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

#FailForward with paper airplanes

Today was a hectic day. Track 2 tracked out and needed a home base for the day so the track 3 teacher could move into her room. So the track 2 teacher and I decided to #innovate4littles! We planned a paper airplane STEM challenge. It was hard. It was fun. It was dramatic. It was challenging. It was busy. It was engaging. It was amazing. It was innovative!

First, we watched this video. (Don’t judge the weird voices. It was the best we could find on short notice.)

And then we challenged them! We asked them to make a paper airplane that could fly far and not catch on fire. 😜 We showed them a paper airplane book (which a friend called out to identify as a how-to book! 🤗#elaKW2 #innovate4littles)

Then we gave them the rules:

  1. make an airplane
  2. write your name on the airplane
  3. the only material you can use for your airplane is paper (no tape, no glue, no scissors, no paperclips.)

We told them they could use youtube kids to search for how to videos, use the how-to books we had or teach each other if they already knew how to make paper airplanes. The kids immediately broke into their own working groups to build some airplanes. We walked around and called out what we saw for some of the lone roamers to find a group. “Chloe is teaching this group how to fold a paper airplane.” “Ian found a video on youtube kids.” “This group is following the how-to book.”


The room was buzzing with students folding paper. I won’t lie, there were tears. A LOT of tears. Teachers sat down with the stressed out kinders to slow down the steps, model, provide extra hands to stabilize paper being folded, and pause videos at the right moment. Coaching, scaffolding, good teaching.


Then they were ready to test their creations. We went outside to fly them. (We didn’t measure distance this time. That will come soon though!) Kinders teamed up to see who could fly theirs farther than the other. They made sure to start at the same standing spot to be fair. They struggled again because the wind blew the airplanes in crazy directions. (#scieKE1 #ssKG21)

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Finally, we brought them together to debrief. We discussed how it was hard for everyone. Almost every kinder had to use more than one sheet of paper to make a successful airplane. One kinder even used 13 sheets of paper before getting a flying airplane! We talked about how you can learn from something not working. How you change to make it work. How struggle makes your brain grow. How even though it was hard everyone who kept trying made it work. How paper airplanes are like reading, writing, and math. Because mistakes are good, not getting it the first time is good, struggle is good. Then we watched a video on Class Dojo about Growth Mindset. And discussed how it connected to the paper airplanes and learning.

Sometimes you need to take a break from your pacing guide and teach life lessons.

Please share a time when you switched gears and tried something like this with your class.

 

#PBLclouds – the reflection

STOP! This is a reflection post! If you haven’t read the story about what happened during #PBLclouds. Click here to read it now!


My favorite thing about doing a PBL with my weather unit is that my students took ownership over their learning and I only needed to provide them with the time and space to discover. Since this was my first PBL, there are definitely some things that went well and things that totally tanked!


BIE was a great starting point for me. It provided a great outline for my PBL. From there I tweaked some things because their unit was for a first grade class and I’m working with kinders. What I found the most interesting about planning with the BIE resource was a lot of the things I had done in this unit before were in the PBL plan! They were just done a little differently.

I’ve always read Little Cloud by Eric Carle and done a painting activity. The difference was I did it at the end as a culminating art connection. This time I did it as an introduction and launch! The other difference is that before I did the painting ink blot style. Where you dab some paint in the middle of the page and then fold it in half and open it to see what it looks like. This time I let my kinders paint the cloud in the shape they wanted. This changed the perspective. Instead of looking at something that was nothing, my kinders were able to intentionally paint a cloud in the shape they wanted it allowing them to connect to past experiences of seeing clouds.

I’ve also always done the cotton ball clouds activity with my kinders. The difference again is that I used to do it at the end of the unit as a calumniating activity. This time we did it in the middle. I used to have to direct the class in how to manipulate the cotton balls to make them in the shapes of different clouds, this time they worked collaboratively and helped each other problem solve to model different types of clouds. My kinders took what they learned from watching cloud videos and we’re able to stretch and pull the cotton balls apart to make the cloud models. They made models of 6 different types of clouds where in the past I was pulling my hair out to get 4 types!


Both of the above activities were improved through the PBL approach. Allowing children to be intentional and connect their learning to their experiences allows them to see the connection. It was hard, but letting go of the reigns for the cotton ball cloud models and allowing my kinders to problem solve and communicate made it a huge success.

My favorite task I designed for this PBL is the YouTubeKids mission. My kinders have been trying to watch videos on YouTube all year. They know they aren’t supposed to because the content can be inappropriate for school but they do it anyway. They got on in the computer lab, they got on in the classroom on computers and iPads. Rather than fight with them about using it for entertainment, I decided to teach them how to use it for research and and a source of information. Because of content, I decided to use YouTubeKids with them. It blocks much of the inappropriate content. Molly Harnden came to help as extra adult hands with my 6 groups. We talked about what would make a good teaching video and what would be just for fun. We talked about what words to use for a good search. And then they were off. The room was a buzz and it was AHHH_MAAAAZIIIING!!! This went so well that I no longer ban the use of YouTubeKids with my kinders. They know how to use it to find information and are not just watching mindcraft videos!


I was thrilled to get this feedback from a parent after all the hard work we put into learning about the types of clouds and the weather associated with them:

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Isn’t that kind of connection to real life and retention of information what all teachers dream about?

 

At the start of the PBL we took a pre-assessment so my kinders could rank their current knowledge of clouds and weather.

The plan was to do it again at the end and let them compare the 2. We’ll we got into this and busy with that. Before I knew it, it was time to track out! I never did a post assessment! Next PBL I’ll be more careful about wrapping up BEFORE track out! This kind of reflection would have been amazing to observe as my kinders realized how much they learned through discovery.

 

I was really proud of my kinders’ use of the Do Ink Green Screen app to create their weather report videos. But it could have been SOOOO much better! We outlined what meteorologists say, show, and do in their reporting. They discussed with their group what they wanted to say. I SHOULD HAVE had them write down their lines and practiced. We SHOULD HAVE done a few takes of the video and viewed and provided feedback with the whole group prior to publishing. I know I SHOULD HAVE done these things because I got everything from this

​to this:

​Another lesson learned: TV meteorologists are SUPER busy! I didn’t have any luck getting a local news meteorologist to come as an expert visitor. I’m SUPER grateful for a parent contact with the self-employed meteorologist that did come as our expert visitor. I learned something from him! Did you know that meteorologists are important for golf tournaments? Me neither! I also didn’t realize they had specialties like his – predicting lightening. Pretty cool!

Questions or comments about our PBL? comment below!