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09/Jun/2016
by Denise Krebs
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My Own Genius Hour

At our school we ended our annual professional development time with a Genius Hour-style PD project. Each teacher worked alone or with a small group to learn, explore and then put into practice something that we needed in our teaching lives.

Dillian, grade 1 English, and I worked together to answer the question, “What new tools can we learn to help students articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral English and to demonstrate the ability to work effectively and respectfully in a variety of small group situations? (Check out Accountable Talk and others)”

We created that question on 17 April 2016. Then we got to work learning about Accountable Talk, something I had heard about (just in passing) at the Google Apps for Education Summit the weekend before.

We discovered the Institute for Learning at the University of Pittsburgh has published many free resources about Accountable Talk, as well as some resources you can purchase.

Accountable Talk is one of nine Principles of Learning. Pam Goldman describes these principles in podcasts 6, 7, and 8. Accountable Talk is specifically related to learning and teaching in the first seven Principles of Learning.

  1. Accountable Talk
  2. Socializing Intelligence
  3. Self-Management of Learning
  4. Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum
  5. Clear Expectations
  6. Organizing for Effort
  7. Learning as Apprenticeship
  8. Fair and Credible Evaluations
  9. Recognition of Accomplishment

Here are my notes on the Accountable Talk podcasts. You can read some of the transcripts and more about each of the principles.

Dillian and I also signed up for a course entitled, “Creating Engaging Environments for English Language Classrooms,” from the University of Oregon. Class Completion BadgeIt’s been a great course, and I’m learning a lot, but Module 2 was particularly applicable. It was about small groups. In an article by Anne Hammond Byrd*, we learned strategies for engaging children in meaningful conversation and collaboration in small groups.

  1. Make students aware of the purpose and benefits of learning cooperatively. And don’t make grades one of the reasons!
  2. Practice cooperation skills with nonacademic games.
  3. Change the culture of your classroom.  “Consider  providing  students  with opportunities to practice communication within a group by allowing whole class conversations to occur freely without constant teacher direction. By creating an atmosphere that encourages social interaction within a group, teachers allow students to  become  more  comfortable with the structure of the cooperative learning lesson design. Allow students the freedom to discuss ideas in class discussions openly without raising their hands for permission to speak.” ~Anne Hammond Byrd
  4. Establish ground rules for all cooperative learning activities.
  5. Balance student status. That is, sometimes strong personalities will have most of the influence in a group. Groups should be changed up to balance the interactions. In fact, a good idea is to put several very quiet students together, where new leaders will emerge.
  6. Assign roles. Especially as they first learn what to do in their groups.
  7. Provide demanding tasks. This is a good one for me to take to heart. Sometimes I don’t have high expectations for partner and group work. I usually use partners to have students discuss something or practice the skills at hand. Sometimes small groups complete a practice game or task, but I need to remember that “together we are smarter.”  They can do so much more, and I can expect that of a small group. I like the idea of having small groups practice for a presentation, and then vote on the one student who gets the privilege of sharing in front of the whole class. (Definitely related to #3 and 5 above.)

By the first week of May, we were teaching children some short sentences in an attempt to empower them to use English in conversations.

What I Learned

My students mostly speak in Arabic when they are working in small groups. If they need to communicate with me, that’s the only time they really have to use English. I never scold them for not using English, because they need to make connections, they don’t have the vocabulary or comfort level needed to speak English, and I’m sure there are other reasons. I do, however, want to encourage them to try more English. My goal is that they will become bilingual, and if they don’t practice in English class, many of them do not practice at all.

My few experiences with teaching the sentences above resulted in some powerful conversations. We practiced asking each other how to say certain words in English and Arabic.

Our conversations reminded me of when I was taking Spanish classes in high school. One of the key phrases that empowered me was, “¿Cómo se dice _____ in español?” (or, How do you say _____ in Spanish?) It was nice to be able to speak in Spanish while at the same time receiving help from my peers.

I saw the same enthusiasm in the children as they practiced saying, “How do you say___ in English?” or “How do you say _____ in Arabic?”

A Sweet Success Story

Just this week, one of the students spontaneously used the question, “Will you tell me more?” It was in response to a child, during show and tell, who had invited up several students for an impromptu skit of sorts. She was asking them questions, and they responded good-naturedly. It was all very fun and engaging. At one point, though, she asked an incomprehensible question. Without missing a beat, he said, “Will you tell me more?”  He looked up at me, with an enormous smile, and pointed to the sentence strip questions.

Next Year

Now, we have finished with the school year, and next year I will move up to Grade 5. I will definitely bring what I have learned about empowering students with language to help them communicate better in English. We will do cooperative groups with engaging, yet demanding, tasks. I will recognize from the start that the students don’t speak and understand English as much as their English teachers have assumed they do. Finally, I will work hard to build a culture of trust, understanding, acceptance, vulnerability, and safety for all the students.

Here are some of the helpful resources I’ve been using:

17/Apr/2016
by Denise Krebs
2 Comments

Genius Hour PD

 

Genius TimeToday, we did Genius Hour at school. There were no children here. It was a teacher’s professional development day. Teachers did Genius Hour.

Our principal, Mr. Josh Perkins, introduced Genius Hour, a concept that was new to most people. He said it was “a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.” Definition from Geniushour.com

He then went on to immediately explain that the Genius Hour we would do for PD would be defined like this: “Genius hour allows teachers to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides teachers a choice in what they learn and develop during a set period of time during the professional development time.” It was about here that we all decided we like the name Genius Time better. 20160417_074717

I thought the plan was perfect. He asked for professionalism in carrying out this short plan:

  • Question – What do you want to learn?
  • Explore – Learn about it!
  • Master – Become better at it!
  • Present – Help the rest of us learn!

We will “turn in” our inquiry question at the beginning and the presentation at the end. We will plan, explore, and learn on our own. He will post all our learnings on our school web page to share with the world.

Now, our school happens to have an atypical communication barrier. We are about half Arabic speakers and half English speakers. (And other languages too, which we don’t even take into consideration!) The Genius Hour overview was presented tag-team style in both English and Arabic. Throughout the day, we noticed not only was some of the introduction lost in translation, but also these ideas are huge when heard for the first time and need extra time to absorb.

That’s all good. It’s part of my philosophy as the chief learner in my classroom. We all have questions that need to be answered along the journey. (And the journey is the best part, I believe.)

Because of those big ideas we were trying to explain, there were bound to be misunderstandings. Some people seemed to hear that Genius Hour was something for the children, and they ran with that forgetting about their own PD. As we answered questions, I began to think maybe we shouldn’t have called it Genius Hour or Genius Time, after all!

However, later I realized I was wrong. It was an unexpected, but awesome misunderstanding.  We had scores of teachers today talking about Genius Hour. We weren’t just talking about something wordy: “self-directed professional development time.” Many of the teachers were even talking about how they were going to make Genius Hour work in their classrooms.

  • “How will it work with all the students doing Genius Hour in different subjects?”
  • “Can we do it for 15 minutes each period?” (No, please don’t.)
  • “Should we call it Genius Hour or something else because our class periods aren’t one hour?”

Wait a minute. I began to realize they thought they MUST do Genius Hour with their students in their classrooms.

We aren’t doing Genius Hour with your students, I said during an impromptu meeting. That can come later, I continued. (And hopefully it will!) Today, for the next few weeks this is about you! About you improving your craft–becoming more adept at content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology to bring about learning for your students. We need to focus on 21st century learning skills. (Yeah, since by the time half of our students graduate from high school this “new” century will be a quarter over.)

We introduced a unique-to-every-single-person professional development opportunity. Instead of doing one-size-fits-all PD for the next two months, we each get to make our own learning adventure! (Or with a partner or two–it’s limited to 3 in a group.)

Imagine around 50 different PD programs going on in just the next nine Tuesday professional development hours!

What are the chances of that happening? It can happen, but only if all the teachers own their own learning.

Here are just a few of the thoughts some teachers had for their own unique PD sessions, with possible inquiry questions:

  1. How do you engage very young children to want to know English? And can I get them to  practice by communicating their own knowledge to others?
  2. How can I teach flexibility and adaptability by providing students with many ways to solve math problems, starting with the abacus?
  3. How can I inspire students to be self-directed learners, going beyond the vocabulary in our lessons to searching out the multiple meanings?
  4. Can I build students’ collaboration and communication skills by learning about and teaching Accountable Talk for small group discussions?
  5. How can I help students to be responsible and discerning digital citizens; who can justify their use of technology for educational purposes?
  6. How can I present information in a way that is more engaging to the students, and promotes independent and analytical thinking?

I loved hearing people talk about Genius Hour today. The discussions were amazing. Some of us met for four hours today, instead of the originally scheduled two hours. It won’t be easy, but our school has heart, and we will figure it out together. (I’m particularly excited to see the Arab teachers’ share their Genius Hour learning in the Arabic language. They will be Genius Hour innovators for the Arab world.)  

Al Raja School can have hope in a bright Genius Hour-y future for students and staff alike. I look forward to it!  

29/Jul/2015
by Denise Krebs
Comments Off on My Own Genius Hour in the California Desert

My Own Genius Hour in the California Desert

I’m having such a great time spending two weeks at my sister’s house. Her place is a dream come true for makers, builders, creators, and artists. Plus, it is beautiful California desert, where I’ve spent much time since my childhood.

My niece just came by and picked up a few tiles to add to the mosaic coffee table she’s making. Look at just part of the collection she had to choose from.

Lots of choices of broken and used tiles and glassware to use for mosaics and tilework.

Lots of choices of broken and used tiles and glassware to use for mosaics and tilework.

This week I tried my hand at my first ever upholstery job.

I took the chair apart and removed all the inner parts. Then my sister cut a plywood board, which was out of my range of expertise. Then I took exactly four times to put the wooden pieces back together with glue and screws. Unfortunately, my first two attempts included forgetting to put the plywood board in first. I persevered, and I called my sister for help when I really needed it.

The seat of the chair BEORE

This is what the seat looked like when I started.

I removed all the seat and decided to keep the same back.

I removed all the seat and decided to keep the same back.

We decided to put a plywood bottom on the seat instead of using webbing.

We decided to put a plywood bottom on the seat instead of using webbing.

Next I drilled and twisted wires onto the plywood. I added a really big foam pad.  I sewed a cover. I tacked it down. And one of the best parts. I did it all with found materials at my sister’s amazing place! Many of the tasks I had to do were things I had little or no previous experience doing.

I wired all the springs down onto the plywood.

I wired all the springs down onto the plywood.

I added a big foam pad with a layer of quilt batting.

I added a big foam pad with a layer of quilt batting.

It turned out really ugly, but it is comfy and I did it.

I sewed the cover and tacked it on. Here's the finished chair.

I sewed the cover and tacked it on. Here’s the finished chair.

I practiced so many of the characteristics that I encourage my students to have in genius hour. Ambiguity, generating ideas, flexibility, adaptability, self-reflection, intrinsic motivation, risk taking, and perseverance. (From the Self-Assessment of Creativity Traits.) I can talk about these qualities, but when I live them, it’s so much more powerful.

Some takeaways:

  1. I really need to give myself more time for my own genius hour projects.
  2. I need to try new ventures, to practice skills I don’t yet have, to build and make, and to challenge my preconceived ideas of what I am skilled at.
  3. Sometimes it’s OK to call someone for help when I’ve exhausted my resources.
  4. When I used repurposed and found materials it became so much more meaningful and authentic to make something useful, while also protecting the environment.
  5. I need to practice and fail over and over to really learn the characteristics of creativity like perseverance and risk taking.

Now, my next job is putting this back together.

My next project is to glue this table back together.

My next project is to glue this table back together.

16/May/2015
by Denise Krebs
4 Comments

More Genius Hour in Kindergarten

Gregerson Quote

I don’t want children to stop asking questions. I want to be the teacher that welcomes provocative questions. That’s why I so firmly believe in getting out of the way of children and letting them question and learn. Genius Hour has been a way to affirm this in my classroom.

I’ve been wondering how to do more Genius Hour in my kindergarten class. It was great with junior highers, but kindergarten has been a steep learning curve. I’m still on the uphill. Faige Meller has been a great resource for me and others. She is an active Kindergarten Genius Hour teacher! I’ve had some successes with making; I wrote about it here. I thought I’d share some more that we’ve done in our class. Perhaps some reminders for me when I start with next year’s class.

First, just like with almost any activity in kindergarten, we don’t want to start Genius Hour until we have established rapport and routines with our young learners. They need to know they are in a safe learning environment where they are loved and trusted. They need to thoroughly know and practice the community’s expectations for behavior and how they get along with others in their new learning space. This will take weeks or for me and my children, maybe months.

In the meantime, during all of your days, starting on Day 1, we want to be sure to nurture young learners’ curiosity. Welcome questions, dive into inquiry, and laugh, learn and love with your students.

My students and I adopted this “Genius Hour anthem” from Debbie Clement,  “You’re Wonderful.” It’s a conversation between teacher and students:

Teacher: I think you’re wonderful. I think you’re marvelous. I think you’re beautiful and magical and filled with curiosity and dreams.

Students: You think I’m wonderful? You think I’m marvelous? You think I’m beautiful and magical and filled with curiosity and dreams?

Students: You’re right, I’m wonderful. You’re right I’m marvelous. You’re right I’m beautiful and magical and filled with curiosity and dreams.

It continues with the children telling the teacher she’s all these things, and then together they affirm they are all wonderful, marvelous, beautiful, magical and filled with curiosity and dreams. Singing a song like this has been a good reminder that we—teacher and children—are on an amazing and extraordinary adventure of learning together.

After building rapport, establishing routines, and celebrating love of learning with our students, we can start “Genius Hour” doing a group project replete with choices and high-interest. Choose a topic that has captured children during regular school day activities. Or survey students with the simple question, “What do you want to learn?” or “What problem do you want to solve?” and then choose a popular group topic from their responses. Tell the students they are going to do a group “Genius Hour” and that they can learn whatever they want to about the topic/problem.

Before they start, gather resources–a stack of nonfiction and fiction books, art and building supplies, videos, appropriate web pages, etc. Then allow students to choose between the different resource “centers,” real choices based on the group topic/problem.

In my kindergarten English class, which includes 100% English language learners, we did two group projects for Genius Hour. One was a big numbers project. For weeks, two children had been interested in big numbers. About every other day, they would come to me trying to tell me about a number larger than the one they told me before. A thousand, a million, a billion, a billion and one.

One day I asked one of my little number engineers if he had ever heard of a googol. His eyes lit up with curiosity as he laughed at the funny word. I showed him a googol on Wikipedia. When he saw how long the number was, he was rightly impressed. He went right to work writing a one with 100 zeroes following. The learning was contagious; others joined around the computer as I read to them about this big number. Still more became interested as they learned about the nine-year-old boy, Milton, who named the large number. It turned into our first group project. One small group joined the first boy on the floor writing out a googol on long strips of cash register receipt paper. Another group wanted to put together number puzzles. Still others wanted to count to 100 with the Macarena song we had done for our 100 Day Party.

She started with 10 and added 33 sets of three zeroes, each separated with commas--one googol!

She started with 10 and added 33 sets of three zeroes, each separated with commas–one googol!

When asked later to complete the sentence, “This year, I learned____,”  one of the big number children wrote, “…how to count to a googol.” Now, I realize, of course, that he didn’t really, but for this five-year-old child, the big numbers project was a significant and memorable learning experience.

The second project the kindergarteners did centered around “zig zags.” One girl brought in a zig zag for show and tell during Z week. The next day she brought strips of paper and asked if the other children could make them too. I made time, and they all created zig zags–some more springy and shapely than others. Later, these zig zags, plus many more, turned into animals, pop-up books, greeting cards and more fun maker projects.

Finally, after several months of 1) setting up our loving and safe learning environment and 2) doing group projects, I started having students choose their own individual or small group projects.

I introduced personal Genius Hour during what was called “activity time” in the kindergarten schedule. (It is perfect because I only have half of my class of 26 at a time during activity.) We have access to an ongoing supply of art supplies, building materials, and former trash for rubbish re-creations. Our class library has books on subjects of great interest to the children.

During an earlier activity period, I had told the students that their interesting art projects reminded me of Genius Hour. (I actually had not called our group projects Genius Hour yet.) “Maybe next activity time we will do Genius Hour,” I said to them, marveling about how creative and curious they were.

One little guy asked, “What is Genius Hour?”

“It’s a time when you get to learn or make whatever you want to.”

“I like that,” he said.

Who would not like that?

08/May/2015
by Denise Krebs
Comments Off on The Genius Hour Guidebook – Coming Soon

The Genius Hour Guidebook – Coming Soon

(Originally posted at geniushour.ca)

Genius Hour Guidebook

Click book cover for link to Amazon!

By Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi

A few years ago the two of us took a risk in our practice–we asked our students what they wanted to learn about and let them take the reins and direct their own learning. Shortly after, we began the collaborative Genius Hour website geniushour.wikispaces.com, and then the monthly Twitter chat using the hashtag #geniushour.  Along with our friends and fellow Genius Hour teachers, Hugh McDonald and Joy Kirr, we began to share Genius Hour with all the teachers that would listen.  We are both so passionate about Genius Hour and found that it not only benefited our students but also changed everything for us!

The two of us wanted to spread the Genius Hour love with even more educators, so we decided that the next step was to write a book about Genius Hour.

We have been working on this book for a couple of years now and are really honored that it has now gone to production by Routledge and MiddleWeb.  We truly hope that it will help educators implement Genius Hour with their students. Our hope is that one day all students will have the chance to work on their own Genius Hour projects.

We are so excited to announce that The Genius Hour Guidebook: Fostering Passion, Wonder and Inquiry in the Classroom is now available for presale and will be available this Fall.

Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi

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