Sunday, November 11, 2018

6 Ps of Genius Hour Online Course



So much has happened since developing and sharing and the 6 Ps of Genius Hour.  I have been so blessed to be able to write about the process, share my experiences all over the country, and connect with amazing educators that are wanting something different for their own classrooms. 

As I really spent some time focusing on what's next and how I best wanted to continue to share what I believe to be a process that helps educators make passion-based learning a reality in any classroom, I thought about what I loved about what I do.  It's the connections that I love the most.  I love hearing from educators that are making Genius Hour a priority in their own classrooms and sharing with others.  I love talking to teachers that are frustrated and so hungry for change that they are willing to take a risk and do something different.  The stories, the relationships, and the realization that we really are better together has been such a driving force for me. 

I wanted to be able to share the 6 Ps of Genius Hour with more people.  I wanted to be able to share in a way that still gave me an opportunity to connect and create relationships but I also know how difficult it is to get out of the classroom and make time for professional development.  And while, there's no doubt about it, I love sharing with educators in person, I love online learning as well.  I love being able to learn in my bed in my pajamas whenever I want.  I like being able to move at my own pace and learn on my terms.  Because I enjoy these things, I'm assuming that there are many others that feel the same way.  And because of this, I decided to create the 6 Ps of Genius Hour Online Course on Teachable

This course is my answer to those that don't want to sit through 6 hours of training and that need to be able to learn on their time on their terms.  I've done the best that I can to create a learning experience that will not only engage but empower educators to make passion-based learning a reality in their classrooms. 

So, what does it look like and how is it different from any other PD that you might have experienced? First, I've created learning experiences that are comprised of three critical pieces.  These are the same critical pieces that I think should be used in the classroom to create meaningful learning experiences for our students. 

1.  Engage - This piece of the experience is designed to catch your attention and help you understand why the information is important.

2.  Experience - This piece will give you an opportunity to apply the learning in order to connect with what is being shared.

3.  Empower - This final piece challenges you to do something with what was learned in your own classroom. 

Second, I've included specific ways throughout the course to connect with the Genius Hour community as we embark on this journey together. I hope to begin to see each other as sounding boards, classmates, and friends as we learn and grow. 

The course includes the following and can be done at your own pace...

  • 10 modules addressing the 6 Ps of Genius Hour and MORE
  • 20+ videos with practical advice and ideas 
  • Learning opportunities designed to engage, provide an experience, and empower
  • Screen-recordings of technology tools that can be used in the classroom to make the process manageable
  • Access to the Genius Hour Flipgrid created for those enrolled in the course to collaborate and share
  • Access to the 6 Ps of Genius Hour Facebook Group for ongoing connectivity
  • Downloadable resources for classroom use
  • Certificate of Completion
I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passions during the school day.  I believe that we can teach the standards through Genius Hour while giving our learners opportunities to apply and practice life-ready skills.  It's because I believe these things and my own classroom experience that I want to share this process and my experience with anyone and everyone that will listen.

I really tried to create this course for every educator.  And, by every educator,  I mean those that love every minute of what you do and those that are in desperate need of something different.  I say that because I've been in both of your shoes.  But, I can tell you that when I gave my students opportunities to learn by pursuing their passions, I found my passion as an educator.  I realized what I thought would keep me from teaching the standards actually gave them opportunities to make real connections and reach a deep level of understanding that was never going to come from worksheets.

So, I created this course in an effort to share with others what I believe changed everything for me as an educator.  If you have any questions, need more details, or you are are looking for something different like the FREE Genius Hour Book Study or an In-Person PD Learning Experience for your staff or district, contact me anytime!  


Saturday, August 4, 2018

What are Your Core Beliefs?

It's almost time.  The first day of school is almost here!  I know that this is a busy time and there is lots of PD and prep work happening for educators right now.  However, I want to encourage you to take some time do something that will drive and influence your entire year...identify your core beliefs.  You see, your core beliefs about education, students, learning, and relationships are already impacting what you do and how you teach.  They are your "why", the reason that you do what you do.  But have you ever taken time to really stop and name those core beliefs?

Identifying your core beliefs and sharing them with others help to make them a reality.  So, how do you know what they are?  How can you share them and why should they be top priority?  I think it's best to start with what you believe that every student deserves.  I like to think of them as targets that I was aiming for with every experience that was designed, every tool that was used, and every relationship that was built.  Now don't get me wrong, there were many times that I missed the mark.  But when I did, I knew it and was able to regain focus and aim more carefully with the next attempt.

As you think about your core beliefs, don't think about standardized testing, standards, or lesson plans.  Just focus on what you truly believe that every single learner needs and deserves from you and your classroom this year.

Let me share my core beliefs...

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to experience new learning.

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to share their learning.

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to learn from failure.

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to learn by doing.

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passion during the school day.

Those core beliefs drive everything that I share.  Because I believe these things, I am passionate about real learning experiences like Genius Hour and Makerspace.  I will talk to anyone that will listen about my experience with my own students and how allowing them to own their learning by pursuing their passions changed everything.

Now, it's your turn.  Think about what you believe to be true about what students deserve.  Start with something as simple as I believe...and then be completely honest.  Don't get caught up in worrying about what others will think about your core beliefs or if you will really be able to make them happen.  Just focus on what you believe students deserve.

Now, write them down and put them somewhere that you will see them every single day.  Don't lose sight of these beliefs when things get hard.  Instead, hold on to them throughout the year as your guide, your compass when you aren't sure if you are going in the right direction.  If you question something that you are planning to do in the classroom, ask yourself if it matches any of your core beliefs.  More importantly, ask yourself it goes against any of your core beliefs.

Often times, we have great ideas and ambitions when the school year starts.  Then, things get crazy and we revert back to what's easy, what's comfortable, and what's familiar.  For me, having these core beliefs held me accountable as I took risks and tried new things.  I knew that if it was going to result in one of these beliefs being activated, it was probably a good idea, even if it wasn't successful right away.

In short, here are some simple steps you can take to create, activate, and share your own core beliefs.

1⃣  Take some time to focus on what you believe to be true about education.

2⃣  Write down 3-5 of those beliefs that you believe deserve your focus and attention.

3⃣  Think about the ways that your beliefs can be "activated".  In other words, how can you make it happen?

4⃣  Post your core beliefs in a place that you will see them every single day.

5⃣  Share your beliefs on Twitter using #makeithappenEDU and with anyone else that will listen.

Very soon, you will have students coming through your doors.  And while you are accountable to lots of people, your ultimate accountability is to the learners that are relying on you to create meaningful experiences that will engage and empower.

It's going to be a great year and I can't wait to hear your core beliefs for 2018-2019.  Take some time and make your core beliefs a priority...I think you will be so glad that you did!


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Genius Hour and The Global Goals

It's easy to allow Genius Hour to become a time for students to create simply for the sake of creating.  And, don't hear me saying that's a bad thing.  However, I do believe that it's important to move toward asking our learners to design projects that will create change or provide solutions for real problems. 

Below are some practical ways to help students understand what they can do to create change through the projects that they design...

1)  Introduce learners to The Global Goals.  This is a wonderful resource that helps learners see the bigger picture.

Image Credit:  United Nations


2)  Use the Design for Change: One Idea: One Week Experience from World's Largest Lesson to inspire action and give students a springboard for bigger ideas.

3)  Give learners an opportunity to dive deeper into their ideas by using the Youth Changing the World Toolkit.  This resource gives students the tools that they need to design a project that will impact their school, community, or maybe even the world.

After these things have been shared and introduced, it's time to get out of their way and let them go for it.  Help them find outside experts, find ways to weave learning into the projects that they are designing, and listen when they have ideas or struggles.

Focusing on The Global Goals will help this generation understand the potential that is there for them to drive and create real change.  It will remind them that they can make a difference and can learn by doing so.  So, let's take Genius Hour to next level.  Instead of just creating projects to share with parents or even on social media, let's encourage them to be problem-solvers, innovative thinkers, and drivers of change.  In other words, let's let them be who they are meant to be!
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Using the 3E's to Design Meaningful Learning Experiences




I don't know many educators that get excited about writing lesson plans.  Most of us don't look forward to planning something that we know we will not enjoy doing.  So, I guess the question becomes if it isn't something we are looking forward to doing with our students, why are we doing it and why would we expect them to enjoy doing it any more than we enjoyed planning it?

I remember a few years ago, reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I quickly realized that not only was it okay to design wildly creative lessons, it was the only way I was going to engage my learners.  I still believe and have learned from experience that it's so much more fun to design meaningful learning experiences than to write a lesson plan.  

Many people often ask, what does that look like?  How do you design a meaningful learning experience?  I've shared thoughts, ideas, and even digital tools but I recently realized that a meaningful learning experience simply requires us to engage our learners, create an experience, and empower them to do something with what has been learned.   Think of it this way...

en·gage - participate or become involved in

Ask yourself...how can my learners be engaged in a way that will make them WANT to learn?

Engaged learners want to be there. They are invested in what is being learned and have a desire to want to know more.  So, how do we make this happen?  I can tell you this...we won't be able to make it happen by announcing at the beginning of class that they should listen because this will be on the test, or this is something that they will need when they get older.  None of that matters to them.  They are all about the "right now" and have difficulty understanding why they need to know something now that they can Google later.  And the reality is, with an attention span of 8 seconds,  it's no surprise that they need to know this quickly.  

What does that mean for us as educators?  It means we need to create hooks that will result in them wanting to know more and cause them to look forward to the rest of the learning experience 
  • Use a creative writing prompt to create discussion or drive curiosity.  Visit Photo Prompts and/or Writing Prompts for some very cool ideas!
  • Check out the Teach Like a Pirate hooks...so many ideas!
  • Visit The Literacy Shed and find a short video that you can use as a spark to create excitement and wonder.
  • Create your own hooks by knowing your students well enough to know what will get them going!

ex·pe·ri·ence - an event that leaves an impression someone

Ask yourself - What experiences can be designed to give them a reason to invest in the learning?

Isn't this what we should always be trying to do in our classrooms? Don't we want to leave an impression on our learners? Think about the difference between an activity and an experience...an activity is just something that someone does. An experience is something that someone does that leaves an impression...BIG difference!

There are so many ways that we can design experiences that will leave an impression on our learners and help them make connections.
  • Use virtual reality to take them to places that they never thought they would be able to go. One of my favorite resources is 360Cities. Take your students anywhere virtually and let them explore!
  • Connect with outside experts and let your students hear how what is being learned is used outside of the classroom.
  • Ask them to create video games using Scratch or websites using Weebly to share what they have learned.

em·pow·er - giving someone the power to do something

Ask yourself...How can my learners be empowered to apply what was learned in a real way?

Applying what has been learned in a real situation is very important.  In doing so, they begin to understand the why.  Empowering them to take ownership of their own learning and then do something with it makes learning real.  And if it isn't real, if it's just something we want them to be able to do a worksheet, why in the world are we wasting our time and theirs?   Empower your learners to apply what has been learned.
  • Ask them to create video games using Scratch or websites using Weebly to share what they have learned.
  • Share learning with an authentic audience by blogging, posting on social media, or using Flipgrid.
  • Reflect on what was learned...give them opportunities to move beyond remembering (what I learned and how I learned it) to reflection (what I learned and why I learned it).
  • Give opportunities to move beyond surface level learning.  Offer choice and opportunities for students to dive deeper into personalized learning experiences. Allow your students to learn by pursuing their passions. Find ways to weave learning into what they are pursuing. Give them opportunities to learn by doing by making Genius Hour a priority in your classroom.

So, I encourage you to STOP WRITING LESSON PLANS!  Start designing meaningful learning experiences by engaging today's learners, creating experiences that will help them make connections, and empowering them to do something with what has been learned.

Today's learners have so many ideas, so much to offer.  They deserve to experience real learning that is not only meaningful, but fun.  Know that when something is fun for you and your students, it will be something that they remember.  Be willing to take risks and do whatever it takes to move learning beyond what it has been into what it can and should be.  Let's be brave enough to leave the past in the past and create real learning experiences for today's learners!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Be a Thermostat!

When we came home this evening, our house was freezing!  My husband had turned the heater way down and it's actually cold here in Texas right now.  When I went to turn the heat up so that I could enjoy a warm and restful evening, I was reminded of a metaphor I once heard and couldn't help but think about how it relates to the classroom, campus, and district culture.  The metaphor actually comes from a sermon that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave in 1954.  His message was this...

"Be a thermostat, not a thermometer."




When I first heard those words, it took some explanation before I really understood what it meant.  You see, a thermostat sets the temperature in the room and makes it a comfortable space for those that are within its influence.   This doesn't mean that some people aren't a little too hot or a little too cold, but it means that the temperature is adjusted to what is most appropriate at the time.   It is constantly checking the temperature of the room and making adjustments to maintain a temperature that is just right.  A thermometer, on the other hand, reacts to what is going on around it.  If it's hot, it reacts by displaying a high temperature...if it's cold, it reacts by displaying a low temperature. 

Unfortunately, it's easy to be a thermometer in education.  It's easy to react to a situation and display a hot or cold demeanor.  In the classroom, it's easy to yell or be sarcastic when students are not being respectful or doing things that they know they shouldn't.  It's also easy to react this way when we are around other teachers that have a way of making our temperature rise.  When we get hot, we say and do things that we don't mean.  When we get cold, we often react by pulling away and trying to do things on our own.  Both of these reactions are detrimental to the culture of a classroom and a school.

Instead of reacting to the temperature, set it.  Find your temperature and allow others to feel your influence.  Do what you know to be right for today's learners and set a temperature that makes others want to do the same.  In the classroom, this may mean taking a minute to think before reacting to a situation.  It might mean that you share ideas with a colleague that has a completely different view about what today's classroom should look like.  It may be something as small as smiling at an administrator that you know is having a difficult day.  Whatever it might be, make adjustments to maintain a temperature that is consistent and influential.

So as we start the new year...be a thermostat.  Be proactive instead of reactive and encourage others to do the same.  Let's make 2018 an amazing year in our classrooms, campuses, and districts!

Current Events in the Classroom

When I was in school, I remember having to find and summarize current events every week.  Things have changed a bit since then and our students have instant access to news at any given moment on social media.  The problem is that they believe almost everything that they read and don't always get all of the facts when it's just a post on social media.

Current events are important and still have a place in the classroom.  Reading and sharing current events help students stay globally connected,  builds vocabulary,  and encourages critical thinking and problem-solving.



If you are like me, I certainly don't feel comfortable asking students or even my own children to visit MSNBC, CNN, or FoxNews.  There are just too many inappropriate articles, bias, and specific details that are not okay for young readers.  That being said, there are several places that your students can find current event articles that are engaging and appropriate for them at any age.  Below are a few of my favorites and the reasons that I love them.

DogoNews  - www.dogonews.com

❤️️  Articles are relevant and include lots of images/videos
❤️️  Vocabulary - Students can click on unknown words to receive a definition
❤️️  Automatic Citation - Cite using MLA, APA, or Chicago with the click of a button
❤️️  Assignment Options - Comprehension and Critical Thinking questions for $2/students
❤️️  Post articles/assignments to Google Classroom with one-click
❤️️  Article can be read aloud by choosing the audio version
❤️️  Students can also post and share book reviews with an authentic audience on DogoNews

Newsela - www.newsela.com

❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Article can be translated into Spanish with one-click
❤️️  Activities include writing prompt and quiz with each article
❤️️  Teacher can assign articles to students
❤️️  Pro-version allows customization of writing prompts and access to individual progress
(prices not published on website but I believe it's about $18 per student)
❤️️  Power words give students an ability to explore new vocabulary


Time For Kids - www.timeforkids.com

❤️️  Articles include lots of images and videos
❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Article can be translated into Spanish with one-click
❤️️  Printable quiz available for each article
❤️️  Full access available for $3.20-$3.60 per student
❤️️  Vocabulary embedded throughout the articles as power words

Tween Tribune - www.tweentribune.com

❤️️  Totally FREE!
❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Easy-to-access lesson plan ideas
❤️️  Short quiz available with each article
❤️️  Assign to students with one-click
❤️️  Teacher dashboard for easy navigation and accessibility

What are some things that students can do other than simply taking the quiz after reading a current event article?

  • Find the problem in the article and design an innovative solution.
  • Locate where the event occurred on a map and learn more about that continent/country/area.
  • Make a prediction of what will happen as a result of this story being shared.
  • Find the math, ELAR, science, social studies in the story and explain the role that they each play.
  • Find a story with which you feel a personal connection and share why.
And if you need more ideas, check out 50 ways to Teach with Current Events.


All of these options have features that may or may not work in your classroom.  Check them out and find the one that is right for you and your students.  Exploring current events is a great option for students that have finished work early or have already mastered what is being taught.  It's also a great filler activity that is both meaningful and relevant.  Reading nonfiction articles, learning new vocabulary, and using critical thinking to solve real problems is never a waste of time.

What are some of your favorite current event resources?
Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Creating Empowered Learners in 2018

It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone.  So many things are happening in education and it's an amazing time to be a part of it all.  Even though there are great things happening, there is still work to be done to continue moving forward.

As educators, it's so easy to become focused on test prep and data when we return from Christmas.  For many, it's a time of trying to get through the curriculum and grading worksheet after worksheet to determine who needs intervention and who is lucky enough to get enrichment time while those students receive that intervention.

What if there was another way?  What if we focused on real learning in 2018 and made the standards something that students were empowered to apply instead of just expected to regurgitate on a worksheet?  Here are five ways that I think we can empower students as we start the new year...

Student-Driven Conferences - Take time to talk with the learners in your classroom.  Ask them about their strengths and weaknesses.  Thrively is a great tool that was created to help students learn about their own passions and strengths.  Allowing your students to take the Thrively assessment when you return from the holidays will give you a fresh perspective and an opportunity to see them as individuals with unique strengths.  Let them share what works for them and what doesn't.  Ask questions that will lead them to think about their own thinking and encourage them to know themselves well as a learner.  In doing so, you will create a culture of learning that isn't one size fits all but values every individual.

Focus on Feedback - Grades don't help students understand why.  It's just a number that many students could absolutely care less about.  And can we blame them?  They complete an assignment on Monday, we grade the assignment and give it back a few days later.  The reality is that most students have seen a ton of media between completing the assignment and having it returned.  They don't even remember what it was about or what they were supposed to learn from it.

Feedback is different.  Gen Z values feedback and almost expects it in order to reflect or become better at something.  Focus on giving your learners more feedback in 2018 and less grades.  Flipgrid is a wonderful tool that allows students to share their learning through video and receive feedback from others after posting...definitely a gamechanger in the classroom! Allow conversations to be the priority and find ways to give them feedback as quickly and often as possible.

Let Them Struggle - As teachers, we help our students all year long.  We answer questions, guide them toward the correct answers or solutions...and then test day comes.  When they ask a question on test day, we respond with "I'm sorry, I can't answer that for you, just do the best you can" or a similar statement depending on the script.  All of a sudden they are being left to struggle on their own with no help.  If that hasn't happened all year long, it can be super scary and almost paralyzing.

So, let's allow them to struggle all year long in our classrooms.  Give them opportunities to problem solve and figure things out without any guidance or help.  Design experiences that can be solved many different ways but make it a point not to figure it out yourself before doing it in class so that when they ask, you can genuinely say, "I have no idea...you guys are going to have to figure it out."

Connect Your Classroom - Connected classrooms give students an opportunity to learn from others and help them make connections to what is being learned.  Ask an outside expert to Skype into your classroom to share how they use the standard that is being learned in the real world.  Allow your students to ask questions and collaborate with the expert to make those connections so that they see the value of why they are learning that particular concept.  Use tools like Nepris or a Help Wanted Wall to make connecting with outside experts a reality in your classroom.

Mystery Skype connects classrooms from all over the world and encourages them to use critical thinking, collaboration, and communication to learn about new places and each other.  To learn more, check out #mysteryskype on Twitter and jump right in!

Passion-Based Learning - Last, but certainly not least, Genius Hour is a great way for students to learn by doing.  Unfortunately, Genius Hour is often used as enrichment or an activity for gifted students that already know what was being taught in the general education classroom.  I believe that every single student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passion during the school day.  In doing so, they begin to see how the learning can be applied and not just regurgitated on a worksheet.  Genius Hour is meaningful learning through application and has the potential to change the way this generation learns and prepares for their future.

To learn more about Genius Hour, please visit my website.

So, 2018 is here and it's up to us as educators to make it all that it can be for our students.  Let's work together to make sure that it's a great year that brings the changes in education that our students deserve.  It's an exciting time to be an educator...it's just a matter of being brave, doing what we know is right, and believing enough in today's learners to get out of their way and let them learn by doing.