When I read Mary Ann’s blog post a couple days ago, I was reminded of my sweet kindergarten students. I had spent 1.5 years with them, singing and dancing daily. Lately, though, I have not been dancing. Maybe it’s because I haven’t figured out how to dance with grade 5 students.
Yesterday, when my kindergarten teacher colleague posted this song on her Facebook feed, telling how her students had gone crazy with it, I couldn’t help but try it out. I didn’t just listen to it, though. I did what Mary Ann suggested at the end of her post:
So are you ready to dance a little? Dance like you were 5? I won’t tell:)
Give it a try! It does have a great beat. I wonder if my fifth graders will like it!
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.”
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.
Ouch…I just re-read Ewan McIntosh’s post, “20% Time and Schools: Not the Best of Bedfellows.” I must say, as much as I respect his work, I disagree with most of this post. Especially this bolded line, jumping out at us in his first paragraph: But in schools, [20% Time] often seems to fall short of our expectations of creative genius.
When I started genius hour with my students in 2011, I did not have expectations of their creative genius. I had expectations that they would learn to learn and become more creative. That’s all! To go in with set expectations of what creative genius looks like in our students is dangerous to the advancement of creativity and innovation. Every one of us who dares to become a teacher better acknowledge the fact that we will have students smarter and more creative than ourselves. (At any age!)
Giving students time for genius hour is tantamount to creating a climate of creativity. It’s not about EXPECTING students to create works of genius, that I would then set against my standard of what hits the mark of genius. My goal is always that they will grow in creativity. Big difference! Ewan said, “…there are moments of genius…but they are by a small proportion of students, with the vast majority of ideas failing to hit the mark.”
Of course only a small percentage of students are going to produce amazing “genius” inventions in elementary or high school. Only a precious few 4-year-olds are going to spend hours begging the world, “Don’t kill animals,” like Hayley did as described in The Passion-Driven Classroom. Our students are not ALL going to be the next Albert Einsteins or Marie Curies or Steve Jobses or Grace Murray Hoppers. However, they can all grow more ingenious, inquisitive, original, flexible, adaptable, persistent, willing to take risks and live with ambiguity. If given enough time, they can become an expert in something they love, which leads to even more creativity, and possibly to genius inventions and problem-solving further down the road.
My goal in promoting genius hour is hopefully to help stop the insanity of coloring in the lines and getting candy for doing worksheets and lining up in straight rows and doing only what the teacher says. Remember, that’s dangerous, for many of our students will eventually out-think, out-learn, and out-perform their teachers. We have to encourage that to happen, not stifle it!
This fall I had the opportunity to talk to four new kindergarten students, all with different teachers. My standard question for them was, “Do you learn how to color in the lines in kindergarten?
“Oh, yes,” one said. “Some kids try to color too fast and just scribble to get done so they can do what the teacher said you could do after we finish coloring, like read a book, use the white boards, and stuff like that.” I heard something similar from all of these kindergarten friends.
Yes, kindergarten classrooms are full of amazing supplies and “stuff like that.” How about if we let them use these things, even before they color in the lines with colors that make sense? What would happen if we let them make some learning decisions about coloring or reading or writing on white boards or using Legos or making art or inventions or what have you? I know all the schools aren’t Montessori, but can’t we just let them have some time to have fun learning to learn what they want?
When I first started teaching, I thought second grade was about the age students began to lose some of the joy of school. It got too hard or too demanding or they fell behind in reading. Now it seems to be happening with more kindergarteners. All of a sudden, after two years of lining up to teacher expectations in preschool, they are already finished with the joy and now don’t like school in kindergarten! (Speaking of kindergarten, watch this great video about Lifelong Kindergarten.)
We need genius hour, not because Google or 3M does it. It’s not about taking products to market, as it is for these companies. Ewan suggests that 99% of the products that come from the business world’s 20% time are mediocre, but I disagree that you can transfer that statistic to schools. Student 20% time projects that “miss the mark” or fail to meet “OUR expectations of creative genius” are not chaff, but rather the good seeds of creation.
We are making citizens who can contribute and make a difference in the world. Genius hour gives students and teachers the gift of time to learn to be creative and remember their earlier love for learning.
Give students a class period, an hour, or 20% of their time to learn like this and watch the learning in the other 80%-95% of your week grow and blossom.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.