When I first introduce genius hour to my class, I tell them that "You are going to be able to create, explore, or discover anything
you are interested in". When they first hear this, it's like they can't comprehend that I'm going to let them do anything they want. I agree with Sir Ken Robinson, that, "We don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it". I so often see that when you give students choice or ask them to be creative, they look at you blankly. It's like when you give them that much freedom, they have no idea what to do with themselves. I have had students in my class that are constantly seeking adult approval, "Is this good enough?" "Am I doing this right?" "Do you like this?" I want my students to become self-reflective learners that are confident in their abilities and aren't always seeking teacher approval because they know they have done something awesome. I also want them to know that failure is a part of learning and that it is okay!
When I introduce them to the idea of genius hour, I spend a lot of time getting them excited. I made a prezi to introduce the idea of genius hour: http://prezi.com/na0nor4_8k2y/genius-hour/ I like to show them a few other videos as well to help establish that it is okay to fail.
http://hughtheteacher.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/23-videos-that-sparked-genius-hour-thinking-collaboration-and-actions/ We also discuss creativity and what it means to be a genius. Then students build a wonder wall. Here is ours from last year:
After working on our wonder wall, we talked about my expectations for genius hour: how they will spend their time during the hour and how they will present their learning. Together we came up with a rubric. I don't actually mark their final project, but I write down observations from how they are using class time and how they are presenting what they have learned.
Originally, I gave a due date for the projects to be done.. I gave them 3 weeks and told them they had to be ready to present on the 4th week. This worked for some of the students, but some of them could have used more time on theirs and some of them only needed one or two weeks before they were ready to present. This led to problems because I found that those who were done early just goofed around for whatever time they had left. This was not what I wanted, so now I have more of a fluid timeline. Students just let me know when they are ready to present and I schedule it into our day. Some students present every week and some present every month or more, but everyone is on their own timeline. As long as students are engaged in their projects and using their genius hour time wisely, I don't care how long it takes them to get to a finished product. Part of the key to this is talking to students during the genius hour time and asking them questions about their learning and really finding out where they are in that process. Sometimes they will need some guidance and sometimes it's just kind of awesome to listen to their excitement while they share with you.
Now, this all sounds great, I know, but genius hour is not all roses. Sometimes there will be a student who just does not seem engaged in their project. Usually it is because they have no idea what their passion is. A.J. Juliani wrote about this in his blog post:
http://ajjuliani.com/6-simple-strategies-to-help-find-your-passion/ This blog post outlines questions students can use to help them find their passion. Another thing that I found helpful was to have students do individual genius hour projects before they started partner projects (I let them have up to 3 in a group). This allows them to see what it is like to work on something they are really interested in before they glom on to someone else's passion, which happens. It is easy for them to do this because then they don't have to look inside themselves and see what's in there. Some students find it really difficult to figure out what they are interested because they aren't used to having choice; they are so used to being told what they should learn and how they should learn it.
Students present their learning in whatever way they choose. Usually this involves an oral presentation to the class. Sometimes they will have posters, keynotes, e-books, slideshows, videos, demonstrations, or a product to show. After the presentation students ask questions and their classmates help to probe what they learned. Sometimes students have such great questions that it really challenges their peers to really think. I love that! This year, my colleague, Sandi Mustard, and I have decided to combine our classes once a month for a Genius Hour Showcase, so that students can share with their peers in the other class. This allows them to see what the other class is doing and generates excitement. We just had our first one a little while ago in our newly renovated Learning Commons space. It went great. Students said they got some ideas for things they could do next, which was something we were hoping for. I think eventually, the Genius Hour Showcase could be something we invite other classes to sit on; this could lead to genius hour spreading through the school.
The final thing I ask my students to do is write a reflection on their learning. I get my kids to reflect on their blogs about their learning and this term we are working on deepening this by my providing formative feedback in the form of comments on their blog posts that push them to go deeper. Again, what I really want is my students to be able to become reflective learners. I require them to do a reflection after each genius hour discussing what they did, what problems they had, what questions or connections they had, etc. Then after their presentations they do a write up to just cement that learning for them. Sometimes their Their write up should include answers to these 6 questions.
(The original 3 from the proposal):
1. What do I already KNOW?
2. What do I WANT to know?
3. HOW will I find out?
(And then 3 more questions, that are more reflective after their project).
4. What did I LEARN?
5. What ACTION will I take?
6. What QUESTIONS do I still have?
I originally didn't have them do this, but I was disappointed in how shallow some of the thinking was in their project. I then saw examples from Paul Solarz' and Anne-Marie Middleton's classes and they used this format, and I thought it worked better.
Here are some examples of Anne-Marie Middleton's class' write-ups: http://hillcrestdiv1.weebly.com/33/previous/3.html that I used this year. I also show them an example I wrote as well, and then I comment on these to help them dig deeper.
Honestly, I'm still not where I want to be with genius hour, but it is a continually evolving process. I love that my students are excited about this. Genius Hour is their favourite part of the week; they wish that it was genius hour every day. To me that speaks volumes to what this is doing in my classroom. I am hoping to incorporate the new idea of Maker Spaces that is floating around our district now. I applied for a Maker Spaces grant and a Makey Makey grant; so I'm hoping my students will have access to these. I like the idea of them using technology to create; they love video games and having them start the process of coding is pretty cool. Also, I love the idea of making things and using creativity to use things in new ways; it really fits with the grade 5 science curriculum too, as we discuss reducing, reusing, and recycling. Overall, I'm pretty happy that I started genius hour. It is a bit of a gong show at times. It is not without it's issues. I have had huge clean up issues: the sink left with paint, pans filled with half eaten cake, and just nothing put away properly. Also, last week I had a student take someone's shoe and run away with it while the other one chased him. This was while I was trying to help a group of girls not explode marshmallow in the microwave. I have to admit that I kind of shut things down at that point. But overall, I know my kids are learning and this excites me. I can tell they are excited to share their projects and their public speaking skills are getting better. I love seeing them able to answer questions with confidence and speaking from their heart, rather than cue cards. I know this is something that will continue in my class. I am continually learning from my colleagues like Hugh, Anne-Marie, and Paul, as well as others by participating in #geniushour chats on the first Thursday of each month. Part of my genius hour for myself is to continually ask, how can I do this better? I am continually trying to evolve as an educator, as well.