Sunday, February 19, 2017

Project Profiles

The kids are working on some very cool projects and two of three of those projects stood out to me this week. Jack is writing a novel. He was interested in writing a book because sometimes he has trouble finding books he likes to read. He is writing the kind of book that he would like to read. Jack has a decent amount of the book written and he works on his novel a couple times per week. He is beginning to develop the good habits of a writer, primarily to write every day.

This week, Jack decided that he wanted to design his book cover. I suggested Canva for this task. Canva is an excellent graphic design site that is relatively easy to use, free (or cheap), and as simple or complex as the user wants it to be. Within twenty minutes, Jack had the first iteration of his design. It will probably change. After all, this was his first attempt and he is learning what the program can do. As he learns the capabilities of the program, he will tinker and reinvent his book cover. This is a great example of a student's interest driving his learning.

Jack designing his book cover.

Both Brian and Robert are working on animation. Both wanted to learn how to do animation and create a video or short movie for their projects. Even though their projects are different, they are working together. They talk, experiment, bounce ideas off of each other, show each other things that they have discovered, and explore the world of animation. Both Robert and Brian have been watching YouTube videos that teach kids how to do the type of animation they want to do. 

Robert decided that the kind of animation he wanted to do required an Adobe product. He went through the research about the program but we could not get it for him (cost was prohibitive). He snooped around the apps already loaded on the computer we have in class and discovered a different Adobe product that, after some experimentation, will allow him to do the animation he wants to do. It is not the exact program he was looking for but it has the same capabilities. Once he discovered this program, both he and Brian were off, learning and creating animation. 

Brian introducing sound to his animation project.

Robert writing directions for his animated character.

All of this learning is student-driven and intensely interesting to them. That is the genius of Genius Hour. All kids can find projects that are personally fulfilling to them and learn at their own pace in their own way. For these kids, it a departure from their traditional schooling and while it took some getting used to, they are embracing this type of learning in a big way.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Reflection: Our Genius Hour Blogs

Most teachers know that reflection is a key element of learning. We practice reflection in many ways. We blog, we engage on Twitter, we converse with other teachers, we read, we think and we wonder. We try to analyze what is going well and what needs adjustment. We try to figure out why something succeeded or failed and map out ways to do better next time. Reflection may very well be where most of the learning occurs. We teachers know that reflection is essential to developing a deep understanding of material and how we ourselves learn best.

Sometimes we overlook the reflection piece with our students. We are busy generating assignments so that they can perform and sometimes we don't allow enough time for kids to do their own analysis about their learning. Now, surely kiddos are not experts at reflection. They may not even know why reflection is important. "This is dumb. Can't we just do something else?" is a common refrain. Why would kids be so opposed to reflection? Well, for one thing, kids often don't know how to reflect. The way many schools work usually does not allow time for deep thinking about learning. We have material to cover. We cannot take time to think about what we are doing. Because of this rushed curriculum, kids are never given the opportunity to develop their reflective selves.

Kids have to learn to reflect on their learning just as we teachers did. We have to give them time and scaffold some activities for them so that they get the hang of it. With practice, they will develop the ability to analyze their work for the purpose of improving their learning. We have to give them time. One way we English teachers have been coaching reflection with kids is reader response. Kids spend time analyzing the books they are reading and also reflecting on their own reading skills and preferences. They take a long look at what they are doing for the purpose of improving their learning. That is the kind of reflection we want for our kids in all of their learning.

Our Genius Hour blogs are perfect for developing reflection skills in our students. They are in charge of their learning, making almost all of the decisions about their projects. Once a week, I ask them to write a blog post about their learning. What have they accomplished during the past week? What is the next step in their project? Is the project going the way they thought it would? Have they been surprised by the results of the decisions that they have made? Are they on track to complete their project? Given the work that they have done so far, what materials or resources do they need for the next step? All of these questions bounce around their brains. They have to take a long look at their learning. They have to reflect.

Our kids are making dozens of decisions about their projects each week. With each decision they make, a handful of new decisions appears on the horizon. They are figuring out that learning is a continuous process and that we are never really "finished" learning. One door leads to another and another. What we hope to accomplish with our blogs is to have kids take the first steps toward figuring out their talents and gifts and maybe take a look down the road to see how they can use these talents and gifts in their lives and in their work. We hope that they start planning some long-range goals. Some kids will discover new talents during our Genius Hour projects. That's what our projects are all about. We are learning a bit about a topic but we are learning a great deal about ourselves.