Such a Simple Question: What Action Will I Take?

Image tweeted by Angela Maiers

Last night during our Genius Hour Twitter chat and book study of Angela Maiers and Amy Sanvold‘s The Passion-Driven Classroom, I was inspired by passionate educators who inspire passion in their students. I wondered how to help young teens harness their energetic spirit and begin to use it to make the world a better place.

How do I inspire them to act? Could they ever be ready for Angela’s Quest2Matter?

Well, little did I know that I would come to school today, and they would be thinking the same thing I was. How did that happen?

I do have an idea about what inspired them, and it’s very simple. And unrelated to my pep talks.

In science, they were working on a researcher’s workshop project on something related to genetics, DNA or heredity. After watching a recent video interview with Paul Solarz, I had decided to try the KWHLAQ he had learned about from Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano on her Langwitches.com site. (Awesome resources coming from these great connections!)

Well, when they got to the “A” column – “What action will I take?” – they took the chart seriously. That’s when they started brainstorming. Five of them had chosen to study some aspect of Down syndrome, and they were working on the same Google Document. I started hearing things like, “Let’s go on a Buddy Walk.” “Let’s have a car wash and raise money for GiGi’s Playhouse.” “Let’s play games with the residents at Hope Haven.”

They didn’t stop with Down syndrome. They continued their conversation the next period in study hall and came up with this list. (They said we can do some of the list next year. 🙂 Thank goodness! Since school is out for summer in three weeks!)

Screenshot of their Google Doc with their “ACTION” ideas.

When I met up with them again, they had shared the above Google Doc with me, talked to our principal, emailed a principal at a sister school to see if their 7th graders could join in, emailed the manager at a grocery store to see if we can have a car wash, contacted GiGi’s Playhouse, and…who knows what else!

I loved the conversation I heard: “Can we keep working on this sixth period?” “How about tomorrow? We can work on it in Genius Hour, right?”

Here, I would have thought I was trying to inspire this kind of action all year. If I would have known, I would have tried the upgraded KWL chart months ago!

I love my genius students! And my genius PLN! And, yes, I think they will be ready!

Must the Students?

From original definition in Online Etymology Dictionary

I had a ton of fun helping out with genius hour. The students seemed to be enthusiastic as well, which is crucial for making genius hour effective. One thing I was wondering was whether or not the students had specific learning goals for their projects because I think that is important. The students must be able to explain why their project is worth learning.

~First time Genius Hour observing teacher

I am a firm believer in starting with the why. However, I’m not sure I agree with the above sentiment, and I would like your opinion.

Yes, indeed. They can make a fine tractor out of balsa wood.

Before genius hour, I ask my students to ask an essential question, but I don’t judge its worthiness, whether it’s essential enough. For instance, “Can I build a tractor out of balsa wood?”

In their presentations, I don’t ask them to explain why their project is worth learning.

However, I do ask students to reflect on their learning after genius hour in blog posts. (Some students are still working on theirs.)

In my own learning, I’m not sure I can always articulate my purpose (or the worthiness of my projects) when I learn to use Google Mapmaker, Garage Band and Voicethread.

I just learn because I want to. And now I sincerely want to learn from you.

Maybe asking more of my students in setting their goals would help them be more creative and productive during genius hour. Or will I stifle their self-direction? What do you think?

Do students need specific learning goals in genius hour?

Must students be able to explain why their project is worth learning?

Creativity and Learning

I am so excited about creativity and learning. I can’t read enough or learn enough about how students learn and what creativity has to do with it. (Speaking of reading and learning about creativity and learning: I’m just finishing up The Element by Sir Ken Robinson for #geniushour chat on Wednesday, January 2, at 8:00 p.m.)

Tonight my husband and I had three little girls come over for some fun, food, and fellowship while their parents went out to eat and to a movie. They brought a bunch of new toys and fun things to do, and we did almost all of what they brought. There was one thing we didn’t do, though. Here are some things the four-year-old said, which will show why…

“I brought all these coloring books, but I don’t want to use them.”
“Do you have any plain white paper?”
“Can we hang them up?”
“Doesn’t our art museum look nice?

I was tickled that she was so creative and had so much fun. Her two sisters (ages 1 and 2) and my husband and I were creating up a storm too. I was impressed that Keith just kept going in and getting more paper whenever they ran out.

One of the things I did on my paper was to make dots and connect them, and Miss A asked me what I was doing. I told her about the video I watched yesterday where Vi Hart connected dots and made really beautiful mathematical creations. She was curious. I made a graph for her to connect some dots.


We had so much fun! Creativity and learning. It was happening here tonight. And I’m glad the coloring books stayed in the bag.

Take One Step at A Time

Last year at about this time, a few of my students and I wanted to learn how to make a robot. I had heard Gary Stager suggest robot building was one thing you could do with a laptop.

I had absolutely no experience or knowledge about making a robot, but I did learn enough to know that Lego Mindstorms NXT Software was a good place to start. Then I realized that besides lacking experience and knowledge, I also had no resources.

So, we temporarily gave up our dream of building a robot, and instead we learned to program on Scratch, which we thought was a step toward robotics.

Now, here we are just one year later. Things have changed, thanks to the State of Iowa’s Scale Up STEM grants. We received a grant to be part of the FIRST LEGO League and to receive a LEGO Mindstorms robot. Yesterday we took our robot, Roger, and competed in a regional FLL competition.

During the Robot Design challenge, Roger drove from base and onto the bridge without wavering. It was the most rewarding moment of competition!

On Saturday during breaks in the competition, we dreamed of how to extend our learning. We want to spend a portion of our remaining grant to get another robot, so the team can get better, but also so more people can learn to program robots. We talked about trying to do programming during part of our exploratory class and then have our own competition among teams.

These discussions were happening at the end of our competition. This was on a Saturday. They got up before dawn and drove 1.5 hours to be there all day long. These kids are passionate, lifelong LEARNERS!

I can’t help but think of what wonderful things are in store for us next year!

What steps are you and your students taking on the road to lifelong passionate learning?

It’s 12/12/12!

It’s 12/12/12, and I have at least 12 x 12 x 12 reasons I love my junior highers. Since listing all 1,728 reasons could be time and space prohibitive, I’ll just list 12 reasons I love my students.

  1. They have spirit. They do things with enthusiasm. When we have dress up days for special occasions, I can’t wait to see what they will wear next. When asked to sell coffee and chocolate this fall for a school fundraiser, they hit a home run, smashing through the $11,000 goal that was set.
  2. They are game for new experiences. First Lego League, KidWind, geocaching…it doesn’t matter. When I introduce something new, students rise to the occasion. Someone grabs the reigns and inspires the more reluctant to join in the pandemonium.
  3. They know how to laugh. Of course, all kids laugh! I must say, though, one of the wonderful things about my students is, for the most part, they know how to laugh. They know how to laugh with people, not so much at people.
  4. They are passionate learners. They are becoming lifelong learners and taking ownership of their learning. My students always have their next idea for genius hour on deck.
  5. They take a challenge with grace and persistence. For instance, in August I told my students I wanted them to take the 40-book challenge, reading more than they’ve ever read before. Many are on track to read 40 or many more books. When I ask them how they are doing on that challenge, almost all say yes, they are reading more than they ever have before.
  6. They contribute, making the world a better place. I could go on and on about this, but two things. In the fall, they raised $1780 for American Cancer Society. Along with the high school students, this month they brought in a pile of presents, wrapped and ready to give to two needy area families.
  7. They don’t mind my messes.They joke with me. They ask why Roz isn’t doing her job reminding me to “file the paperwork.” But, all in all, they are patient with my messes.
  8. They know how to be underdogs. Our school is small. They love sports and the students play with passion and enthusiasm, always rejoicing in a win, but not getting downtrodden with the losses.
  9. They love God. I love being in a Catholic school where we can worship and pray together.
  10. They love others. Because God said loving people is a priority, my students take that seriously. They love each other like brothers and sisters. They love their church, community, and the world…
  11. Including me. I am so blessed to be able to call myself their teacher. They make me happy to come to school because I know they love me.
  12. They are geniuses. They create, produce, question, and make a difference.

I can’t imagine doing anything else with my days! 

Here are the students’ 12/12/12 posts.

Global Cardboard Challenge

Seventh graders created cardboard creations in science. My favorites were the crane and the catapult, but everyone had fun and learned a thing or two.

Watch Caine’s Arcade, the sequel, which tells about the Imagination Foundation, created to Find, Fund, and Foster creativity and entrepreneurship. Tomorrow is the first annual Global Cardboard Challenge.

Caine’s Arcade, Video 1

Paris, Future Music Therapist

I met Paris in August 2006. She was in seventh grade. I was new to the school, and she and her classmates helped me make it through my first year in junior high.

Paris is now on her way to college to study music therapy. She has many talents, one of the best being her ability to make people feel welcome, special and loved. She will be an incredible therapist some day!

She has applied for a music scholarship by singing the national anthem “by the dawn’s early light.” As Joy Kirr pointed out to me, you can even hear the crickets chirping.

Will you help Paris win the scholarship by voting for her?

You can vote once a day with each email address you have until August 24. Thanks so much for helping making a special young woman’s dream come true!

Just click on the link (or watch the video here if it’s available.)
http://www.fmccrop.com/grower/Anthem-Singing-Contest.aspx?vkey=VGnC2fQT