Saturday, May 5, 2018

Working on Our Projects

Some of our Genius Hour project work in class this week. Kids are hard at work making, innovating, creating, researching and designing.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Kicking off Genius Hour Projects Again!

It's always a fun time to kick off a new round of Genius Hour projects with kids. It's a time when we get to see kids really think about what they want to do, what talents they want to develop, what ideas they want to test out, and where their curiosities lie. As I talk to the kids about the possibilities, many kids think they already know what their project will be. Those kids, after talking for a bit, normally evolve the idea into a workable project or move on to what they really want to do. Some kids have no idea, but their brains are churning through many ideas searching for the one they really want to pursue. I love watching kids think, wonder, imagine, and think some more. 

Already kids have come to me with their project ideas. They will test them out over the next few days to see if those ideas have legs. If they do, then we will set those projects and they can pursue them with gusto. Others are sitting back, turning things over in their heads, making sure that they have the perfect idea. In class yesterday, there were squeals of delight as kids came up with a great project idea. Many kids want to develop their talents in art and music while others want to design and build. Still others have an invention or a hack in mind. 

I am eager to see how these projects take shape. Next week we will have our first indication of how things will go. There is no lack of energy. These kids are stoked! I love how Genius Hour brings out the thrill of learning for so many kids. It is unlike any schooling that they are used to. Genius Hour is more of a celebration of learning than anything else and I cannot wait for kids to get the full experience of it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Genius Hour Reflections

Every year after final presentations, I have the kids write reflections about their learning and their projects. I think that reflection is a key part of learning and I want the kiddos to experience that learning as much as possible. Kids were to reflect on their project experience and also on themselves as learners. When I read the responses, I am always struck by how insightful and honest the kids are about their projects and themselves.

The one word that I read over and over in the reflections was "regret". Many of the kids regretted that they didn't put their best effort into their project experience. If they were to do it over again, they would do more, do better, do differently. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking, "Then why didn't you?" When I reflect on their words, I understand why. This Genius Hour experience is probably the first time in their lives that they participated in a project like this. Genius Hour projects are not teacher-directed projects with a list of "to-dos". In Genius Hour projects, kids have to do it all. They imagine the idea, do all of the preparations to complete the project, and then work on the project to completion. Kids have to do projects like this over and over to practice independent learning and decision-making. They will not be hugely successful the first time out of the box.

Nearly every student said that they wanted another shot at their Genius Hour project. They wanted to do better. They wanted to succeed. I explained to them the concept of "good failure" but so many kids at this age believe that any failure is bad failure. They have not made the paradigm shift yet. It will take constant practice in this type of learning environment in order for their learning to change. Evolving into problem-solving learners is what these kids need in order to thrive in high school, college, and the work force. It is also necessary in order to get the most out of their lives.

Many kids really did get it. They used the semester to discover their talents, how they learn best, and what their interests are. The kiddos got jazzed up about the possibilities of their project and their learning. It was awesome. Their reflections talked about being able to choose according to their interests and talents. They talked about their futures and what they may pursue or accomplish. They talked about next year and what they might do in their own time to further their project ideas. Some even talked about growing their project into a program here at school. These kids understood the idea of Genius Hour early and made the most of it. These kiddos can also serve as models for some of the others who struggled.

It is always a challenge to run a Genius Hour program in class. The struggle to get kids to unlearn and relearn is real. This type of learning is normally different from anything they have ever experienced before in school. We coach, we cheer, we encourage, and we help. We never direct. We never make the project ours by making decisions for the kids. They have to make the decisions; it is their project. We stick with the projects all semester and by the end, kids begin to understand the learning they are undertaking. They start to see that they can make their own decisions and design their own projects. They take command of their learning. That is our goal, and most of the time, whether the project itself succeeds or not, we reach that goal.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Project Showcase!

On Wednesday, kids had the opportunity to present their projects to teachers and students at East Naples Middle School. All of the work that they had done over the course of the semester was about to pay off for them. Most of the kids made presentation boards similar to what professionals use during poster presentations at conferences. Each of the kids had a station so that others could come to their station, see their project, and ask questions. Some kids' projects were interactive (the kids who created video games had a large group playing those games), some had the kiddo's invented device on hand for others to explore, while others were service projects that intended to sign up participants for the cause.

We had quite a few classes of students come through the showcase as well as teachers and administrators. It was a good day for the kids. They got to see that their work really does make a difference and that others are interested in what they are doing. So many of the kids discovered that they really do have a voice. When projects got positive reactions, I could see the sense of accomplishment and validation on the kids' faces. Before going down to the multipurpose room to present, nearly every child wanted to back out. They did not want the attention and did not think that their projects were worthwhile. They were afraid to be embarrassed because they (and their projects) were not good enough. All year I have been pushing, coaching, and trying to convince these kids that they have something valuable to offer to the school and the world. 

Once we set up our presentations and classes started coming by to see the projects, the kids were all smiles. The attendees moved excitedly from one project to another. Some kids were more interested in learning how to podcast so they spent their entire time at that project. Some kids wanted to make music right there with Macy; she had a large audience the entire time. Other kids wanted to play Alfonso's and Jon's video games and so these two boys had a line of kids waiting their turn. The reaction of the other classes to the kiddos' projects surprised them. They did not expect that their work would be appreciated as much as it was. Now, some kiddos did not produce anything to show. However, they still got to experience vicariously the triumph of the others. Even the kiddos who did not produce learned a valuable lesson, that maybe their ideas and voice would be appreciated too if they only took the chance. 

In past years, at my other school, we had a smaller group of kids with two teachers running Genius Hour. For our final event, we conducted student TED talks in the auditorium. At my current school, because of scheduling, facilities, and staffing, I have had to tweak the program to fit our school. Every teachers has to do the same in order to get the most out of the kids. The variables that we have are time, resources, and facilities. It is up to us to adapt our Genius Hour programs to get the most out of our kids within the limitations of those three things. Our Genius Hour program fits our school. It looks different from our program of the past, and that is okay. It is the Genius Hour experience that is most important. Allowing kids the freedom to study or create something that THEY want is the most important thing we can do for kids. Any good Genius Hour program will be built around that premise. Days like Wednesday are so validating because most kiddos take advantage of the opportunity and do more than they thought they could. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Checking In

There is a lot of time between the high-stakes Genius Hour days. In previous years, we had Pitch Day in December, Idea Showcase in February, and Student TED Talks in May. There is a lot of work time between those events. We had to have some way to closely monitor the kids' work. While we check in with them each week, we wanted some formal way to have the kids reflect and curate the work that they have done so far. This year, because my teaching position is a bit different than my previous one, we had Pitch Day in December and we will have Idea Showcase act as our final presentation in May. That's a lot of time between high-stakes days. This week, because I need to see where the kids are in the process and some of what they have already produced, kids will complete Checkpoint Activity 1.

This activity is part evidence and part reflection. I assigned it last week so that the kids have two weeks to really dig in and assemble their work so far. This document is in the folder of documents linked on the right hand side of the blog. Kids will create a document and describe some of the work that they have done. They will not talk about what they plan to do. They will show what they have done. Their summary will be augmented by pictures and video of their work, or links to their work online. I want to see what they have been doing. If they are making something, I want to see the progress. If they are designing, I want to see it. Kids must show four elements of the project and the blog they are keeping acts as one element.

After the kids curate their work, they will reflect on what they have done and what they still have to do before presentations in May. The timing here is perfect. Kids still have almost two months to finish their projects so they should be focusing in more and more each day. Many kids have said, "But I am not finished with my project yet" or "I haven't done anything in a month". This activity helps them get back on track. It is not a high-stakes event like Pitch Day or Idea Showcase, but it is important enough to help them focus.

As usual, some of the projects are going beautifully. Kids are designing video games, upcycling clothes, creating cookbooks, writing novels, creating and marketing products, and helping local organizations. Some projects, on the other hand, have stalled. This is normal. Not everyone will have an amazing product. After all, we don't assess on the product; we assess on the learning that occurred during the project time. Any grade that the kids receive will be a combination of the project learning and their reflection after final presentations. Only then will we really see what the kids have learned for themselves.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Game On!

When I introduced Genius Hour to the kids, several decided to do something with video games. They tossed ideas around including creating video games, blogging about video games, and reviewing video games. Jon decided that he wanted to create a video game. His work began by sifting through the numerous online video game makers until he found one that he liked. He explored several and decided that he would create his using one of his favorites. As he developed his game, and other students took a look at it, he became more encouraged to develop it. Now, whenever he has some spare time on a computer, he is working on his game.

Jon and Emmanuel troubleshoot an aspect of Jon's game

Other students offer advice and recommendations. Maybe a part of the game didn't provide enough challenge, or too much challenge. Maybe the order of progression should be tweaked. All of these are decisions that Jon must make in order to improve his game. The learning in Genius Hour is awesome because the burden of creating rests on the students. They are the ones making the decisions, testing those decisions, and further tweaking their product. Each student develops their own process for learning. This type of learning environment is completely individual.

Not only is Jon learning about video game making, he is also learning about marketing, troubleshooting, persistence, progression of thought, and grit. Jon is learning both content, process, and how to stand on his own two feet.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Cool Projects!

As kids get deeper into their Genius Hour project work, they keep discovering new problems and new solutions to those problems. The most pressing problems for kids so far is accumulating the materials to build their project ideas. Some thought initially that they would be able to get their hands on material and have since had to change their approach. These are problems that they will solve in time. Other kiddos are moving right ahead.

Gladys decided to do a project centered around her artistic ability. We have a couple of kids showcasing their art, photography or music talents during our Genius Hour project time. Gladys is creating art and other students at school are buying it. At this point, she may build an Etsy site or continue to create and display at school, allowing kids to see and purchase her creations. Gladys is also creating specific designs for kids who request them. Art commissions in their infancy at ENMS :)

Carina loves animals and wanted to center her project around helping animals. She has been working on a project to become more involved with a local animal shelter and organize events to get other students involved as well. Carina is publicizing her project in school and was creating a graphic design using She will produce these flyers to try to gin up interest at school. 

Rodolph is still working on the design of his mechanism that will guide a basketball player's wrist while shooting. Many beginning basketball players, he has noticed, do not have the proper form. His project, Flick That Wrist, will aid beginners in developing the proper form. Rodolph is ready to begin building the first iteration of his design. 

Things do not always go smoothly for the kids during Genius Hour work. They hit a lot of roadblocks. These roadblocks are learning opportunities. They find solutions to the problems that they encounter and become more confident in themselves as independent learners when they do. These kiddos are learning the benefits of persistence and grit. It will be one of the best things that they learn this year.