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!

Urban Legends, Headline Hooks, and Ideation: 3 Edtech Writing Activities for Inquiry

Adobe Spark (9)Writing is often short-changed in most classrooms but it is through writing that students demonstrate their understanding of texts, concepts, and topics. Writing about their learning provides insight into what a student understands and where the gaps occurred. For example, I assign a chapter in The Giver for my students to read and the next day in class I kick off the discussion by having students take five minutes to write down everything they know about a Utopian Society, how it has impacted the characters and the setting of the novel. This 5 minute activity provides me with data to inform my instruction. It provides a small glimpse into my students’ understanding of the novel and theme.

Writing as a type of assessment is typically what most teachers think of and utilize in their classrooms but there is a second reason to have students write (and write, and write, and write a lot more). Writing allows us to wrestle with ideas, make a mess with our thinking, and sift the top ideas and thoughts we may have not known were in our heads. It is through writing that exploration and inquiry can be launched in the classroom.

3 Edtech Writing Strategies for Inquiry:

Urban LegendsWomen wearing leggings are denied boarding for their flights, the current slime craze has serious health implications for youth, Disney VHS movies with the Black Diamond cases are worth thousands of dollars. Using myths, Urban Legends, and other misinformation is an engaging way to launch kids into exploration. Not only does this type of activity lead to more reading, writing, and investigation; but it also promotes healthy skepticism in the information age.  During this exploration, students work to uncover the truth and also ask themselves how this phenomenon takes place and what catapults these Urban Legends into popularity. Great places to start:

 

 

Why Might This Be? – This strategy is great for brainstorming and ideation. Collect provocative statements from newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc. Share each line one at a time while students list possible reasons for each (one minute per headline works well). Students are answering the question “Why Might This Be?” as the list as many possibilities. These lists serve as instigators to launch students into an inquiry or exploration unit where student choice is provided.

 

“Denmark Just Drove Uber Out of The Country”  – Why Might This Be?

 

  • New laws were passed.
  • Accidents caused while using Uber.
  • No money being made by government.
  • Hard to police and hold drivers accountable.
  • Acts of violence caused by riders – or drivers.

 

Headline Hooks – This activity has students reading and writing their way through current NF sources. To start with, students spend 20 mins. or more reading articles that spark their interest. Here is a collection of digital sources to have kids explore! During their reading, students take note of what they want to explore more. This list becomes a plethora of ideas to support inquiry throughout the year. Use a graphic organizer once the student has chosen a Headline that Hooked them listing the topic on the top, what they know about it, what they think they will find out, and then what they did find out.

Resources – Kelly Gallagher, Write Like This

10 Compelling Issues to Catapult Student Writers

compelling Issues forStudent Inquiry (3)Writing, like any activity, takes practice to get better. But writing, unlike reading or math, is often neglected in schools for various reasons. Educators find the teaching of writing difficult and many times don’t know where to start. This unfortunate occurrence places students at a disadvantage. In fact, three of the 10 Common Core Reading Standards requires reading as writers, the Common Core is also the first time in history that equal representation and importance (10 Standards each) is placed on both reading and writing. Moving beyond the What is the Why. Writing helps students develop an understanding of content, develop empathy, demonstrate mastery, not to mention writing plays a key role in participating in a global community and expressing one’s view thoughtfully.

Students should write every day! When students write every day they develop their voice and see value in written expression. But what should kids be writing is a question often posed to me.

The best writing is REAL – Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, and Lifelong. Laua Robb offers 10 compelling issues in her book Teaching Middle School Writers that I feel align to meaningful or REAL writing for all kids. These issues were often favorite ones to explore and write about in my own classroom with high school students. Plus, these compelling issues are great for not only conceptual thinking but could be used for Book Discussions and to launch Inquiry Units.

10 Compelling Issues that Catapult Kids to Write:

  1. Change & Loss
    • Death
    • Moving
    • Illness
    • Job Loss
    • Physical Change
  2. Challenges, Choices, & Decisions
    • Goals
    • Obstacles
    • Negative challenges that become positive
    • Life Choices
  3. Relationships: Insight to Self
    • Freinds
    • Fitting In
    • Parents, Siblings, Teachers
    • Relationship with self
    • Pets
    • Trust
  4. Coping with Fears
    • What
    • Why
    • Actions
    • Future
    • Fear affecting Thoughts, Decisions, & Actions
  5. Pressures: Inner & Outside Influences
    • Why
    • Peers
    • Gossip
    • Moving
    • Motives
    • Self
    • Athletics
    • Competition
    • Pop Culture
  6. Identity Shaping: Hopes & Dreams
    • Privacy
    • What do I want to be?
    • Future self
    • Daydreaming
    • Fitting In
    • Who am I?
  7. Obstacles
    • Language
    • Weather
    • Location
    • Religion
    • Race
    • Gender
    • Divorce
    • Expectations
  8. War & Conflict
    • War
    • Conflict Good or Bad?
    • Without Conflict
    • Peace
    • Power & Control
  9. Restrictions, Rules, & Rebellion
    • Rules
    • Rulebreaking
    • Rebellions
    • Protesting
    • Family, School, Friends
    • Activism
    • Emotions
    • Actions
  10. Conformity & Nonconformity
    • Fitting In
    • Feelings
    • Conforming
    • Not Conforming
    • Exclusions
    • Easier to conform or be different

Under each issue, I have offered general categories in which ideas may be sparked and questions created that can catapult our writers into personal narratives. Through personal narratives, students are able to anchor their thinking and blend genres as they notice these compelling issues arise in what they read, view, and listen to. Connecting their lives to outside texts (whatever mode that may be in) helps students understand the importance of writing and how their lives and experiences are related. It makes the writing REAL!

 

 

Improving Questioning in Your Classroom: Supporting AIW (Authentic Intellectual Work), Disciplined Inquiry

A common misnomer in teacher preparation is the assumption and overestimation of  ability to formulate questions that demand student thinking at higher-levels. Many educators unknowingly pepper their assignments and classroom discussions with low-level questions requiring little analysis or support when answering.

Likewise, when applying the Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) frame to instruction or tasks, teachers who refine their questioning skills are more likely to reach higher scores in the Disciplined Inquiry Standard. Coupled with students constructing their own knowledge and transforming it to demonstrate understanding at deep levels, communicating their knowledge through a variety of tools linked explicitly to correct and coherent support is the ultimate goal.

Whether through elaborative communication or substantive conversation within the classroom, care when constructing questions aids in guided inquiry.

Kenneth Chuska, author of Improving Classroom Questions, recommends teachers start with the “Big Four” when beginning a unit:

1. What do you already know about the new topic?

2. What do you think you know?

3. What do you want to know?

4. What do you feel or believe about an issue or problem?

These four questions align with AIW framework in that they build upon the students’ prior knowledge; creating anchors to help students identify commonalities in vocabulary, content or processes. My personal lens is based in literacy in which I approach much of what I read and reflect upon. In this reasoning, my personal anchors are connected to theorists in English Literature; Rosenblatt’s Reader Response Theory, for instance, echoes the same need for connecting to prior knowledge. The markings on a page are merely that, until the reader uniquely connects to the text.

While I like the four questions listed above, I feel the need to add a fifth to the list.

5. How?

When students reflect on How they know something, a greater understanding of themselves as learners emerge, which loops back to inquiry based instruction.

I also thought the checklist in the appendices was useful:

  • Has no one “right” answer.
  • Is open-ended.
  • Calls for reflection.
  • Is interesting to students.
  • Motivates or stimulates thinking.
  • Allows for individual input based on prior knowledge.
  • Provokes more questions.
  • Promotes discussion.
  • Raises students’ curiosity.
  • Challenges preconceptions.

Finally, many teachers struggle with finding the right wording to target specific learning levels or feel they have a few staple verbs that are overused and would like a variety. This chart from Clemson is a great starting point.

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Authentic Intellectual Work: Technology Use to Amplify Construction of Knowledge

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AIW: Technology Use within the AIW Framework               Post #2

A subsequent post in relation to Promoting AIW

Criteria 1: Construction of Knowledge

A focus on cognitive complexity, teaching for understanding, which in turn increases intellectual rigor for students. Avoiding mere replication of  given information, Construction of Knowledge in task design and instruction presses students to organize, interpret, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate information addressing concepts, themes, theories, or issues.

Inclusion of technology within educational design provides opportunities, access to tools, and a multitude of resources to aid in students’ own Construction of Knowledge. Traditional recall of information, recitation of definitions and rules, or application of previously learned procedures lacks engagement with the information which is necessary for transformation and meaningful demonstration of learning.  The following lists brief examples followed by tools for consideration.

Organize – Example- Identifying Structure of Text: When identifying structure associated with particular genres in literature, students determine qualities particular to each and justify author’s genre choice in relation to intended meaning. Once agreement is achieved on identifiers for specific genres student construct their own knowledge by organizing pieces of texts from a multitude of areas.  Tools: google doc/drawing, padlet, pinterest, instagram, hashtags & twitter, tables, bubbl.us, exploreatree 

Analyze – Example – Research Skills: An essential set of skills students need to master is navigation through the sea of resources available online and how to discern amongst them to identify reliable and relevant resources. After modeling and some practice through gradual release of responsibility, students locate sources and analyze them through a careful lens. Using annotation tools, students are able to identify, analyze, express and justify what make a source reliable and relevant. Bonus, my collection of MLA resources to aid in an activity like this – HERE    Tools: Google Docs, Jing, Diigo, Awesome Screenshot, Sharedcopy

Interpret – Example – Point of View: Identifying point of view from a text, image, video clip, etc. contributes to the understanding of the author’s intended message. Consider the topic of War. When constructing knowledge from a given source, careful readers use a variety of methods to help make sense of the message. Identifying point of view, time, location, etc. paints a clearer picture in the minds of students. Which military side is this vantage point? Is it in the moment or a reflection years later? Is the message from a soldier, General, parent, sibling? A student constructs their own knowledge of a concept or theme by creating a message from a different vantage point than the given piece. Technology provides students many different options to transform and demonstrate their understanding. Videos, cartoons, comics, posters, podcasts, are all options students could use during creation.                       Tools:  Multimedia productions – Youtube, Podcast, fodey.com (Newspaper maker), Smore, Stripgenerator, iBook Author, Bookemon

Evaluate/synthesize – google presentation, screencast, prezi, powtoon, haiku deck, slide share, blogging