Thursday, December 4, 2014
Genius Hour...One Year Later!
I have been madly getting ready for a Genius Hour presentation at the TIES 2014 Conference in MN next week with a colleague of mine and I got to thinking that it was just over a year ago when I started exploring Genius Hour. I was looking for a "choice unit" that my gifted coordinator wanted us to incorporate into our full-day gifted program. I didn't even know what a "choice unit" was, but I had some ideas in my head.
I had used Envision units in my classroom in the past with a fair amount of student enthusiasm. Some of the students loved the creativity and application to the real world, some hated the work and the organization that went along with it, and some just completed it because it was assigned. All of the final projects were always stellar...(or mostly stellar) and the students would walk away proud of their work.
I then experimented with Project Based Learning(PBL). I had been awarded an amazing technology grant and had to come up with 6 project based learning projects for grades K-5. I was able to do this using a Project Based Learning framework and I was able to incorporate the use of technology into all of these projects. We studied seasons in Kindergarten, habitats in 1st grade, nutrition in 2nd grade, free choice related to STEM in 3rd and 5th grade, and designing a park in 4th grade. The projects all turned out well, with just a "little bit" of stress along the way, and a total of 18 different in-class parent observations. Yes, it was insane...but I learned quite a bit, and was able to incorporate technology into classroom projects for the first time ever.
Then I happened upon Genius Hour. I had happened upon a post about Genius Hour on Pinterest that looked intriguing. I decided to finally take a close look at it in December of last year. I put together a plan and had NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT! We started it in January and at first they literally groaned about the thought of another project. I was a bit worried, but I persevered. After two weeks of introducing Genius Hour and working on it in class, the students had done a complete 180! They were begging to have Genius Hour, begging to have more work time, asking if they could work on it at home(yes!), getting together for Genius Hour playdates(not kidding about this), and had a new enthusiasm about learning. I couldn't believe the student engagement and I began to truly see the value about voice and choice. I am now on my 3rd round of Genius Hour since January and I have tweaked it each time. I have learned just as much as the students and continue to grow as a teacher. I have given students even more choice throughout the process, have continually refined my lessons on how to pick a "deep question," conferred with students one-on-one and guided them along the way, created ways for students to authentically reflect on their progress, given students chances to share their work locally and globally, provided opportunities for the students to collaborate and share their knowledge about creating products like websites, Prezi's, Keynotes, iMovies, etc, and continued to stress that this is a PROCESS. I'm expecting to see growth each time they complete a Genius Hour cycle, both from the students and from myself. The students have commented so many times..."I didn't know anything about any of this in September and now I can make my own website/keynote/Prezi/Nearpod/iMovie about my topic." We are finishing up presenting over the next couple of weeks and I'm already amazed about the ideas that they have already for the next round of Genius Hour. This is personalized learning at its finest and it is amazing to watch the students shine as they share their projects. It makes me so proud of them!