Learning through Genius Hour

Full Disclosure:

I tried Genius Hour in an effort to prove it couldn’t be done in kindergarten. That was 2 and a half years ago. I was wrong.

How I got into Genius Hour

I first heard about Genius Hour from my former principal, Dr. Sandy Chambers. She encouraged teachers to be innovative and to try Genius Hour in their classrooms. No strings attached. No expectations. No pressure. No risk. No reward. I did very little research on Genius Hour prior to my first attempt. All I knew is what Sandy told us – students choose their topics, they spend time researching their topic, they create something to share what they learned. So, I went with it so I could prove that it couldn’t be done in kindergarten.

My First Genius Hour

My first Genius Hour was chaotic. It was loud. It was confusing. The kids froze. I froze. But we didn’t stop. It was such a mess that I really don’t remember details. I just remember how excited they were each week and how proud they were of their final project. I couldn’t even tell you what their topics of choice were and I can guarantee that multiple kids changed topics every week. The process was there. The kids picked a topic. I taught them how to use Wonderopolis and Brain Pop Jr. to research. I got books from the library on their topics. The students spent some time with each resource and then they had the option to share their learning through a video on Seesaw or making a poster to share. Then they shared with the class. Start to finish the whole thing took about 3 weeks and we spent a few days each week working. Some days we worked for a half hour and somedays we worked for nearly 2 hours. As messy as it was, it was fun. I felt energized. But, I knew there had to be a better way. I also knew I was wrong. Genius Hour CAN be done in kindergarten.

Genius Hour Pase 2

The following year, we did 2 rounds of Genius Hour. One during the third quarter and one during the fourth quarter of the school year. I was more intentional about planning some mini-lessons prior to Genius Hour sessions. We had Genius Hour about once every 6 days because of our rotating schedule. I launched each round of Genius Hour with a mini-lesson about asking and writing questions. We identified the difference between right there questions and questions that lead to learning. Then students wrote a question on a sticky note and posted it on our wonder wall. The next session, we revisited those questions and students selected their topics and got into groups based on their topic. For the next few sessions, students used library books, Wonderopolis, Brain Pop Jr., Pebble Go, and Youtube Kids to complete their research. Then they made a video or poster to share their learning.

I was not intentional about taking notes as I worked with students. I did not teach them how to document their learning through research. And, I did not give them many choices for sharing. I did do more research on Genius Hour. I read blog posts, I participated in Twitter Chats, and I attended EdCamps. I spent time connecting with other teachers who used Genius Hour in their classroom. I also knew I had a lot of room for growth and could make this even better for my students.

First Grade Genius Hour

This is my third year exploring Genius Hour. I’m not an expert and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Each round of Genius Hour, I pick 1 think I want to improve on for myself as a facilitator and I focus my own research and work with students on that. The first round of Genius Hour this year, I was intentional about my mini-lessons and the order in which I taught tools, documenting, and sharing. The second round of Genius Hour, I focused on my own note-taking. I wrote anecdotal notes as I worked with students and groups. I looked for evidence of growth, standards they were hitting, and misunderstandings I could address. I’m in my third round of Genius Hour right now and I’m working on clearly connecting my students’ work and research to the curriculum and telling them how this big work is important to the work they must do at school. My next round of Genius Hour this year, I plan to focus on better ways for my students to share their work with the world and not just our classmates.

Why I’ll Always Set Aside Time for Student Interest Inquiries

I’m pretty sure the joy on their faces is all I need to remind me why I need to always have interest based inquiry in my classroom. These girls researched different slime recipes and created their own. It didn’t work, but one of them took it home and figured out how to fix it so it wasn’t so sticky. She’s my chemist.

I will always have interest based inquiry because it helps me build relationships with my students. I get to know them for more than their academic data. We have fun working together. I learn new things as I guide them through their own work. I get to model lifelong learning and curiosity for them and we get to practice learning and curiosity together.

And to throw some teacher jargon in the mix, I’ll always have interest based inquiry because:

  • 4Cs
  • 21st-century learning
  • blended learning
  • life skills
  • problem-solving
  • digital citizenship
  • student voice and choice
  • passion

The 5 W’s of Breakout Edu with Littles

I see it as my mission to take all the innovative pracitces popular in education and make them accessible to littles. Breakout Edu was a tough one for me. I played around with it in my head for a long time before actually trying it. I’ve still only done it a handful of times and I love it. I’m interested in creating my own breakout puzzles.

Why I like breakout boxes…

Breakout boxes provide students with the opportunity to practice problem solving strategies. They encourage students to persevere and show some grit. They allow students to collaborate toward a common goal. Breakout boxes can hit so many standards and hit every one of the 4Cs all at once! And, they are SO FUN!

What I’ve tried…

I’ve chosen breakout boxes that focus on solving different types of story problems (OA.1.1, OA.1.3, OA.1.5) and ones that focus on answering questions about a story (RL.1.1). I found these breakout boxes on BreakoutEdu.com. I printed all the materials and followed the instructions to assemble my box and set up the puzzles around the room.

I introduced the problem and their goal to unlock the box. The math breakout we did had a football story (it was the beginning of the season and I have students super into sports). We had to unlock the footballs for the team. In the literacy box, the mouse locked up our markers and we needed to break them free or lose them forever! I broke my class into groups (one for each puzzle), set the timer, and set them free. We rotated around to all the puzzles until everyone had a chance to solve them all.

Who are the Breakout boxes for and how I made them more accessible for littles…

I planned my first breakout box for my whole class to do at the same time. I split them into small groups so they had to work on 1 puzzle at a time and I rotated them around as they seemed to reach a solution. The second time, we partnered with a second grade class and they had free range to solve the puzzles around the room with their second grade buddy or a group of their choosing. Both of these methods worked well with my students however, they made a lot of mistakes when I turned on the timer. My advice for making breakout boxes more accessible for littles…

DON’T SET THE TIMER!

Woah! My kids got so obsessed about how much time was left they made silly mistakes on problems I KNEW they could solve otherwise. As soon as I turned off the timer and they felt safe to take their time and solve the puzzles, they were much more successful and were able to breakout. I tried twice thinking the first time it was just the newness. But, they had the same reaction to the timer both times. I will no longer use the timer with my littles.

When I do a breakout box…

I tried a breakout box with my class as a culminating event for our math unit right before an assessment and they did well. However, it took nearly 3 hours to do. I pretty much lost the rest of my day.

About once a month my district has early release days where the students go home early but the teachers stay normal hours for professional development. I’ve found that these early release days are the best for breakout boxes because they fill up our day, they’re fun, students are engaged in rigorous work focused on multiple standards.

The next one I did was on one of these early release days and in the middle of our study on making predictions. The breakout box went with If You Take A Mouse To School. Students were familiar with this book since we had already read it and made predictions throughout. When we returned from specials, the room was a mess and the mouse left us a message about our missing markers. This worked great and really piqued their imaginations. No one predicted the mouse would come to OUR school!

Where I’m going…

My next plan is to try to start creating my own breakout boxes for my students. This way I can decide on specific curriculum points to hit and include my students’ interests.