Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Bad Idea Factory

In previous years, Melissa had always done The Bad Idea Factory in her classroom. This year, we did it a bit differently. The huge whiteboard in my room often becomes a place for conversation among students. Sometimes when the kiddos walk in, there is a question on the board and they put answers up over the course of the week. A few weeks ago, we turned that space into our Wonder Wall and the kids had a lot of questions to post. The space has become communal and conversational. The Bad Idea Factory was no different.

I ran things just like Melissa did in the past. I introduced the concept of ideas germinating and morphing into other ideas. We talked about how someone can take one idea and come up with something completely different because their mind was able to move from Point A to Point D. Kids understand this and they have good ideas. Often the problem is that we don't ever ask them what their ideas are. Genius Hour depends on the kids' ideas. Those ideas are the entire content of the Genius Hour program.

"Think of things you're good at, you'd like to make, you'd like to invent, problems you would like to solve," I told the kiddos. "Write them on the slips of paper and post them to the board." They did. The ideas kept coming and coming. Now, sometimes we have kids who are a wealth of ideas; they cannot get enough slips of paper. Others come up with one or two and "can't think of anything else". We push those kids just a bit more to really dig down, read the ideas that others are posting, and try to come up with more. Often they do. When we are done posting, the kids take a few minutes to browse the board. There are a lot of laughs and a lot of "that's cool" comments. 

As the days went by after we did the Bad Idea Factory, many of the kids realized that those were not bad ideas on the board. They were really good ideas. We talked about that in class, how things that we initially think are bad ideas are, upon reflection, pretty good ideas after all. We talked about how self-editing can be devastating because if we don't even put forth an idea, we'll never know if it can work. One girl, Destiny, even took it upon herself to change the word "bad" to "good". Now, on our whiteboard wall, we have The Good Idea Factory. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Podcast: Harmonized Learning Episode 56

In this episode, we talk about parting ways at the end of last year, our new jobs and Don's Genius Hour program (with Melissa as consultant) at East Naples Middle School in Naples, FL. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

We Are Underway!

Since August 15, I have been mentioning 20% Time and Genius Hour to my kiddos in the hopes that it would raise questions in their minds about what we will be doing. They asked and they kept asking. Finally, last week, we kicked off our program. I tweaked the presentation that Melissa and I used to do in order to fit my new situation and spent a full 90 minutes talking to the kiddos about the potential of this project. It was obvious from our conversation that very few of my kiddos have experience with anything like this. That is to be expected. In schools, we normally don't give kids voice and choice. We try but the curriculum and pacing guide usually rule the day and so we must "cover" material. Genius Hour is the opposite of that. In Genius Hour, kids get a chance to really delve into a topic of their own choosing, construct a project around the learning that they want to do and make almost all of the learning decisions along the way.

During our kickoff, a few kids immediately had ideas. Most did not. Part of the challenge for kids in a Genius Hour setting is coming up with a good idea. In a classroom setting, the teacher normally tells the kids what they will be learning so kids are trained to be passive receivers of the assignments. For most, Genius Hour is the first time in their lives that they will be active learners who will drive the project ideas. This change will be frustrating and painful for most of the kids but they will be so much better off when they emerge on the other side. Genius Hour is amazing more for how we train the students to become lifelong learners than for the actual projects that are completed. 

Many kids had "How..." questions. I just kept saying, "Trust in the process. We just go one step at a time." The program that Melissa and I designed and implemented is a deliberate process-oriented program that will help the kids develop one step at a time. Students will figure it out and take off at different times this year. That is awesome. The kids who are more confident in their learning will soar early while the kids who are more teacher-dependent will take longer to take flight. Because each student is a different learner, each student gets exactly what they need in order to become more independent. 

Explaining all of this to the kids in addition to watching a couple of TED Talks (Ken Robinson's "Are Schools Killing Creativity" and Daniel Pink's "The Puzzle of Motivation") had kids' heads spinning. That is great! I want the kiddos to use their brains to make sense of what they saw and heard. I want them to unlearn many of the traditional school behaviors that have been ingrained in them and try something new. For many, this is a scary proposition but we learn the most when we're uncomfortable. These kiddos were uncomfortable!