This blog post is courtesy of Joanie Williams, media coordinator at Midway Elementary. Joanie is sharing her success with "Genius Hour".
What does it mean to be a genius? Does it mean you are perfect? Does it mean you make good grades, perform well on tests or that you search for answers to those burning questions? I believe most geniuses are persistent and focused on what interests them most. Last year at NCTIES Allyson Medlin and I were very inspired by a session we attended on Genius Hour. I was so excited about the idea of Genius Hour because I often feel that we are killing the curiosity of our students with the overwhelming weight of testing and assessment. Genius Hour is a chance to teach skills through personal inquiry and can feed the need we all have to do something we want to do! The idea was born in the corporate offices of GOOGLE- where employees have 20% of their work week to pursue their own ideas and interests. I believe students need the same opportunity! Geniuses usually pursue their greatest passion. It fuels their desire to learn. We came back to school determined to make this concept work for us. We believe can inspire our students to be genius in some aspect of their life.
We began the process by doing some collaborative planning. We went over the presentation notes from NCTIES (http://www.slideshare.net/EmilySchmidt317/genius-hour-in-the-elementary-education-classroom-45448713 ) for inspiration and ideas. We knew we would need to give the students a limited focus- so we brainstormed a list of 20 topics that we thought would be great to research and that would not leave us strapped for money or resources. We then looked at our schedules and carved out a weekly time to meet. With a plan in hand we approached our new principal with information and data (geniushour.com) and were thrilled to be given the green light to set out on a journey into unknown lands.
When we first introduced the idea to our students we used a video to explain the concept.
We then gave each student our list of topics and they ranked them by preference from 1-3. I took their surveys and organized the results, but I let Allyson do the final groupings because she knows them better and could gauge who would work well together. We had 5 groups- Jewelry, Computer Coding, Movie Making, Chess and Animals. Once they were grouped we spent a day talking to the students about the process of research, using the Super 3 for their framework. The next week they were able to start to research. We met with the groups each week, guided their inquiry when needed and encouraged them to explore their topics. Each group researched the history of their topic and then chose a project to extend their learning. Our jewelry group made bracelets out of string and beads. The computer coding group completed several Hour of Code activities and were determined that they would create the next great video game. Our movie making team wrote a script and filmed the class working on Genius Hour, interviewed each group, edited the film and showed it to the parents on presentation day. The chess group learned to play the game and worked on strategies. It was so fun to see their skill grow each week. Our last group was a little unique because they did not work as a group – they each chose a different animal to research and prepared a presentation about what they learned.
On Wednesday, Dec 16 the students had a 1 hour presentation fair for their parents. We had fantastic attendance and the students were so proud of what they had learned. They were ready to answer questions, share information and show their results. After the first hour we invited the rest of the school to come by. The day was a huge success. The students have already brainstormed the next list of topics and are ready to get going on their next Genius Hour experience. Allyson and I learned a great deal during the process. Our first experience has given us both insight and encouragement and I am going to work with the students on my own while she is out this Spring, having her own little genius! To me this process of student inquiry, that fuels their interests while teaching necessary skills, is invaluable. We know we made a few mistakes, but that is how we learn. And we plan to keep on this path, pursuing our passion for student learning, right along with our little Geniuses.
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