really enjoy.
Throughout the day, we also asked our students to reflect by asking them to respond to the following (again, thanks to Heather Russell):
What do you think today is going to be like?
How do you feel right now?
What is a challenge that you have faced today?
Draw a picture of what you created or designed today.
I won't lie and say that the day was perfect...it wasn't. There are so many things that we will do differently next year. But it was a success because our students were experiencing meaningful learning. They were solving problems, thinking critically, and collaborating while doing things were meaningful for them. In my opinion, it doesn't get any better than that. While walking around and visiting the different rooms, I couldn't help but notice that all of the students were engaged. They were interested in what they were doing and they were learning.
When the day was over, there was lots to clean up and lots of reflecting to do. I am so thankful for the teachers that stepped up and helped with the clean up and closure as I had to leave a little early to catch a flight. As I reflected on the day, I realized that we had given our students an opportunity to be themselves, to learn on their terms, and to experience school in a new way. It was a good day and even with all of the things we could have done differently, the kids LOVED it.
So now it's time to start thinking about Innovation Day 2016. I cannot wait!
Has your district/campus tried Innovation Day or something like it? Do you have any advice or suggestions for those wanting to try it? Please feel free to comment with questions or suggestions. I'd love to hear how other schools are making this happen!
So last week, I was completely surprised when I learned on Twitter that I had been nominated for a Bammy Award by Don Wettrick. It was such an honor to read the nomination. I was so excited, so thankful, and couldn't wait to share the good news. But then it happened...fear set in. I worried that others would think I was boasting if I shared and so I shared with a very limited few.
As I thought about the nomination this weekend, I began to realize that this is not about me but it's about my students, my supportive administration, and my amazing PLN that has given me back my passion for teaching.
In 2013, I became a connected educator and began learning from others on Twitter. I took in as much as I could and began blogging often to reflect on my learning. It wasn't long after this that I saw Don Wettrick on Two Guys and Some iPads. I listened as he talked about Innovations and the amazing things that his students were doing in his classroom. After hearing him share, I wondered what this would look like in an elementary classroom and began to ask questions. Shortly after this, Don Skyped with my students and the rest is history.
Innovations and Genius Hour has changed the way that I see my role in the classroom. Instead of considering myself the expert, we look beyond the four walls of our classroom and find the real experts. My students create their own learning experiences and share their learning with the world.
Just like that, I found my passion for teaching again. I began to realize that this is what I wanted for my students. I wanted them to learn in ways that were meaningful for them. I wanted to design learning experiences instead of write lesson plans. I wanted them to learn from outside experts that could teach them more than I ever could. I didn't want to lecture but instead wanted to learn with my students.
I began to connect with other Genius Hour teachers including Joy Kirr, Paul Solarz, and Terri Eichholz. I learned so much from them and still learn from them almost every day. Without their resources and blog posts, I would be lost.
My students have found that Genius Hour helps them find purpose. Their work is relevant and meaningful. Because of this, they want to be in my classroom. They look forward to class and enjoy sharing their projects with anyone that will listen. Their desire to learn new things was the fuel that ignited this fire and their willingness to continue to learn has kept it burning.
I remember the day that I went in to tell my principal about Genius Hour and that I planned on just letting the students learn what they wanted, how they wanted. Instead of resisting and making it difficult, she simply said that she trusted me and told me to go for it. Without her support, none of the things that we are doing right now would be possible.
Finally, the parents of my students have been patient, understanding, and gracious as we have implemented this program over the last couple of years. We have learned together how to be flexible and creative as we make the dreams of the students come true. It's not always easy and it doesn't always work out, but together we do all that we can to make each project as successful as possible.
So all of that to say that I will not be afraid to share my Bammy Nomination. Instead, I will be thankful. I will be proud of the work that my students have done and the amazing connections that I have made along the way. It's not about me or what I am doing. It's about my students that I am learning from each and every day. It's about the amazing administrators that trust me enough to allow me to take risks. It's about the parents giving their children the opportunity to do amazing things. It's about my incredible PLN that has made me the teacher that I always wanted to be...a teacher that takes risks, trusts her students, and looks forward to coming to work each day. Most importantly, it's about being able to share the positive things that are going on in education and realizing that we all play a role.
© 2018 Andi McNair