Tuesday, September 8, 2015

6 P's of Passion Projects

It's finally here!  Time to start thinking about our Genius Hour projects in my classroom and I could not be more excited.  My students have waited all summer to share their new ideas and I have waited all summer to hear them.

As we began to discuss Genius Hour and we what wanted it to look like in our classroom this year, I wanted to have a clear process for my students.  Last year we did one project each semester.  The problem with that plan was that some students were stretching their projects out just to satisfy the time requirement and others didn't have enough time to finish.  So, this year we have decided on no time requirements. In other words, some students may finish in three weeks, others in six weeks, others in a semester, and some projects might take all year.

However, in order to make this work, I needed to have a specific process students were to follow so they would know where to start, steps to take, and how to wrap it up.  As I thought about that, I realized that Genius Hour could be summed up with 6 P's.

Passion - Every Genius Hour project starts here.  What are you passionate about?  What do you WANT to learn about?  Passion is what drives the project, makes it meaningful, and makes it theirs. Passion comes from a desire to know more.  Merriam-Webster defines passion as "a strong feeling or enthusiasm for something or about doing something".  I want my students to be enthusiastic about their projects.  I want them to have strong feelings about why their project is important and why they should carry it out. 

Pitch - This year, we are really making a big deal out of our pitches.  We watched some short clips of Shark Tank today and will be doing our pitches "Shark Tank" style next week.  I have read several blog posts about this approach and love it.  This was one of the examples we watched today and we talked about the props, persuasion, statistics, and technology that group used to persuade the sharks that their idea was worth the investment.  I then gave (4th and 5th grade) students Mariana Garcia's Pitch Planning Sheet that I found in Joy Kirr's Livebinder and asked them to blog their responses. I also asked them to include additional ideas such as props, technology, and statistics/facts that they want to share during their pitch. 

Plan - After their pitch, it's time to really plan their project.  While they present an overview in their pitch, the planning stage requires more details.  This is when we begin to set up our Trello boards. We use Trello to track our learning as we work on our projects.  Students will set up lists such as KWHLAQ, Math, ELA, Technology, Links, Resources, and Science/Social Studies.  They will document their KWH now, document the standards they are using as they work, and will document their LAQ at the end of the project.  This is also when students will decide on an outside expert.  This is someone that they feel can offer them the information that they need to learn how their topic relates to the real world.  Outside experts are my absolute favorite part of Genius Hour.  You can read more about outside experts here.

Project - This is the "doing" part of the project.  Students make, design, create whatever it is that they have decided for their project.  This is when the learning and the passion become very evident.  As students work on their projects, I like to use questioning to weave in the standards.  For example, last year two students were using the sewing machine to make pillowcases.  They noticed that the markings on the machine were 3/8, 1/2, and 5/8.  I used that opportunity to ask what else could be in the place of the 1/2 marking which allowed us to discuss equivalent fractions.

Product - The product is what is produced and can be shared out with the world.  This may be a YouTube video, a tangible prototype of their idea, or a digital book that they have written about their topic.  Sharing with an authentic audience is an important part of the Genius Hour process as students like to know they are sharing beyond the four walls of the classroom.  It makes it real, relevant, and brings even more meaning to the learning.

Presentation - Finally, students present their projects to the class.  They can do this in a variety of ways.  Some will share images with Google Slides, others will share videos documenting their entire journey, and many will use other technology such as Powtoon and Keynote to share their learning. However it is done, this is simply a time for students to reflect on their learning and share their project with their peers.  Reflection is so important and helps students realize what went well, what didn't, and what they learned in the process.

In closing, if you are considering introducing Genius Hour into your classroom, consider using the 6 P's as a map for students to use.  It will make the steps clear and help them stay on track as they go through the process.  As students experience this process, they will begin to realize the importance of each step.  Remember to give opportunities for students to make mistakes and be patient.  Genius Hour is not easy and does not always run smoothly.  But when you see the connections that are made and the learning that takes place, you will be so glad that you gave your students the opportunity to experience Genius Hour!

Want to learn more about the 6 Ps of Genius Hour?  Check out the ONLINE COURSE!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Easy Ways to Provide New Learning Opportunities

Every student deserves to experience new learning at school.  Students should not have to sit through things that they already know simply because the rest of the class doesn't understand yet. They have a right to be exposed to new learning experiences.

So often, students that finish early are asked to tutor their peers, run errands, or help in the classroom. This type of "busy work" is not beneficial and can be frustrating to students.  Students want to learn but they want to learn new things.

Sitting through things that you already know is exhausting.  Think about yourself when you are in a workshop or professional development session that you thought was going to be awesome.  You expected to learn new things that you could take back in and use in your classroom.  You entered the workshop with high expectations and willingness to learn.  As the speaker begins to share, you realize they are sharing the same things that you heard in an earlier session.  They are simply sharing things that you already know.  Think about the frustration that you would feel.  You would want to be anywhere but there and would probably leave if you were able.

However, our students don't have that privilege.  They cannot simply leave a classroom when they already understand the material.  All they can do is prove that they have mastered a concept.  It is up to us as teachers to respect them enough to offer a variety of learning opportunities that will engage them.

Here are three tools that will engage your students using the computers in your classroom.  It will require little to no extra work on your part but will give students an opportunity to experience new learning that is meaningful for them.

Wonderopolis taps into student curiosity and makes learning fun.  Students can choose a wonder that is interesting to them or complete the Wonder of the Day.  They watch a video, read about the topic, and then take a short quiz to demonstrate their understanding.  Students can also complete a vocabulary challenge as part of the wonder.

Students could complete a Wonder and then answer the questions from the quiz on an index card to show completion.  If your students blog, they could write about the wonder on their blog.

DogoNews is a great place to find current events that are appropriate for kids.  The articles are fun and interesting.  Students can click on unfamiliar words and will be given a definition.  My favorite feature is that when students click on a location, they are shown a map.  At the end of the article, they are asked three article comprehension questions and given a critical thinking challenge.

DogoNews could be done at the computers in your classroom.  Students answer the three article comprehension questions on the front of the index card and the critical thinking challenge on the back.  Again, if your students blog, they could blog about the article as well.

Ted Connections 
These are a part of the Mensa for Kids website and they are awesome!  Students watch a TED Talk and are then given several critical thinking questions related to the video.  The questions really stretch their thinking and encourage deep learning and understanding.

This is an activity that could be done at the student computers as well.  Students could use headphones to watch the talk so that they do not disturb the rest of the class.  When the TED Talk is over, they can answer their questions on the PDF that is provided or blog their responses.

It's so important that our students realize that we value their time and see them as individuals.  By providing new learning opportunities, we are sending that message.  Take time this year to find ways to engage students even when it's not easy.  After all, "busy work"  is a waste of your time and theirs.