Genius Hour at home has been a serendipity for my students and me. In this time of emergency remote learning, it has not been easy. We are in our 12th week of this. We have three weeks to go, and we are all exhausted and lonely, but Genius Hour is a light in the darkness. Here are the Genius Hour posts and resources my students and I have created over the past weeks.
My goal for my students is that they become lifelong, independent learners. Not those who jump through hoops, but those who embrace the LEARNING of school. I have a lot of students like this at my sweet school. Grade 5 is actually such a fun year for passionate learning.
In our recent Genius Hour “unit” in at-home emergency learning, I knew it was going well for my students and for me. I had not heard much from the parents, though, so after we finished I sent out a feedback form. I am happy to report, it was going well for them too. I asked them a few questions:
Was the amount of time just right, too much, or not enough?
When your child ran into a problem, were they able to solve it or figure out a solution?
Did they learn or create something new?
Was it a valuable learning experience?
The answers were overwhelmingly positive. The time was just right. Yes, their children were able to figure out how to solve their problems. They learned something new. And it was valuable from the parents’ perspective.
When I asked the parents if they wanted to say anything else, the answers were also very positive. Here is a word cloud so you can get a taste of their lovely comments.
It seems like their children have been doing that independent learning at home. The learning that I long for them to do. I think we are on the right track.
Now, I’m excitedly keeping the Genius Hour learning going. While I watched their presentations, I kept a list of all the amazing things they were teaching me. Now, I am home replicating some of my favorites because who doesn’t need a unicorn cloud pencil and marker organizer?
Here is my video of my student-inspired projects so far. I hope to help the Genius Hour learning spread! Wouldn’t that be fun? Genius hour all summer with inspiration from their peers. I will be suggesting it for their lesson in our last week together.
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.
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.
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.
It turned out really ugly, but it is comfy and I did it.
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.
I really need to give myself more time for my own genius hour projects.
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.
Sometimes it’s OK to call someone for help when I’ve exhausted my resources.
When I used repurposed and found materials it became so much more meaningful and authentic to make something useful, while also protecting the environment.
I need to practice and fail over and over to really learn the characteristics of creativity like perseverance and risk taking.
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.
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.
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’m excited that I got up early this morning for the #geniushour chat. It used to be at a convenient time when I lived in North America. Now I’m living in the Middle East, and so I have to get up by 5:00 a.m. on a Friday, which is a weekend day here. Not so bad because I became re-inspired and re-ignited in a topic I am passionate about.
That topic is handing the reigns over to my students. Allowing them to learn and make and choose how to show their learning. It’s not always easy to give choices when we are mandated to test and cover so much material. However, when students are entrusted with learning–real learning, not just to pass a test learning–they are empowered and motivated. It makes every moment of school better!
This morning I actually was the moderator for the #geniushour chat because I wanted to ask questions about differentiating genius hour for students with special needs or English language learners. My questions were timely because months ago I signed up to lead a session on genius hour: “Genius Hour: Productive, Creative, and Empowered Students.” That session is tomorrow at the ELT Conference here in Bahrain, “Differentiation That Makes a Difference.”
Here are the questions we asked and answered at this morning’s chat…
Q1 – Do you differentiate during #geniushour? How?
Q2 – What are some of the most common reasons you need to differentiate #geniushour?
Q3 – How do you help your ELL students? Do you need to differentiate for them?
Q4 – How do you adapt #geniushour for students with IEPs? Any tips to share?
Q5 – Why do you think #geniushour is great for all learners?
Q6 – Any general #geniushour successes that you want to share? Tips and links to share?
I was excited to hear the answers from such a variety of teachers. Many shared that the nature of genius hour is already differentiated. Pure differentiation. Others had suggestions for how they differentiate. Here are a selection of the tweets they shared:
After this morning, I tend to agree with the pure differentiation crowd. Students decide what they will learn and how. The term differentiation is usually paired with instruction, but really it’s always about learning.
Students will learn in the right conditions. According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, we can help create the right conditions when we take into account the student characteristics of readiness, interest, and learning profile, which includes these four facets of learning profile: gender, culture, learning style, and intelligence preference.¹ Teachers can differentiate the curriculum when they make adjustments on content, process and products.²
In genius hour we hand over power to the students. They choose what they are ready for. They choose what they are interested in. They choose based on their learning profile. They choose the content they want to learn. They choose the process to use to get to that end. They choose the product to show their learning. Throughout, the teacher is available for scaffolding, guiding, helping, leading as needed. Primarily, it’s about the learning, not the knowledge the teacher is imparting.
In my current work as an English teacher in a foreign country, though, I am learning that genius hour looks a little different here. (Or is it the fact that I moved from junior high to kindergarten.) According to most of my friends this morning at the Twitter chat, it seems that the very nature of genius hour is differentiation at its best.
Do you agree? Is it already differentiated or are their special things you do for ELL students? What if they are all ELL students, like mine?
¹”Faculty Conversation: Carol Tomlinson on Differentiation.” University of Virginia. Curry School of Education, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Mar. 2015. <http://curry.virginia.edu/articles/carole-tomlinson-on-differentiation>.
²Allan, Susan D. “Chapter 1. Understanding Differentiated Instruction: Building a Foundation for Leadership.” Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms. By Carol A. Tomlinson. ASCD, 2000. web. 06 Mar. 2015. <http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/100216/chapters/Understanding-Differentiated-Instruction@-Building-a-Foundation-for-Leadership.aspx>
After teaching grades 7 and 8 for seven years, it was a challenge for me to go down to Kindergarten. The first few months, the way was treacherous. Now looking back, after eight months or so, I can say overall it has been a delight, and I know it was a gift I didn’t even know I needed.
But how can I do genius hour with them? I wondered. I loved the engaged ownership in junior highers when they were given a chance to learn what they wanted in what we call genius hour.
As Faige Meller has suggested, genius hour in kindergarten may look like a maker space. In this tweet, she says making is what kindergarteners do and, in fact, makers are who they are. (Be sure to read Krissy’s original post too.)
I believed in making, but I didn’t know much about Kindergarten. I had learned to trust Faige, though, so when I saw her tweet last March, I began to run with her ideas in Kindergarten. I began collecting supplies and asking families to do so, as well. We have quite a collection, and we go through a lot of materials.
So, we are definitely still making our way (pun intended), but we’ve had some huge successes. After we made a small couch for our reading center as a group project, one boy took on the task of making a very small chair with the ten juice bottles we had recently accumulated. He needed lots of help, but that’s where I came in handy, helping to wrestle the juice bottles and operate the hot glue gun and packaging tape. He was the maker. I was the sous maker taking my orders from him.
Genius hour in Kindergarten. It’s happening. We are calling it that, we are making and learning, but I am always open to suggestions you might have for helping us do it better!
Please leave a link in the comments to your primary genius hour projects and process. Or share on Twitter with the hashtag #PrimaryGH.