How My Genius Hour Mistakes Helped Students Succeed

Adobe Spark (11)This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “How could this Google model be modified and utilized in schools? How might it harness the innate power of human curiosity, innovation, and creativity to build cognitive skills and enhance knowledge in students?”

Google’s “20% Time” has made its way into the education realm through such things as “Genius Hour”, “Passion-Projects”, and J-Terms. Conceptually all of these labels parallel the “20% Time” model which places learner’s passions at the center of their learning for part of the day/week/semester/year/etc.

When I first introduced the idea of Genius Hour to my students it was met with both excitement and fear. They were enthusiastic at the idea of choosing their own topic of study but nervous about two major things:

First, what should I choose to learn about?

Second, how will this be graded?

The traditional education model has little room for differentiation within the classroom. Students progress through grades by age, they are grouped together to learn the same content at the same speed and are “graded” with data from standardized tests where the results are mostly focused on measuring students against each other, not the individual growth one has made.

This factory-like model has done a disservice to our kids and highlights my first mistake; we have produced students who are problem-solvers instead of Problem-Seekers. Traditionally, educators feed information to students with an end goal or learning objective in mind. We ask kids to solve a problem that we have identified and deemed important. Asking a child to find meaningful discourse in which to study, seek out an issue that plagues today’s society in order to remedy it, is tough. If you don’t think so, start a class period off posing the question: Why are we studying Hamlet? (or any current classroom concept/unit/etc.) and see if you get anything different than the common response of – because we will need to know this in college (or other required demands to pass the class).  Creating a culture of inquiry that places responsibility back in the hands of our students takes time, continued support and modeling, and does not happen immediately as I so foolishly thought.

Finally, my second mistake was neglecting to use the common practice of gradual release which helps to set students up for success. Sure, we all have students who come to class with those innate skills that will propel them to be successful in school or career, but far too often we see students who don’t have these skills (and everyone can work to be better). Take for instance research skills. While most students know how to use Google to search for answers that are low level and offer little cognitive demands, most do not know how to tackle those higher order thinking tasks that demand research, synthesis, and analysis.

Genius Hour is not about a quick answer that is regurgitated in front of the class, instead, we are asking students to become experts in that particular field and have the audacity to manipulate their knowledge in ways that will allow them to construct thoughtful responses with threaded experiences and support in multiple situations. Because of this cognitive complexity, I found my students struggled in 2 areas when it came to their own learning: Identifying primary sources, evaluating the information they discovered based on relevance and reliability; and how to synthesize sources and information embedding them to their own knowledge base. Because of this early mistake, large group learning (my gradual release of responsibility) was threaded throughout the normal class period with the understanding that these skills would help aid in their future learning.

Genius Hour, Genius Time, 20% Time, Passion-Based Learning; whatever one may call it creates opportunities for students to take their learning by the reins and exhibit greatness that had not been exhibited before. Whether class-based or school-wide, long-range goals and careful planning must take place to help all students succeed in this foreign environment. Best of Luck!

8 Google Resources to Spark Inquiry-Based Learning

The best inquiry-based essential questions spark more questions!

Untitled drawing (3)

Inquiry-based learning often begins by posing scenarios or questions in which students investigate the collected artifacts to determine more questions, as well as research directions in which they will pursue to gain further knowledge on the concept or topic.

In he article titled The Many Levels of Inquiry by Heather Banchi and Randy Bell (2008) the authors clearly outline four levels of inquiry.

Level 1: Confirmation Inquiry
The teacher has taught a particular concept, theme, or topic. The teacher then develops questions and a procedure that guides students through an activity where the results are already known. This method is great to reinforce concepts taught and to introduce students into learning to follow procedures, collect and record data correctly and to confirm and deepen understandings.

Level 2: Structured Inquiry
The teacher provides the initial question and an outline of the procedure. Students formulate explanations of their findings through evaluating and analyzing the data that they collect.

Level 3: Guided Inquiry
The teacher provides the essential question for the students. The students are responsible for designing and following their own procedures. Students communicate their results and findings.

Level 4: Open/True Inquiry
Students formulate their own research question(s), design and follow through with a developed procedure, and communicate their findings and results.

One “Best Practice” in teaching is Gradual Release of Responsibility. GRR provides a scaffold for learning in which as the teacher’s support lessens, the student independence increases. Aligned to this practice, Banchi and Bell (2008) explain that teachers should begin their inquiry instruction at the lower levels and work their way to open inquiry. Open inquiry activities are only successful if students are motivated by intrinsic interests and if they are equipped with the skills to conduct their own research study.

Consider the following Google resources to aid in inquiry-based learning.

A Google a day – Typically used as a bell-ringer or to reinforce search skills. A Google a Day could provide the spark in inquiry-based learning. New questions are posed daily. 

Google Feud – Google Feud compiles algorithms for most commonly search words and phrases and places the answers on a “Family Feud” type board. Google Feud not only sparks the inquiry into algorithms, but also has students consider bias in on-line searches based on location and history of your previous searches.

Smarty Pins – Smarty pins incorporates Google Maps and “drops” you anywhere in the world. Your charge is to guess where you are based on context clues found around you. Smarty Pins would be a great resource in Social Studies classrooms, begging the students to wonder – Where am I? How do I know?

Google Night Walk – Explore the sounds, streets, and soul of Marseille on this immersive digital Night Walk with GoogleAlthough Google Night Walk only as one adventure in Marseille, the sounds and sights make students wonder – What is this telling me about Merseille? How does the backdrop of night change perceptions? How can I create a Google Night Walk based off of my own location.

My Maps – My Maps is allows users to create and share customized maps. Located in your Google Drive, My Maps is perfect for literature tours, geography, history, etc. Connect multiple locations together and allow students to explore the world, gathering questions as they go. 

Solve for X – Solve for X is a community of scientists, inventors, engineers, artists, thinkers, doers, the young, the wise, men and women from every background across every geography connected by a shared optimism that science and technology can cause radically positive things to happen in the world.

Google Experiments – Google Experiments is a “showcase of web experiments written by the creative coding community”. Not only will students get lost for hours in the awesomeness that lives on this site, but it also allows students to develop questions as to how and why these experiments were developed.

Google Science Fair  – Google Science Fair is an online, global science competition for students. Not only can students design, test and share study results on through this competition, but they are able to hear from past winners.

Practice What We Preach: The Art of Coaching Kids for Transfer

 

image

As a child, my love affair with the sport of soccer helped me to develop skills, self-esteem, and friendships. Throughout high school, you could find me sporting brightly colored Pumas, juggling between classes, and joining pickup games on the weekend. I was a bit obsessed.

As an adult, I have shared my love of athletics through coaching; and I have been privileged to coach incredible, young-women throughout my life! I believe I am a better teacher because of my coaching experience and often find much of the same philosophies interchangeable. It is with this interchangeable lens I wish to approach the topic of “practice” within the classroom.

If you don’t know about Train Ugly, now is the time to start investigating. Marrying Growth Mindset and Motor Learning to Train Ugly, Trevor Ragan’s video on block vs. random practice was shared at my last AIW meeting and has inspired this blog post.

My Takeaways:

  1. As teachers, we aim to maximize retention and transfer of skills.
  2. A skill is much more than just “technique” it also includes the “reading” and “planning” before the execution.
  3. Very few skills in life are stagnant and repetitive in nature, but the majority of practice we request of our students is just that, skill and drill to show mastery.
  4. Research supports the use of random practice as a more effective way than block practice for high-impact retention and transfer of real learning!
  5. We need to find better ways to track progress (another resource to add in the case against letter grades).
  6. When practicing a skill, students need a growth mindset and randomization; never do the same thing twice (different opportunities to use skills).
  7. Finally, poor practice is a teacher issue, not a kid issue. We fear the uncontrollable, we want improvement but are not used to a slower process that takes more time, and we slip back into traditional practice because it is comfortable.

Reflecting back, there were many times I resorted to block practice, whether on the field and having athletes take hundreds of penalty kicks, or in the classroom, the repetitive use of worksheets to drill grammar rules; I was contributing to the transfer problem and reconfirming the notion of “work for school’s sake.” Unknowingly, and through the implementation of PBL (Project Based Learning) and the Workshop Writing Classroom my focus and practice shifted resulting in more Random Practice. When I no longer taught to “The Test” but focused on moving all students forward, the transfer ensued (even on the high-stakes tests).

 

Differentiation: Workshop Framework to Support All Students

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 3.55.32 PMA week after an invigorating ITEC conference, Matt Degner, a principal in Iowa City shared a blog post with me from a teacher implementing Genius Hour in his classroom. Matt and I have had many conversations about this topic, and while his teacher spoke about the various tasks students in his room may be working on; I realized, for many, constructing a framework that supports student-directed learning is difficult for many educators. Breaking the traditional model of a factory-like education system, where all students are expected to be in the same place and on the same content, is a daunting expectation.

Channeling my personal experiences with Genius Time, mixed with the instructional framework of Atwell’s Workshop Model Classroom and the refined learning from my experience at the Teacher’s College in New York this summer, it dawned on me that the Workshop framework would be ideal in this type of setting.

My Advice:

End Goal: A deep student understanding of a concept while honing skills necessary to tackle any project-based exploration. Through Genius Hour, or Passion-Based Learning, we want students to become experts in a particular area, obtaining a depth of knowledge that is transferable to multiple situations the concept is placed within.

Skills: For this area, the advice of my friend Cornelius Minor is a constant reminder! Identify the skills necessary to move all students forward. What does this type of exploration and eventual sharing of learning have in common no matter the student-chosen content?                                                        **********Teach the STUDENT, not the assignment!*****************                                      Example skills may include, developing a driving question that is unGoogleable, gathering reliable and relevant sources, or communication through writing.

Instruction: The beauty of the workshop framework is that it allows multiple student and teacher activities to be taking place in one class period. The 3 major type of instruction include:

  1. Whole Class Instruction – Identify a teaching point, decide on mode of delivery, model, practice and send them off to continue application. This should be streamlined to take 10-15 mins.
  2. Small Group Instruction – Identify a common need with a small group of students. Intentional learning with modeling, application, and follow-up is a basic template. Targeted instruction to enhance student application of skill identified. During small group instruction, it is an excellent time to leave specific “mentor texts” behind for continued reflection and application.
  3. One on One – During independent work time, teachers can confer with students about their progress, success and challenges, in order to collect formative assessment. This general pulse of the class allows future instruction that is targeted and relevant to the needs and end goal.

Share/Reflection: The workshop model also builds in the value of reflection and the sharing of work within the framework. Many times the learning is in the Process, not necessarily the end product. The sharing of their learning is not only valuable in Genius Hour, but in many other projects. A different audience than the traditional, lone teacher increases engagement and relevance and demonstrates the application of learning beyond the four walls.

The Workshop Framework is versatile to fit any content and time restraints. To orchestrate differentiation within the classroom, the focus must be clear and the ability to get many “plates” spinning at the same time an objective. The framework allows all students to progress simultaneously no matter where on the continuum they enter our room!