First Genius Hour Attempt

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.

Genius Hour.JPG

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:  Sleep

Example: Walt Disney

Example: Dragons


It has been nearly 2 weeks since the NCTIES conference in Raleigh, but it has taken that long to take all the amazing things I learned and sort them into a blog post.  I had heard about the “big technology conference” in Raleigh for years, but never had the opportunity to go.  I was determined this year that I would go, even if it meant taking personal days and paying for everything myself.  I was told that if I submitted a proposal to present and it was accepted, NCTIES would give me complimentary registration for the conference.  I created two proposals in the hopes that one would get accepted.  To my surprise, both were accepted and NCTIES took on a whole new priority for me.  My district does a Teaching and Learning Conference in the weeks before school starts back each year, and I was asked to be on the planning committee for the 2015 conference.  I was beyond thrilled; my proposals had been accepted and I had a way to get to Raleigh!

From the beginning, the conference was amazing!  The Opening Keynote was Kevin Honeycutt, who is energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate about education.  I laughed and I cried within the first 15 minutes.  The first session on the schedule for me was my own session – Makerspaces on a Shoestring Budget.  The session was designed for elementary teachers and media coordinators who knew nothing about makerspaces and wanted to start one as soon as they got back to their school for free!

Upon wrapping up my session, I wanted to hear more from Kevin Honeycutt, so I went to his session about adding Art to STEM.  I love the idea of letting students be in charge of their own learning and allowing them to incorporate their own artistic nature into projects they complete.  I stopped by a student showcase and had a second grader tell me about 3-D printers and LittleBits.  Talk about reality-check… if a second grader can explain it & why it matters to her learning, my students should be doing it.

After lunch, I went to a session that validated my personal philosophy, then I taught my second session.  For this one, I partnered with my Exceptional Children’s Teacher, who is exceptionally amazing!  Our session, 8 Ways to Assess Without Tests, was designed to show educators that paper/pencil, multiple-choice tests are not the way to show student mastery.  Instead, use some engaging Web 2.0 tools to do formative assessments.  Each of the 8 ways we discussed has an analysis function, so teachers can focus more on the excitement of the students rather than the ‘assessment’.  Teachers can analyze the data rather than spend all their time collecting the data and scoring it.  My last session of the day was on Coding in the Media Center.  I had approximately 300 students participate in Hour of Code last year using, so I was excited to hear about other coding programs and how other media coordinators were using it.  The presenters, Robin Williams and Pam Lilley, are friends of mine from the NCDLCN, so it was great to support them and learn something at the same time.

My brain was overloaded after Day 1 of NCTIES.  I went to eat with the TLC Planning Team, then went to the Digital Jam to meet up with my NCDLCN friends and network with others.  It was a great time of card games, networking, and relaxation.

The next morning, I was geared up and ready for Day 2.  The session in which I learned the most was Teaming with Media/Technology for Inquiry in the Elementary Classroom.  These two ladies from Rowan-Salisbury Schools had terrific ideas for implementing inquiry-based, problem-based, and project-based learning in a truly collaborative fashion with classroom teachers.  I am so excited to use these ideas in the coming weeks and prepare for next school year!  Finally, I hit the Best of the Web session with Richard Byrnes and Lucas Gillispie’s EPIC Academy session on Personalized Gamified PD.  Finally, I went to Learning with a Twist of STEAM presented by Steven Anderson (@web20classroom).

Speaking of Lucas Gillispie, he created a whole new layer of fun at NCTIES this year.  In an effort to force people out of their comfort zone and meet new people, he created a Conference Quest for anyone who wanted to spice up their experience.  We did quests like “give a random stranger going the opposite way on the elevator a high-five and have a witness sign the back of this card” and “put money in the vending machine for the next person who visits the machine”.  Some required signatures, some required you to tweet a picture with the hashtags #ncties15 and #cq and some even required someone else to tweet a picture with those hashtags!  Go ahead… search Twitter for #cq and see what comes up – we had a blast!

This whole experience was a time of professional and personal growth.  When I started teaching nearly 10 years ago, I never expected I would find myself attending the biggest technology conference in our state, much less presenting sessions at it.  It went well though – I survived & met amazing people who attended my session as an additional perk, and who knows… I just might do it again.