I was in a great session about Problem-Based and Project-Based Learning at NCTIES when the presenters mentioned Genius Hour. So, I go to all these EdCamps and NCTIES conference and participate in Twitter chats and constantly hear about this thing called “Genius Hour”. I always thought it would be cool to try, but it always seemed so difficult to manage on such a large scale in the media center so I had avoided it. Well, this session made it sound so incredibly easy that I finally decided to try it out with my 4th and 5th grade students. My district uses the FINDS method for research in the media center, so I was able to incorporate the research method and plug in NCWiseOwl as a resource, and as a bonus, was able to pull in Google Slides as all students have Gmail accounts in our district. Here a quick list of my epic wins and epic fails of my first attempt at Genius Hour.
Step 1: Focus – I explained to my students (two 4th grade classes of approximately 25 students each and two 5th grade classes of approximately 15 students each) that Genius Hour was a time for them to research a topic that interested them with (almost) no restrictions. Each student wrote down 10 things they loved, 10 things they were good at, and 10 things they wondered about. From those lists, they looked for a common theme and chose a topic to research. Some students really struggled with listing what they were good at, which was interesting to me. Those that finished quickly were able to write some questions they had about their topic. I had to narrow down some of the topics as a few were not really appropriate for school-based research.
Step 2: Investigate & Note-Taking – After allowing the students to choose their own topic (with some redirection in a few cases), I began a teacher research frenzy. I took to the internet to find diversified, kid-friendly, elementary school appropriate websites with minimal ads on each topic… yes, each… all 75-80 projects. Luckily a few overlapped, and a few wanted to research their family tree or interview a community member, so I was able to duplicate some sites and rely on personal interviews for others. Overall, I found 3-4 good websites each for about 65 students. Students were also able to use NCWiseOwl, PebbleGo, Trueflix and Freedomflix to research. If I were in a middle or high school, I would have likely let students just run with it, but since I work with elementary students, I felt the need to really narrow down safe sites for them. Prior to allowing them to access their chosen websites, we discussed the difference between a website with valid information and invalid information. We talked about verifying sources and plagiarism and copyright laws. This step took three class periods, which totally about 2 hours of true research time.
Step 3: Develop – Students have worked this year on accessing Google Drive and using it for collaboration and creation. My 4th and 5th graders logged into their Google Drive, created a new Google Slides presentation, and organized their information onto the slides as they deemed appropriate. This allowed for a great discussion on a “good” slide and what is appropriate in a presentation (ie, appropriate font and font size, color selection, amount of words on the slide, etc). Students input pictures by adding images from our school server that I had previously uploaded. We discussed the importance of citing our sources and giving credit where it is due. This step took approximately one hour of class time, and some are still working on their presentations from home.
Step 4: Share & Score – Finally, students shared their presentation with me for editing and with a friend for viewing. I feel it is important for the students to understand the difference between the functions of sharing documents in Google; they need to know that ‘can edit’, ‘can comment’, and ‘can view’ mean very different things when sharing through Google. I scored using a very simple rubric, giving a score of 1-4 (4 being highest) on components such as work ethic, conventions, information given, sources cited, and overall impressions.
I learned so much about my students, their interests and personalities while working with them on their Genius Hour projects. Chosen research topics ranged from famous people in pop culture, evolution of libraries (one of my personal favorites from a student who wants to be a media coordinator), how the brain works, what animals think about, sports of all varieties, using video games like Minecraft in education (another favorite of mine), family history, and how much sleep we need. As a media coordinator, I wanted my students to learn how to use Google Drive, to research appropriately, to collect information by note-taking, and to have fun with it. It took 5-6 sessions to complete these projects. I think that in a classroom situation, this would be more feasible than in the media center. I had to be very organized with the students’ notes and websites as I did not let them take home any of their work until the project was completed. Overall I feel that it was a success, and I will certainly do it again next year.
Example: Walt Disney