Sunday, November 20, 2016

Accessing Our Creative Genius

Every week at the beginning of Genius Hour, I show the kids two or three videos of amazing ideas. I call this little time slot "Creative Genius". It is a good time to show kids that people are out there thinking up simple, elegant solutions to everyday problems. First they see a problem, then they try to find a solution, testing each iteration of the solution along the way. Finally, they have a viable solution to the problem. This is what Genius Hour is all about. I want kids to access their talents and abilities to create, innovate and solve problems.

Often kids don't think they can make their mark on the world. After all, they're just kids. By showing them all of these ideas, I try to broaden their knowledge base and stretch their imagination. Maybe they hadn't thought of the Power Puff Lamp or Shoes that Grow, but they can think of many other solutions to problems. I want kids to aspire for more than they thought they could achieve. I want them to perceive themselves as inventors, creators, and innovators. They have to change the way they see themselves in order to be confident enough to take that leap. Thus far in school, most kids believe that they are the passive recipients of knowledge. We have to give kids the opportunity to try, fail and try again.

Over the past few years, I have seen kids gain confidence in themselves during their Genius Hour experience. Their perceptions change. They are no longer just students; they are also writers, techies, YouTubers, inventors, chefs, and builders. Kids realize that if they were able to dazzle with their Genius Hour project, they can do anything. This kind of learning is difficult, much more difficult than traditional school learning. Not only do kids have to complete the assignment, they also have to construct the assignment.

In a few weeks, we will conduct Pitch Day, a chance for kids to share their ideas and goals with others. I am incredibly excited to watch as kids take their first step toward independent learning. They will crash. They will fail. They will get frustrated. Doesn't that sound like the learning we do as adults? They will also try again. They will succeed. They will have those "A-ha!" moments. They will be so interested in the projects that they created because they are based on the kids' passions that they won't every quit. This is a long journey that we are on and we are only at the beginning.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Preparing for "The Pitch"

Over the last few years, Melissa and I have learned that we have to give kids lots of time to come up with their project ideas. One year we tried to rush things, giving kids only a couple of weeks to think. Well, that didn't work very well; we had a lot of kids change projects because while they were doing their project, they discovered their real idea. Kids naturally have a lot of starts and stops. Some will latch onto an idea before we introduce Genius Hour. Some will struggle for weeks. We have to accommodate both kinds of learners. So we give time. We give time for kids to converse, wonder, think and imagine. We ask kids to start researching their project idea because after their initial research, kids will either confirm that their idea is awesome or realize that their idea isn't for them.

Over the last few weeks, we have been doing a lot of idea-generating activities. These activities are important because kids need exposure to many ideas and they also need time to reflect and talk to others. Through these conversations and reflections, they begin to flesh out their ideas. This is what learning is all about, attempting new things and reflecting on those attempts. Do all of the kids have ideas at this point? No. Do all of the kids have some idea of the talents they want to use for their projects? Nearly all do.

In a few weeks, kids will pitch their ideas. In the past, because of our situation, we were able to have pitch committees of adults who saw these pitches, like in the television show Shark Tank. Because of my current situation, I don't have those resources at the ready so we will do things differently. My goal is to have Pitch Day work a bit differently than the past but not too differently. I may be able to get another set of adult eyes to help me form the Pitch Committee. I may not. The structure of my new school may not allow the time resource for that adult. That's okay. Each student will give a 3-5 minute pitch presentation. They may use any technology they would like to help us visualize their goal. They will present to our class and any other adults I can get in the room during that time.

Feedback is important for the kids. The committee has always given the students feedback on style, substance, and presentation. This year, kids will still get feedback. Some of that feedback will come from me, some will come from other adults in the room and some will come from the other students. Now, most of our kiddos have not had the opportunity to make many presentations so this is a skill that is under development. We will model a good presentation, we will help kids prepare and we watch them excel. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing our students accomplish something that they didn't think they could do. They get such a boost in confidence and begin to see themselves differently. They begin to see that they are in charge of their own learning and that they have more control over their learning than anyone else.

Not only are kids learning the content that their projects will require, but they are also learning secondary and tertiary skills. Kids will learn to prepare, to speak in front of an audience, to walk with confidence, to create an effective visual, to offer and accept feedback. Sometimes these skills may make up the foundation of the kids' careers later in life. By including a variety of skills for the kids to learn, we are making sure that kids see their potential as learners. Through completing their Genius Hour projects, we think that the kids will fulfill this potential.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Eureka Moment!

Our kids are still working on coming up with great ideas for their Genius Hour projects. When I surveyed the kiddos the other day, about half knew what they wanted to do while the other half was still searching. Melissa and I learned years ago that the idea is the key to the projects. If a kiddo is cavalier about the idea, then the project will flop. The project must center around an idea that the student is passionate about. We're looking for that "Eureka Moment". For instance, a few students told me that their idea this year was "fundraising". When I asked what they would be raising funds for, they had no idea. Their project did not have a purpose. We talked about the purpose behind the idea and I think that these kids understood. They may or may not continue along the fundraising track. They will consider the purpose of their project more carefully now.

Since the Bad Idea Factory, we have done a couple of exercises to help kids dig down to their real interests and passions. One survey asks kids questions like, "What are a few things that you have always wanted to do physically that you have not been able to do yet?" and "What are a few things that you have always wanted to learn about but have not had the opportunity yet?" When kids think in these terms, about things they'd like to learn or accomplish, instead of an idea for a project, then the idea they come up with should be more meaningful to them. 

This past week, we did a sharing exercise. Kids grouped up and interviewed each other about their project idea. I was hoping that when the kiddos talked about their ideas, there would be conversation around those ideas and brainstorming would occur. Sharing ideas often leads to more and better ideas. I think that happened in several cases during this exercise. I also had the kids browse the Bad Idea Factory. There are so many good ideas, or ideas that could lead to good ideas, on the wall. I had kids write down all of the ideas that they liked. Needless to say, kids turned in lists that features about a half dozen ideas each. The purpose of our idea exploration session was to expose kids to all kinds of ideas. Who knows, maybe an idea that they talk about or see will lead them to the idea that will ultimately become their project. We know that will only happen if we talk about ideas, share ideas and expose kids to as many ideas as possible. Only through a deep dig into each child's passions combined with exposure to lots of ideas will kids ever reach their "Eureka Moment".