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

5 Lessons Learned from BYOD with Littles

3 years ago my principal, Dr. Sandy Chambers challenged our staff to participate in a district pilot program in which students would bring devices to school from home (Bring Your Own Device – BYOD). This included a lot of push back, a lot of challenges, and a lot of awesomeness! I’m not gonna lie – I didn’t think it would work in kindergarten! They couldn’t keep track of their jacket! How would they keep track of a device!? It took a few years but I think I have learned some lessons that might help others get going on BYOD with littles!

Lesson #1

Set Expectations 

My school has a contract for each family participating in BYOD. If students don’t follow the guidelines they can lose the privilege of BYOD.  You will need to teach, model, and repeat these expectations with both parents and students frequently. Expectations include:

  • Use the device for learning.
  • Carry it with 2 hands.
  • Only the owner can use it.
  • Devices come to school charged.
  • How often the kid should bring their device.
  • Apps or settings kids need.
  • Digital Citizenship

Lesson #2

Procedures, Procedures, Procedures!

Procedures are what keeps your classroom running smoothly. Teachers have procedures for everything from going to the bathroom to solving student disagreements. BYOD needs its own set of specific procedures. You will need to teach, model, and repeat these procedures frequently. My procedures include:

  • Sign in devices daily so you know what is in your classroom. The sign in let’s me know what I have available each day.
  • Our devices are to stay in student bookbags until we need them.
  • I have a call out to check what students are doing. When I say, “device check!” Students immediately hold their device above their head facing in my direction. If they take a long time or you can see them tapping their devices they are most likely off task.
  • When instructing or giving directions I ask kids to put their devices in “listening mode.” This means they are upside down on their lap.
  • Kindness matters! When responding to other’s work digitally, be kind.

Lesson #3

Allow for students to become experts!

Pick a few apps you want students to have on their BYOD and use them frequently! Let the kids become experts. These apps should become second nature and a “go to” for responses and reflection. Try to pick open ended apps that can be used for creation. Here’s a list of my favorites:

  • Seesaw
  • Chatterpix,
  • Do ink green screen,
  • Felt board

I use and teach other apps too but these are the ones we use the most. I also use raz-kids/kids a-z daily, but it isn’t a creation app.

I also like to keep a running list of things I want to try. Here is my list of creative apps I want to try:

  • aurasma
  • book creator
  • sock puppet
  • coma coma

Lesson #4


Devices can add to your lessons in meaningful ways. A true blended classroom integrates technology seamlessly. Think creation and not just playing on apps. Use apps that are open ended and allow students to create: draw, photo, video, and write. Playing games and doing rote practice is not a sustainable way to integrate technology. Creation can be used for students to share their learning, respond to questions, or reflect on their learning. Allow students choice in how they share, respond, and reflect. Remember those favorite apps… They are all choices! Students choose them for different reasons depending on what they are trying to communicate.

Lesson #5


You will find things that work and things that don’t. Be flexible and take a chance. You’ll be surprised what littles can do with devices, they are digital natives after all! Modeling and involving them in the problem solving process is key to success in BYOD for littles.

Please reach out to me if you have any questions about BYOD and littles!

New year. New post.

It’s early January. Everyone has made their resolutions and is ready for a better 2017 than 2016. Kids are back to school and the Twitterverse is full of excited teachers and students trying innovative ideas. Being at a year round school and on track 4 I’m still on break until the end of January. While I enjoy my time off, I feel a little jealous that I’m missing all the excitement and eagerness to begin a fresh new year. 

My #oneword2017 is motivation. I started this blog a month ago and am very proud that I have kept the momentum thought the holidays. I plan to continue to motivate myself to reflect in this platform and in order to do that I need motivation. My motivation is always my students. I do whatever it takes to make school better for them and inspire learning. However this blog feels different, a little more selfish. Reflecting here helps me become better in my craft, better at what I do. Granted, I do it for them…. I still feel this is for me. 

I’ve been working my way through the NC Teacher Evaluation Standards and today I’ll be exploring…..

Standard 4 

Teachers facilitate learning for their students. – know the ways learning takes place and appropriate levels of intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development. Plan appropriate instruction. Use a variety of instructional methods. Integrate and use technology  in instruction. Help students develop critical thinking and problem solving. Help students work in teams and develop leadership qualities. Communicate effectively. Use a variety of methods to assess what students have learned. 

I know my students and I work hard to have relationships with each student. It’s important to me to take their individual interests into consideration when planning for their learning. I’m a big proponent for developmentally appropriate practices and doing right by kids. Knowing their developmental levels is important to consider while planning for learning. While considering developmental appropriateness, one must always think of the whole child. As an early childhood educator, I plan lessons around the whole child and take into consideration what 5-6 year olds need physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually. I change the order from how the substandard is written because I think the intellectual part of a child is the obvious place to begin when planning instruction. You may have noticed that I have been using the term “planning for learning” in this post. This is a conscious decision- an important one. I plan for student learning not instruction. Planning for student learning takes the whole child into consideration and naturally differentiates for individual student needs and interests. Planning for instruction is for the teacher and what the teacher will do. Learning is about the student. And, let’s be honest, who is education for anyway? STUDENTS!! So, I plan for my students, what they need, and what they’re interested in. For example, as stated in my last post, we’re exploring geometry in math. Here’s how I plan for each of those areas: 

physically – we get up and move around a lot in my class. To some, my room probably looks chaotic.  When introducing 2D shapes, I had my students walk in the shape. 

Socially – we talk a lot in my class. It’s quite noisy on a regular basis. Yes, it’s a struggle to keep kids on topic. But, I’ve learned that the more opportunities they have to talk, the more they do what they are supposed to. When introducing shapes, I show an example and tell the name. Then, they turn and talk about what they notice. This also gives me good information as a preassessment.

Emotionally – this can be tricky to include in regular lessons. Kindergarteners have a lot of feelings and emotions and they don’t always understand them. #allthefeels For me it’s important to acknowledge these feelings and  help them label and communicate those feelings. During the above mentioned turn and talk, I noticed a friend sulking. This little friend was sad because they don’t know shapes. I sat beside her after introducing the next shape and pointed out things she can notice about the shape’s sides and vertices. She gained come confidence and was able to talk to a buddy about the next shape.

Intellectually- um… All of the above? Everything I do is rooted in my standards and what my students need to know to be successful. This one is big though. It’s important that I figure out what my students already know and differentiate from there. My friend from my story above, she needed some scaffolding so she knew what she needed to notice. Other friends new these things but needed new math terminology- vertices instead of corners, rhombus instead of diamond. Different kids need different things from me and I plan for each of them to learn.

Yikes! All of that and I only really talked about part of that standard. There’s so much involved in it. And I’ll get to e rest. You can see an example of my integration of technology in my last blog post: My knowledge of content knowledge

Here’s a tweet my principal shared of a lesson I did for an observation. Students built a scene from a favorite book with Legos and asked and answered questions about their brick build. 

How do you plan for learning?