Gallit and I were connected on Twitter already, so the #geniushour hashtag soon became a mutual vehicle for sharing genius hour magic from our middle school classrooms. Dozens of teachers around the continent and beyond joined in, as well. Gallit shared her happenings in an early post called, “Collaboration, Communication and Community.”
Early in 2012, Gallit contacted me to see if I’d like to start a #geniushour chat with her, and a new chat began. Our first was held on 7 March 2012. Here are a few tweets from the beginning of the chat:
We didn’t know who, if anyone, would come to our first planned chat. However, it turned out there were ten of us who participated. You might be interested in our first and subsequent chats. The archives are found here on the Geniushour Wikispace: http://geniushour.wikispaces.com/ChatArchive
Our tribe has grown exponentially over the last five years. Hundreds of teachers now share the work they and their students do for Genius Hour using the #geniushour hashtag.
Our 5th Anniversary Celebration!
We are anxious to celebrate our fifth anniversary chat this week. On Thursday, 2 March 2017, we will have our #geniushour chat, moderated by Angela Maiers, one of our early inspirations. Angela will be on hand to discuss her favorite topics of young geniuses contributing to the world and helping others know they matter.
Please join us in this special anniversary chat. We expect it will go a lot faster than our first chat, with scores of participants, but no worries. Just follow the hashtag #geniushour on Twitter on Thursday, 2 March, 6 pm Pacific and 9 pm Eastern. If you miss any tweets, as always, you can catch them in the archive. See you there!
Each step along the way during this presidential election has been painful. Unless he does something crazy (crazier) before Inauguration Day, he’ll be inaugurated president in a little over a week. The summer of 2015, I began watching open-mouthed as he sucked up all the attention of the press because of his asinine actions and comments. Then he ousted his competitors, and went after Hillary with a no-holds-barred campaign from hell, complete with help from the Russians.
I knew if he won we would not be the country we thought we were.
Yes, I’m sorry for all my friends and fellow citizens. I’m sorry to those around the world who look to us to be role models of democracy. I’m sorry they have to be disappointed in us, and we can never take it back because we really did elect him.
One Word for 2016
My word for last year was FIT. It was a good word, but ended up not the right word for 2016. Things didn’t fit so well last year. The word might have fit better had I not spent scores of hours watching and listening open-mouthed as our country went crazy. I spent too long watching him make an ass of himself, and later when he was nominated and elected, an ass out of our country.
This year my word is serenity because I have to find peace in the insanity. Everything doesn’t fit, but in the midst of the chaos we can have peace.
One Word for 2017
God is in control, and God has much to teach us in the U.S. We have painful lessons we need to learn. Lessons that we’ve been trying to learn for centuries. Lessons on systemic racism, fear, greed, ignorance, partisanship, the Constitution, lack of critical thinking, and oh so much more.
While we learn, God save us. I believe you can give us peace instead of fear as you teach us the lessons we need. Amen.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
Almost a decade ago, when Twitter and Facebook were still toddlers, most of us shared stories not by posting links, but by sending a link, story or image in an email. Many of us remember those days. The subject line would read FWD:FWD:FWD: YOU GOT TO READ THIS!!!!! or some such title.
One day I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper because sometimes one just has to do something when it is impossible to stomach reading another bogus email. The text is written below (and in the image above):
It would not be a compliment to be called critical. Who wants to be a critic? I like being nice, and I like being around nice people. However, today, I would like to take my turn and ask everyone to be more critical…critical in reading, I mean.
I admit, I read some forwarded e-mails, oftentimes with my mouth hanging open in disbelief. I’ve decided most are originated for one of two purposes: To mislead and falsely present one’s ideological agenda, or to cruelly experiment on society.
I imagine someone sitting, pondering, “Can I compose the perfectly misleading e-mail…? Something outrageous but credible enough so people will forward it?”
If we believed all the e-mails over the years, we’d be waiting for $10,000 from Bill Gates, printing $50 gift certificates from Applebee’s, and watching for other unexpected windfalls. Don’t you just want to shout, “C’mon, read critically before you forward those emails!”?
Twice as many? I was curious, so I clicked the link citing a Congressional Research Service document. There it was—the supposed “source” of the e-mail—but rather than respecting each brave soldier who died for our country, the casualty numbers for each were blatantly altered, manipulating them to mislead.
We have been at war in Iraq for five years, so not surprisingly there are more military deaths in this president’s term than the previous. Clearly someone lied to fake some political point, trusting that at least some gullible person would not read the source critically.
If my students did research like this, they would fail.
How about those touching stories we read and pass on?
I believe we need to read these critically, as well.
An old, but still-circulating, story tells of an Olympic diver, practicing in the dark because the full moon shining through the glass ceiling afforded him enough light to do that.
In taking his stance on the high dive, his eye caught the moonlit shadow his arms made on the wall. It looked like Jesus on the cross. He knelt and, after years of atheism, gave his life to Christ. Just then an attendant came in and turned on the lights, and the diver saw that he had been preparing to dive into an empty pool.
Is it true? I need only to read it critically to answer, “No.” What kind of Olympic diver would dive into a darkened pool? And how could that diver overlook the fact that the moonlight reflection was missing on the water below?
Is there truth in the story? Perhaps, but I fear the real truth that “Jesus saves in miraculous ways” is lost when we use manufactured stories in an attempt to convey that truth.
As a teacher, my constant prayer is that I help my students read critically, so I need to model critical reading.
One way I do this is by discontinuing the haphazard spread of illegitimate e-mails.
When I receive an e-mail that I suspect spreads untruth, I read it critically, having found the website Snopes.com to be a helpful resource. If the real facts differ from those purported, I share this with the person who forwarded the e-mail. If the e-mail turns out to be true and helpful, on occasion, I forward it on to people who would benefit, using with a link to Snopes and a personal note.
I just wanted to challenge us all to be more critical…in the best sense of the word.
Now, I still believe everything I wrote almost a decade ago, but things have gotten more complicated, haven’t they? Social media has amplified the crazy “share” mentality a thousandfold. (Snopes is still an awesome source, and they are busier than ever!)
I teach fifth graders now, and we work hard on reading comprehension strategies including questioning and clarifying. Why, when it comes to social media, do some seemingly-educated people lose their way?
Hmmm…Interesting. Do we need Facebook, Google and others to determine what’s fake and not fake? Are we willing to admit defeat when it comes to critical thinking and let a corporation do it all for us? Or should we not take responsibility for reading news with a grain of salt?
Stephen Colbert shares some of the outrageous stories that were shared on and around election day.
Today, it seems there is another motive for creating crazy fake news–people are getting rich. Do we need to have Google and Facebook stop them?
For those readers who make the stories go viral, those people who share without reading critically, why do they do it? Eight years ago I thought there were two possibilities for originating fake stories: To mislead and falsely present one’s ideological agenda or to cruelly experiment on society. I guess the same is true for those “share”-happy clickers who fail to check the sources.
Critical thinking, critical reading, critical viewing, critical listening, critical voting. America, we need critics more than ever. Now, please.
If we’re not willing to think critically, maybe we deserve what we’re getting.
What do you think? Do we need social media outlets to police fake news? What responsibility do social media readers have?
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.
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.
Dillian and I also signed up for a course entitled, “Creating Engaging Environments for English Language Classrooms,” from the University of Oregon. It’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.
Make students aware of the purpose and benefits of learning cooperatively. And don’t make grades one of the reasons!
Practice cooperation skills with nonacademic games.
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
Establish ground rules for all cooperative learning activities.
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.
Assign roles. Especially as they first learn what to do in their groups.
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.
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.
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:
It was great to hear this webinar with Danielle Capretti. “Hey, Kids! Let’s Put on a Show!” Theater in the English Language Classroom. She’s an expert on using drama and dance in EFL classes in countries around the world.
Moderator Katie took over during some technical difficulty on Danielle’s end and actually started the presentation. After a few minutes we were able to get started again. Danielle went through a lot of resources for young, secondary and adult classrooms. I’ve shared them below.
She covered the topics of
choosing a text or script–student-written, teacher-written, free online, purchased. Others?
casting for the parts–teacher chooses, volunteers, auditions. How else?
preparation–table work (understanding the words and content) and blocking (moving through the play so the audience gets the most out of it.
performance–do you have them memorize or do readers’ theater? Have them do warm-ups like breathing, exercise and tongue twisters. She had a lovely dramatic voice herself, and inspired me to practice enunciating, “The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue.” Finally, you can have them do a last minute speed run through–no blocking. Just the spoken lines, fast. If they can do this they should be ready.
Thanks to Danielle, Moderator Katie and Moderator Amy!
So, I’ll be checking out the resources and finding what drama I can do in my classroom very soon.