Saturday, January 31, 2015

Genius Hour...Just Keeps Getting Better

This week was so exciting as it was pitch week for my students.  We have been implementing Genius Hour for over a year now and the projects continue to get better and better each semester.  You can read about the beginning our Genius Hour journey HERE.

This semester, I decided to challenge my students to consider doing a project that would impact the life of someone else or "change the world" in some way.  We have been talking about this idea for a while and I asked students to let it "marinate" over Christmas break and come back with some awesome ideas.

After the break, we spent some of our class time discussing service projects and why they are important.  Then, we decided to explore our options by completing the Genius Hour Bracket that I found on Joy Kirr's LiveBinder (which is ABSOLUTELY amazing).  The bracket idea as well as several other ideas for encouraging students to find their passions can be found on AJ Juliani's blog post, 6 Simple Strategies to Help Find Your Passion.

The brackets were so much fun and gave me an opportunity to learn so much about my students.  I had a short conference with each student and discussed their brackets and what types of projects might be most meaningful for them.  They were excited to share their ideas and plans with me as I offered suggestions and thoughts on how they could get started.

Then it was time to pitch our projects.  I asked each student to complete the Pitch Planning Sheet and then prepare a short presentation for our class.  We used Google Slides for our presentations and I was very impressed.  You can view an example of a third grade student's pitch HERE.

As the students shared their projects, I was so proud of their ability to communicate and share the vision for their project.  They shared their plans, ideas, and questions with their classmates and then listened as their peers offered encouragement, suggestions, and advice.  They were collaborating and listening to each other!  It was a wonderful learning experience and so fun to watch as they took control of their own learning.  As a teacher, this was definitely one my favorite classroom moments.

This semester, we are doing a couple of different things.  We are using Trello to document our projects and share them with others.  Each project has a Trello board with the following cards...KWHLAQ, Math, Reading, Tech, and Progress.  I have asked that each student update their cards as they work on their projects.

KWHLAQ - On this card, students will share what they already know, what they want to know, and how they will find out before we begin our projects.  After we have completed their projects, they will share what they learned, what actions they took, and questions that they still have.

Math - This card will include Math standards, examples, and problems that are used and addressed while working on the project.

Reading/Writing - Students will share how they are using Reading and Writing while working on their project.

Tech - On this card, students will share the different technology that they use while completing their project.

Progress - This is a card that students will use to document progress as they work on their project.  It will be an easy way for them to remain accountable and use their class time appropriately.

I have asked students to document this information in an effort to share the wide variety of standards, skills, and tools that each project addresses.  I want my students to see and understand that they are using these skills to accomplish a goal and challenge themselves to incorporate a variety of disciplines into their projects.

In addition to Trello, my students will blog often to reflect on their projects.  What is working?  What isn't working?  I will also make it a priority to share their blogs often so that they can experience writing for an authentic audience.  I have found that reflection plays such an important role in the learning experience and we have spent much of this year learning how to reflect and why it is so important.

And so it begins...a new round of Genius Hour projects.  New possibilities bring excitement and the potential to impact the lives of others gives my students a second wind as we start our second semester of school.  I have to say that I am very excited about these new projects and so proud of my students for choosing such meaningful and challenging topics.  They have grown so much since we first began Genius Hour and that is evident in our newest list of ideas.

And so here they are, ladies and gentlemen...our 2015 Spring Genius Hour Projects (drum roll please)...

Backyard Classroom - Designing and creating a space for students to learn/read/create outdoors
Pillowcases for People - Sewing pillowcases for the homeless, will be donating pillowcases and pillows to those in need
Mystery Magical Fashion - Studying how fashion has changed over the years and creating a website to share that information with others
Reptile Book - Writing a digital book about reptiles and then finding a way to publish that book for our school library
Minecraft Club - Designing lessons/ideas for a Minecraft Club
Waterfalls - Studying how waterfalls work and then designing a working waterfall to share with others
Legos for Littles - Teaching younger students how to use Legos to create and design
Food for Homeless - Finding recipes and making food bags to share with those in need
Best Day Ever - Visiting children with cancer in hospital, singing, playing board games, and sharing treats
Backyard Farmer - Learning about livestock, farming, and completing challenges to earn the Backyard Farmer Master Badge on DIY
Disabled Animals - Creating an event to help people understand how they can help disabled animals and make their lives more manageable
Feeding Hungry Children - Making people aware of hunger in our community and finding ways to feed local children that do not have food
Cup of Milk - Helping this organization by raising enough money to feed 100 children for a month
Stop Euthanization of Animals - Find ways to help raise money for a local animal shelter trying to expand to so that they will have room for more animals
Water Pollution - Make others aware of the dangers of pollution in our oceans and how it affects marine life
Bully Busters - Coding/creating a video game about bullying and its effect on others
Football Game to Help Homeless - Organizing a football game to collect food for those in need
Extreme Weather Documentary - Using graphic design and researching weather to create a documentary explaining extreme weather to others

If you have suggestions for outside experts, information to share, or anything else that would be beneficial for any of these projects, please feel free to contact us.  I would also love to hear how you are using Genius Hour in your classroom.

If you are just getting started or want to know more about Genius Hour, check out Joy Kirr's Livebinder and Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level by Don Wettrick.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Opportunity - Inspiration from Annie 2014

Opportunity:  a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal. (

As teachers, we should be considering whether or not we are providing opportunities for our students every day in our classroom.  Are we providing conditions that are favorable for the attainment of their goals?  Are we teaching them how to find opportunities in unlikely places?  Are we giving them the tools that they need to successfully take advantage of opportunities?  

Or are we missing opportunities to give our students the world because we are too busy?  Have we decided that students don't want to take advantage of opportunities and given up?  Instead of opportunities, are we giving students busy work and meaningless assignments?

My daughter is a huge fan of Annie, and we went to see it last night.  As I watched the movie for the second time, I was so inspired by Quvenzhane Wallis's performance of Opportunity.  Take a minute to watch this part of the movie below...

Wow!  I love that the people that knew her well were so impressed and surprised by her talent and ability.  When given the opportunity, she was able to shine and show the world that she had so much to offer.

How many of our students are in this same situation?  How many of them have gifts that they aren't aware of because they haven't been given the opportunity to explore their dreams?

I couldn't help but think of several of the students in my classroom as I watched this part of the movie.  I thought of the students that aren't great at school...they don't make great grades, they might not always be the well-behaved students...but what are we missing?  What would they do if given the opportunity to put on their best show, to show us what they are capable of on their terms?  I have a feeling most of them wouldn't waste an opportunity to show others that they have dreams, talents, and passions that they would love to pursue.  Instead, they would take that opportunity and surprise us all.

                                                  Image Source:

I want to help my students open the doors to opportunity.  I want them to know and understand that opportunities ARE everywhere and they can change the world!  I want to witness their moment and realize that they are capable of more than I could've ever imagined.  Genius Hour and Innovations has opened doors for many of my students and gives opportunities every day for them to explore their dreams and pursue their passions.

Think about the opportunities that you give your students.   Could you give more opportunities? Do you see your students for what they can do or what they can't do?  These are hard questions and questions I plan on asking myself over the next few days.

Let's start opening doors for our students.  Let's let them have their moment and give them the opportunities that they deserve.  In doing so, we have the chance to play a small role in the lives in children that will grow into amazing adults.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Augmented Reality, Green Screens, and Writing Prompts - Oh My!

So I’m obsessed with augmented reality.  I’ve been using it off and on in my classroom for a few months but just recently began using it often with my students.  Last week we used augmented reality to explain and share our 2015 OneWord assignment.

Each student created a small poster that included their one word for 2015.  Then I filmed them explaining and sharing their one word using the iPad.  We used the posters as the trigger image and the video explanation as the overlay.  These were a huge hit with the parents and other staff members!  

After some of the staff saw what we had done, one of them suggested we do some type of augmented reality for the school board this week as it is School Board Appreciation month.  So we made each school board member a booklet titled, “Top Ten Reasons Our School Board is the Best.” Each page represented a word such as dedicated, respectful, inspiring, and caring.  We then filmed students sharing about each specific word and how we think it relates to our school board.  Before the meeting, we emailed the board members and asked them to download the app and follow our school using Aurasma.  

I got to the meeting early and made sure that most of the board members were able to get the app and follow the channel successfully. And then it was go time! They began to scan the black and white pictures and were amazed when the video appeared right before their eyes. They loved the booklets and were excited about the possibilities of augmented reality.

In my third grade GT class today, we were discussing details. In order to encourage my students to be more descriptive and use more details, I gave them the following writing prompt from one of my favorite websites,

I then asked my students to blog their responses using KidBlog as well as illustrate their doughnuts using lots of details.  

After they had completed this part of the assignment, I filmed each student speaking about his/her doughnut invention in front of the green screen.   Again, I reminded them to give lots of details while sharing their doughnuts.  I must admit, the strawberry cheesecake doughnut sounded very tempting! 

When we had completed the videos, we used the DoInk Green Screen App to add the picture prompt as our background.  

Finally, we uploaded our videos to Aurasma and added them to our channel.  I sent home simple instructions so that the parents and other family members could watch their videos.  We used the doughnut illustrations as the trigger image and the green screen videos as the overlay.  

This was such a fun and easy thing to do.  My students really understood the importance of details and enjoyed using them to create the perfect doughnut.  

I just wanted to take some time today to share this lesson and encourage other educators to engage students using Augmented Reality.  This is truly a gamechanger in the classroom and the possibilities are endless.  If you would like to know more about AR or how it can be used in education, please follow Brad Waid and Drew Minock.  You can also check out their website, Two Guys and Some iPads for lots of AR integration ideas.

If you are already using augmented reality and have more ideas to share, please feel free to comment below.  I would love to hear about the innovative and exciting ways augmented reality is playing a role in your classroom!