Reflecting on Genius Hour

I’ve been hearing a lot about a project-based learning model known as Genius Hour (or 20 Time or Passion Projects), and I really wanted to give it a try at my school this year, but I wasn’t sure how to best go about it.  Last month I finally took the plunge with a class whose teacher was willing to give the idea a try.

The stars just seemed to align with the following events happening within a two-week span:

  • GeniusCon Session presented at TLCafe by Matthew Winner (aka The Busy Librarian) and Sherry Gick (aka The Library Fanatic) sharing how they provided time for their students to ponder the question “If you could change one thing about your school, what would you do?
  • Doodle 4 Google Contest  – this year’s creative prompt was “If I could invent one thing to make the world a better place…”
  • A discussion with a third grade teacher who does a unit on Inventions with her students every year

I was inspired to plan a 4-week project that would get kids thinking about making a difference in the world, and would lead into their upcoming class project on designing and “building” a musical instrument.

Students began the project by brainstorming in groups.

Week 1 involved introducing the Doodle 4 Google contest, hearing from several Google artists via video about the sources of their inspiration, and engaging in some collaborative brainstorming.  Kids discussed what inspires them (music, nature, books, etc) and we made a rule that no one would say anything negative about someone else’s idea.  Students wrote their answer to the writing prompt “The world would be better if…” and then we passed the papers around for five minutes to give everyone time to add a response to the ideas on the papers at his/her table.  (Click here to see my presentation and notes.)

We used a book pass so students could examine and make notes on real inventions that changed the world.Week 2 involved a pep talk from Kid President, a look at some real inventions at the Inventive Kids website which were created and marketed by kids, and a Book Pass using books about inventors and inventions.  Several students ended up checking out  books to take with them, and many were surprised to learn that kids have successfully created and marketed real inventions!  Making a real-world connection was very motivating!  (Click here to see my presentation and notes.)

Students drew and wrote about their inventions.Week 3 was “get down to business” time!  We heard from Kid President again as he embarked on his own journey to create an invention that would make the world a better place for his cat, and we discussed the idea that sometimes an idea won’t work, and you have to try something different.  Then students finalized the details of their inventions and completed any necessary research.  Finally, everyone drew a picture and/or diagram of the invention, and wrote a paragraph explaining what it is and what it does.

Finished DoodleWeek 4 was done in collaboration with our school’s art teacher as she helped them transform their invention ideas into Google Doodles.  She guided the students to think about ways to turn the letters in the word GOOGLE into invention components and how they could convey the idea of their inventions visually.  There was a definite buzz of excitement in the room as the students traded ideas and drew their Doodles, and at the end of it all they were really proud of what they had created.

In designing the project, I tried to focus on the key ideas that with Genius Hour projects there is no one right answer, and that working together and encouraging one another allows everyone to achieve better results.  Since we met in the library, we were able to spread out and have noisy tables and quiet tables, group areas and independent work areas, research areas and drawing areas, etc.  This busy, noisy, creative atmosphere was a change for the students from the “eyes on your own paper, write the correct answers to these questions, turn in your work so I can grade it” atmosphere that is so often required at school!

Throughout the sessions, I tried to keep in mind these words from Matthew Winner:

“Guide your students, but allow them to try new ideas that may lead to both successes and failures. Your students will be challenged (as will you), but will walk away with a sense of pride and ownership in all they accomplished.”

Student ResearchingIn reflecting on the time I spent with the students, I feel like it was perhaps a little more structured than is usual in Genius Hour learning.  However, I think the specific goals kept the students focused on their thinking and learning as they adjusted to the idea of greater freedom in how they approached the project.  The group activities reinforced my message of collaboration, imagination, inspiration, and creation, and I believe they were necessary for students to be able to work productively outside the box.

We actually could have used one more session for students to really polish up their ideas, but we lost some school days due to bad weather and we were up against the Google contest deadline so we had to finish up more quickly than I would have liked.  In the future I will budget more time than I think we will actually need, which I find is helpful with most projects!

Have you done a Genius Hour project with your students?  Please leave a comment — I’d love to hear about it!

 

Putting Technology In Its Place

I just read two blog posts yesterday that echo some of the ideas I’ve been wrestling with lately concerning the place of technology in the classroom, and I’d like to share them here.

Background:  As my school’s Library Media Specialist and Technology Coach, I have a responsibility to provide appropriate resources to my students and teachers, and to make sure they know how to use them.  With so many useful (and free) technology tools available out there in cyberspace, I want to make sure I’m keeping up with them, using them appropriately, and sharing them with those who need them. 

However, I don’t want to become so focused on the “coolness” of technology that I lose sight of my ultimate goal, which is student learning.  I also don’t want my attitude regarding the importance of technology to become so overbearing that I alienate teachers who, for various reasons, are hesitant about using a lot of online resources or tech tools.  I need to balance my role as a cheerleader for Web 2.0 with my role as someone who assists users with what’s actually going on in the classroom.

Enter Jennifer Wagner and Joyce Valenza, two educators who are doing wonderful things with technology at their respective schools.  Continue reading

What Is Literacy?

literacy dictionaryIn my last post I was examining what David Warlick has to say about integrating technology into the classroom in his book Redefining Literacy 2.0 and I quoted him as saying, “Educators should seek to integrate literacy, rather than integrate technology.”  So what does David mean when he uses the term literacy?  Well, his entire book is devoted to what he believes literacy looks like right now, but he boils it down to its simplest form by saying this: “Literacy comprises those skills involved in using information to accomplish goals.”  He also says “that perhaps the best thing we can be teaching our students today is how to teach themselves (how to learn what they need to know, to do what they need to do),” and “that the literacy habits we want them to develop are actually learning literacies.” 

Well, I must say, this is exactly what we school library media specialists have been doing for years!  Our speciality is categorizing, storing, searching, evaluating, synthesizing, organizing, and communicating information, whether online or in print!  And our primary goal is to equip students to do it, too!  From the American Association of School Librarians web page entitled Information Literacy:

AASL provides leadership for the development of dynamic, student-centered school library media programs. These programs help ensure that students master the information literacy skills needed to be discerning consumers and creative producers of information and ideas.

And how ironic that in a time when the world of Internet information is more bewildering to users than ever, when Google (see this NY Times article) and Wikipedia (see this Wikipedia article) are some of the most commonly used (and often least effective) research sources, and when President Obama himself proclaims that “teachers are the single most important resource to a child’s learning,” school librarians are being cut from many schools due to budget concerns.  Continue reading

Don’t Integrate Technology Into the Classroom

Surprised by the sentiment expressed in the title of today’s post?   So was I when I read it in David Warlick’s book Redefining Literacy 2.0.  (See the accompanying wiki here.)  Since I became my school’s Technology Coach earlier this year, I’ve been concerned that we aren’t doing enough to equip teachers to successfully integrate technology into their classrooms.  So I picked up David’s book at the SCASL Conference last week, and here’s what he says in the introduction:

There is one call to education reform that will not be used in this book, a mantra that attendees to technology and media conferences often hear, that we should be integrating technology into our libraries and classrooms.  It is an idea that is not without its usefulness.  Integrating technology is a simple and inclusive way to describe the modernizing of our schools.  However integrating technology misses the point that technology has no special place in re-examining the pedagogy of teaching and learning.  It is merely a tool – the pencil and paper of our time.

So what should we be doing?  Read on: Continue reading

Don’t Know, Don’t Care

Survey

Last Thursday the results of my district’s annual Professional Development Survey were made available.  Teachers were asked to choose three topics of particular interest to them from a list of seventy possible training opportunities.  Now, with that many choices in the list, only one topic is really going unify people and that is Power School, our state’s new school management system, which garnered a whopping 155 votes (11%).  (“It’s coming in April whether you’re ready or not!”)  So let’s just move on to the other choices.

It was with great interest and some trepidation that I looked to see where the Technology options had placed in this popularity contest, and I guess it could have been worse.  Interactive Whiteboard training was third in the rankings with 87 votes (6%), which shows that teachers are eager to get the most out of the Promethean boards that were installed in all classrooms this year.  The next most popular technology choices were Technology for Teachers: Intermediate with 29 votes (2%) and Technology for Teachers: Advanced with 23 votes (2%), which indicates that those who are already comfortable with using technology would like to learn more. 

Interestingly, there was no Technology for Teachers: Beginner option, so I’m left wondering why not.  Are our teachers all presumed to be farther along than beginner at this point?  (Surely not!)  Were those who are beginners were expected to pick and choose from the more specific technology offerings such as Using eChalk (our web page authoring software), Classworks, or TestView (which all placed near the bottom of the list)?  Or perhaps the survey creators thought no one would admit to being a beginner?  But I digress.

The option I was most interested in was Integrating Technology into the Curriculum, which in my opinion is our best bet for giving kids those 21st Century Learning Skills we keep hearing are so important.  And how many chose it as a priority workshop topic, you ask?  Continue reading

May You Live In Interesting Times

  screen technology

There’s no doubt that there are interesting things going on in education right now with regard to technology!  I think we will all agree that we can’t equip our students with 21st Century Learning Skills without incorporating technology into our teaching.  Serving as both the Library Media Specialist and the Technology Coach for my school, it’s my job to look at the issue of integrating technology into the classroom from four different perspectives:

1. What are “best practices” when it comes to using technology in instruction and with students?  What strategies will enable us to be more effective users of technology?  How can we make time for training, collaboration, and integration in an already crowded school day?

2. What are the technology literacy, media literacy, and information literacy standards that we should be addressing for each grade level?  How do our content standards mesh with these literacy standards?

3. What tools are affordable and available in my school and my district?  How much tech support can I manage at the building level?  How much tech support is available at the district level?

4. How can I ensure teacher and administrator buy-in for technology integration projects?  How can I involve more stakeholders in the planning and implementation process?  How can I be an agent for change in my school and my district?

I’m struggling with the answers to all of these questions, particularly the last one.  That’s why I’ll be participating in a free webinar on April 5, 2010 at the TL Virtual Cafe.  The webinar is titled What it Means to Be a Change Agent in Educational Technology, and will feature Ben Hazzard and Rodd Lucier. 

Rodd Lucier I’m familiar with, since I’ve been following his blog (The Clever Sheep) and listening to his podcast (Teacher 2.0) for the past year and a half.  I’ve never heard of Ben Hazzard until now, but even a cursory glance at his website tells me that he’s someone to watch. 

You’ve probably heard the title of this post referred to as “the Chinese curse,” but you may not realize that it’s supposedly the first in a trio of curses.  The other two curses in the series are, “May you come to the attention of those in authority,” and “May you find what you are looking for.”  One can only hope….

 

Photo Attribution: “Screen Technology”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/11022910@N00/503238148