Creativity. Wonder. Passion.
"Genius Hour is a precious time, loved by all my students. It is when they are allowed to develop their own inquiry question about whatever it is that they want to explore"
An Index of All My Genius Hour Posts
A Few Other Fantastic Genius Hour Links
My visits to
The Inquiry HUB School in Coquitlam,
the Inquiry 8 Class @ Fraser Heights Secondary in Surrey,
Earlier this year I blogged about the power of visiting other classrooms and schools
. Well, since then I have had the opportunity to go on even more classroom visits and I just have to blog about it again! There are so many amazing educators out there and they are doing amazing things in their classrooms! Let me tell you about some of them:
The iHub Inquiry School
. Have you heard of this place? They are a tiny
secondary school in Coquitlam that is doing some big
things! In their words, it is "an innovative, technology driven, full-time program which allows them to pursue their own learning questions by shaping their educational experience around their interests instead of structured classes". Sounds like a full time Genius Hour
program to me...I knew I was going to love it...and I did!
We (I was visiting with Jesse McLean
who organized the trip and was kind enough to invite me along) started the morning with a student-led tour of the school. The 3 girls were great! They clearly explained the school's culture and Jesse and I were very impressed with the vocabulary they used to describe their learning. The students went on to explain that they were in the middle of an Inquiry project on Urban Gardening. These amazing 9th graders were planning a school garden, as well as a program that would teach primary students how to garden as well. It was so inspiring to hear them talk about their learning.
Our tour guides pose with some of their seedlings
An important experience, the girls explained, was one that took place early on in the school year. Their teachers set up an inquiry project for all of them to do, and made sure that their were opportunities throughout for the students to fail. Yes, FAIL. I almost cheered! I have been trying all year to get my students comfortable with the learning process and the obstacles that they will face. But my students struggle with this notion. They prefer things to be clear, and for all experiences to be problem-free. We are still working toward being okay with ambiguity and taking risks with our learning. I was really happy that the girls shared this experience with me. Something to borrow for sure! After some time with the students, we sat down to chat with VP, David Truss
. David, thank you so much for taking the time to explain your program to us! We have so much to learn from what you are doing.***Major Takeway***
Inquiry needs to be introduced, modeled and scaffolded for the students. It pays to take the time to do it right!
Some of the brainstorming that decorated the walls of the school
After lunch, Jesse and I headed to Fraser Heights Secondary
(back in my School District 36
). We wanted to visit Jess Pelat
and Parm Brar
because they are running a cross-curricular inquiry program with their grade 8s. Basically, they teach English, Social Studies, Math and Science to the same group of students by doing inquiry projects. So neat! I love the idea of keeping those kids together as a cohort for all of their subjects. And I also appreciated the emphasis on cross-curricular projects, something Hugh McDonald
(my teaching partner) and I have been experimenting a lot with this year.
Jess and Parm, thank you so much for opening up your classroom to us!***Major Takeway***
Cross-curricular works! But that doesn't mean you should feel guilty about teaching some stand-alone math lessons, because that is important too.
A few weeks later I had the opportunity to check out a few more schools. This time they were elementary schools...a little bit more familiar! First, I spent some time with Trish Miller
and Chris Gauvin
at Martha Currie. I just loved seeing how they were doing Genius Hour! It is so great to just watch expert teachers do their thing! I was so impressed with Trish's students and their projects! The purpose of my visit to Trish's class was to help her young students get started with blogging, and we did...her adorable grade 3s and 4s took to kidblog immediately! But while there I was reminded at how important a sense of community is. Trish cares so much about her students, and it is immediately obvious. There is such a sense of community and care in her classroom! It is evident in the way she decorates her room (beautiful baskets of supplies, and student work displayed), in the way she teaches (science through hands on activities such as making a fruit salad while examining the various types of seeds in fruit) and the way she involves her students in the decision making (I watched the students make the decisions about their Genius Hour iMovie). I am so glad that I got to visit!
I was also really eager to hear about the gardening project that Chris' students were starting. His class is trying to figure out how to start an urban garden of their own! These young 5th and 6th graders were sawing wood, taking measurements and building their own garden out of old pallets. Reminded me a little of the wikiseat project
we are doing at my school. I just love these hands on activities that make math (measurement, angles, etc) come alive, and are also just perfect examples of authentic learning!
Community and relationship-building is key.
Other types of building (with a saw, hammer and nails) are also awesome!
Next up was a quick visit to Robyn Thiessen
's class at Green Timbers. Robyn is the Queen of making global connections! I was so impressed with how her grade 3/4 students conducted themselves during a Mystery Skype call. Her students were engaged and on task as they tried to guess where in the world the other class was.
Have you tried Mystery Skype with your class yet? If not, you definitely want to consider it! Students learn about world geography in the most exciting way! Check out 6th chat
and 4th chat
Below, is a video that Hugh made of our students during a recent mystery skype call.
I need to allow my students to make more global connections. Check out Robyn's mystery skype map below! Her students are learning so much about the world by skyping with people from all over!
Picture by Robyn Thiessen https://twitter.com/RobynThiessen/status/332894971126509569/photo/1
I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to visit colleagues from in and out of district. None of this would be possible without the connections I have made through twitter. Having a supportive PLN is amazing. Visiting them to learn through observation and conversation is even more amazing!
On the first Wednesday of each month a bunch of fantastic educators get together on twitter
for a chat
about Genius Hour
. The past two chats have been amazing! We had a lot of experienced #geniushour teachers and a lot of newbies too! It was a great mix! We had great conversations, but it was moving so
fast that I thought I would summarize some it.
We talked about assessment and giving feedback. Most agreed that they did not grade Genius Hour projects, but instead provided formative assessment only. After re-reading over 50 pages of archived tweets, here are some highlights:
- 1. Hugh McDonald reminded us of the wonderful creativity rubric that Denise Krebs made a couple of years ago. Hugh and I both use it with our students so that they have something to self-assess with and also as a jumping off point for their blog-refections. We love it!
- 2. Many teachers talked about blogging as a way for students to reflect on their projects, the experience and what went right/wrong. It also provides, as Greg Miller reminded us, the opportunity for peer feedback as well.
- 3. A lot of teachers, Joy Kirr included, also mentioned the importance of informal conversations with students during Genius Hour. She has meaningful, one-on-one chats while students are learning!
- 4. John Stevens talked about using google docs as a method for giving feedback. He also uses google forms for students to submit project ideas. Check that out here.
- 5. Jas Kooner and some others mentioned that they like to give written feedback to their students. She also spoke about the importance of peer-feedback. Many chimed in and agreed. I would love to see any documents/links regarding the way in which people do this. In my class, we comment on each others' blogs as a way of giving peer-to-peer feedback. Any other ideas? Comment below!
- 6. My students also reflect on their Genius Hour projects on their ePortfolios (in the same way that they reflect on every subject). Some students have done great step by step reflections! This way you can track their progress and chat about it with students whenever you have time.
- 7. Lindsey Bingley explained that she gives students "oral feedback, through short conferences during Genius Hour". Sitting down with students for a few minutes to quickly conference is also something that Hugh and I do with our students. This is probably the easiest way for me to touch base with all my students.
- 8. Julie Jee talked about doing monthly journal entries with her high school students.
- 9. Rory Newcomb talked about framing her feedback in a 5-4-3-2-1 format. She blogs about it here.
- 10. Robyn Thiessen told us that her students fill out an action plan each week where they write about what they plan to do and then they self-assess afterwards. She also reminded us of the Global Genius Hour Project and that it can be used for students in other classes to give feedback to each other. Great idea!
There you have it! 10 ways to give feedback. Do you have any others? Comment below!
A lot of us shared that we struggled to find the time to connect with every single student. I liked Angela Maiers
' advice: "Commit to 5 min a day - make a schedule five learners in five minutes everyday, non-negotiable". This was echoed by Kevin Ashworth
when he said that he will often quickly conference with students about Genius Hour, during non-genius hour time! Chris Kesler
suggested having students reflect from home, if time is an issue in your classroom!
Another interesting point of discussion, brought up by Troy Cockrum
, was that of bringing in mentors; parents or community members who could assist students with their projects and provide insight. This is something I am definitely going to look into! This year, Hugh and I had students with skype with some experts for Health and Career class. Why not have them join for Genius Hour too? I love it!
We also talked about ways in which students can share their projects. Some common responses:
- Ted Talk style speech about what they did/learned
- iMovies and other videos documenting their journey
- Show their model/creation/invention and talk about it
- Powerpoint, Keynote and other slide shows
- Create a website or page on their existing website
- Picture collage/photo journal
Thank you all for participating in the chat and for giving us some things to think about when we implement our next round of Genius Hour.
PLN, did I miss anything? Please comment below! Would love to hear from you!
A few days ago I attended a district dinner for teacher-bloggers and those interested in blogging. Let me start with a thank you to the school district for putting on events like this. I feel so fortunate to work in SD36, a place where innovation and sharing is encouraged!
So, over the course of the evening we heard 2 speakers. Jordan Tinney
, deputy superintendent, and George Couros
, a visiting administrator from Edmonton and dear friend of the SD36 community. It was a pleasure listening to these 2 educators as they shared their stories of engaging in social media and blogging, mentioning both the dangers and benefits of both. George ended the evening with 2 questions: Why did you become an educator? And what legacy do you want to leave?
The first one seems pretty straight forward to me...I know why I went into teaching. But the 2nd one was surprising to me...never before had I considered the notion of leaving a legacy. And I still am not sure about this question. So let me start with the first question:
I had an amazing Grade 2 teacher, Ms. Mary MacDonald. Honestly, it was so long ago that I am not clear on all the ways in which she was inspiring, but I do know that throughout my elementary years, I always looked up to her. I think she was one of the few teachers that made me feel special and made me feel like she truly cared for me. We made a connection. And so I always had this idea in my head that I wanted to be just like her.
Later, in Grade 7, I had another amazing teacher, Ms. Colette Leisen. I didn't get to spend that much time with her as she was our Art teacher (so we probably only had her 2 times each week, I am not exactly sure). Anyway, she, too, made her students feel special. And when I was devastated about my first term report card, it was her that comforted me while I cried. Interestingly, my husband (who went to the same elementary school) also cites Leisen as his favourite teacher whom he remembers as the one who opened up his eyes to the world around him. He didn't just learn about math and art from her, he also learned about life.
So, I knew I wanted to be like these 2 women in some capacity. And I knew that I loved working with children (I was a camp counsellor, babysitter and birthday party planner in high school).
But I think the biggest motivator to become a teacher hit me when I was in Grade 12. My classmates all started talking about future plans: college, travelling, work, etc. And I had no idea what I was going to do! And I don't think my family did either. Being the child of immigrants, they weren't exactly sure how all that worked over here. And so it was up to me to figure it out for myself.
I finished grade 12, got a job and started college shortly afterwards. It was during that time I realized I wanted to be a teacher so that I could help kids like me. I had good parents, but ones that didn't really know how to guide me because they didn't have the same experience here themselves. So I realized that I wanted to become a teacher and help high school students find their passion and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. And then help guide them in the direction of their dreams.
Well, it turns out I ended up teaching elementary school and not secondary, but I think my why
is still the same. I help children figure things out about themselves, I share my story and I encourage them to follow their passion.
As for what legacy do I want to leave...I don't know if I have an answer to this question. I hope my students remember their experience with me as a time that they felt loved and cared for (as I did with Mary McDonald) and also a time when they learned about themselves and about life (as my husband did with Colette Leisen). And I hope that they are less confused about their future options than when I was a kid. I hope they learn that we are all learners and that it is just a matter of finding your passion. I want Genius Hour
to spread so that students have the opportunity to explore their passions at school. And I want to leave them believing in themselves, their abilities, and their futures.
What legacy do you want to leave?
The question that The Openspokes Fellowship
is tackling this week is: How do you learn best?
I loved watching everyone's videos. It was a wonderful reminder of the fact that everyone learns differently and we have to honour that, and be mindful of the diverse ways in which we all learn when we plan for our students.
You can subsribe to the Fellowship and join in on the conversation here
My weekly vlog:
So, how do you learn best? I'd love to from you!
Last week, Lindsey Own
(Seattle teacher) spent the day visiting my classroom. You can read about her experience on her very thoughtfully written blog here
. Lindsey was very impressed with the overall feeling at our school and asked me how we got this way? I wasn't, and still am not, sure how to answer that question. Was it the amazing leadership of the administration? The fact that we have so many amazing teacher-leaders at our school who model innovation and are not afraid to take risks/embrace change? All of the above? None of the above?
Honestly, I cannot say for sure what it is, but she is right. Our school is fantastic and is involved in all kinds of interesting and innovative projects. And I think a lot of it has to do with the support of a caring, curious, and innovative administrative staff who model life long learning. And I am referring to the leaders in our school, and even beyond, at a district level.
At our school:
- Students took part in a Entrepreneur Fair and carefully thought of a sales idea, crafted a business plan, and then made and sold products for a profit.
- Students are invited to use classroom and school space in a non-traditional manner. There are alternate seating spaces in classrooms and our Library Learning Commons. Students are often found tucked into corners of the hallways as they seek out quiet corners to record their voices for various projects.
- Students are given an hour each week to learn about their passions and wonders during Genius Hour. They form their own inquiry questions and share their learning and/or creations with their classmates and online.
- Students are given authentic tasks. Ex. the choice to cook for their family for homework, instead of writing spelling sentences.
- Kindergarteners regularly use iPads for digital storytelling and more.
- Students reflect on their learning regularly through the use of blogs and ePortfolios. They then share their learning with their parents, peers and the whole world! This gives students an authentic audience for their writing.
- Students learn about other communites and connect with other classrooms through Mystery Skypes.
- Students interview and learn from experts through skype sessions with adults who work in the field that students are interested in.
- Students learn through cross-curricular Project Based Learning
- Primary students are learning about farming by growing their own potatoes.
- Students create movies about topics they are passionate about in hopes of creating real change in the world.
- Students are using the 4 Cs and creating their own wikiseats.
And I am sure there are some other unique, amazing projects in the works that I have forgotten to mention.
Clearly, I work with amazing educators who embrace 21st century learning. But to go back to Lindsey's question again, how did we get to this? My thoughts:
- We work with a principal (Antonio Vendramin) who is obviously an enthusiastic, life-long learner himself. It makes an amazing difference because his enthusiasm and involvement in projects sets the tone for an innovative school culture which then further supports the climate of learning, exploring and innovation at all levels within the school. We know that we have his support when we bring up new project ideas and sometimes it is even him that comes to us with the cool project ideas (like the wikiseat project).
- Teachers here are learners too! We are all looking to improve our practice and are constantly striving to give our students the best learning opportunities.
- District leadership: I feel so fortunate to work in a school district that values and celebrates the process of learning (not just the content of the prescribed learning outcomes). They support our growth by providing teachers in Surrey with great opportunities like after school professional development workshops, the digital learners dinner series (where we get together for a nice dinner at the local golf course and listen to some amazing key note speakers), encouraging communication and collaboration by displaying the backchannel #sd36learn at all district events, etc.
- Which brings me to social media: Many of our staff (administrators included) have an online PLN and we learn so much from them and are always sharing what we have learned with each other. I think this is important as it pushes us forward. We are all learning alongside our students everyday. That is huge.
- BYOD: We allow students to bring their own devices, and we supplement the rest of the class with the the schools iPads, iPod touches, macbooks, etc. Not every class has adopted this policy yet, but I think most have and that truly allows us opportunities that we wouldn't have otherwise.
- Combined Grades: We have a lot of combined classrooms (note I didn't call them splits) which I think encourages collaboration between students, as well as between staff. We have huge grade group teams! Which is fantastic...you know the old saying 'two heads are better than one'...well, we have even more than two! So there is always someone with a great idea!
I am so fortunate to work with such innovative and inspiring educators every single day!
Thank you all.
I wonder what else I am overlooking?
What do you think supports the culture of innovation?
What are some of the best attributes of your school?
A few weeks ago, Ben Wilkoff
, fellow #ETMOOCer had an idea for a collaborative vlogging group. He called it the Fellowship of Open Spokes and he envisioned a group of educators from around the world coming together on one youtube channel to discuss education. A fantastic idea!
Well, we have formed the fellowship and this week we started our vlogging! I invite you to subscribe to the channel here
and join us in our discussion of education.
This week's question: "What does education look like in 5 years?"
My response is below, but I encourage you check out the actual channel because there is so much value in the comment section below our actual vlogs!
So, it is the last week of #ETMOOC and we have been talking about digital citizenship.
How do we teach it? Model it? etc...
And here is what I have been thinking about...I know we have to discuss what not to do with our students. I do feel obliged to do that, I know I should say no online bullying, be careful, watch what you share, etc. But, honestly, I don't really want to do that.
I am not a negative person and I don't like focussing on life's don't lists. I would much rather focus on the happier side of things. I'd rather talk about the wonderful things we can do with social media, with our blogs and with the power of the internet. And I want to focus on the positive behaviours and focus on what my students can do, should do, and will do! That is the discussion I want to have! That is what I want them to brainstorm and share with the rest of the class, that is what I really think we ought to be focussed on!
Mother Theresa once said, "I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me".
I feel that same attitude can be applied to digital citizenship...I don't want to focus on the anti side of anything, I would rather focus on positive digital citizenship and gets students thinking and talking about the meaningful things we can do online...that gets me so much more excited than rambling on about what not to do.
What do you think? Do we need to go through the consequences of negative behaviour? Can we spend a little time on it and then focus more of our attention on the being good citizens.
I would love to hear from you all about this!
Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to spend the day with my new twitter friend, Lindsey Own,
in her school in Seattle, Washington. Lindsey and I met on twitter a little while ago and had chatted a bit about Genius Hour
. She told me that she loves visiting other schools and asked if she could come up to mine during her Spring Break. Of course I said yes, and told her how much I loved visiting other schools as well. And so I asked if I could visit hers during my Spring Break (thank goodness we have different breaks so we could make this happen).
@LindseyOwn and I in front of her school
If you haven't done this before, you need to try it! It is a wonderful opportunity! You learn so much just by observing and chatting with a different set of teachers. I have been lucky enough to have been able to visit other classrooms several times over the years.
@LindseyOwn playing a game with her students
One of Lindsey's students picked me up from the front office and brought me to her classroom and this is the scene that I walked in on. Lindsey and a group of her students playing a card game together. They were chatting and laughing and having a great time. At first, I was confused...what on earth was going on? This was science class? I sat at the side and just watched and realized that it was still before the first period bell. The children were just warming up for their day. At Lindsey's school the kids are encouraged to show up 10 minutes before the bell to touch base with their homeroom teacher and get warmed up for their day. Lindsey uses this time to check in with her students and make a personal connection. I couldn't stop smiling. What a wonderful start to their day!
After chatting with Lindsey and touring the school (which included watching the K students get in their daily physical activity by having a little morning dance...so cute), I checked out a math class that is using video games to teach. Now at first I thought that meant gamification
(which I do not know a lot about, but it involves a lot of external rewards, which I try to avoid in my classroom), but I quickly learned that was not what she was doing at all. Teaching through games is different. The video game she was using, Anti-chamber
, is built on problem solving, which related directly to the unit of study in her math class. Students were engaged, on task and learning. Very cool.
A student playing Anti-chamber
After math, I checked out a few other classes, and then ended my day back in Lindsey's science class where they were working on their Science Symposium (like a Science Fair without ribbons). I was drawn to the windows in her classroom as they had post-it notes all over them. I asked her about them, and she explained how they began their science inquiry unit with a discussion about deep questions. They looked at google-able questions and questions that required more in-depth analysis and which would make a better science project.
This is something I also spend a great deal of time on with my students. Not only in Science class, but also in Language Arts, when we ask our students to ask meaningful questions of the texts that we read. We don't want our students asking surface level questions that they can easily look up the answer to, but rather we want them to dig deeper and come up with questions that require deep thought, critical thinking, and perhaps experimentation to solve.
I loved this post-it note activity and it is definitely something I am going to 'steal' from my visit. And that is what is so wonderful about these, as Lindsey puts it, "cross-pollination" visits...we can step into someone else's world, look at their classroom and units and 'steal' brilliant ideas.
When we are beginner teachers, we are told to "beg, borrow and steal" lesson plans from our colleagues. But I worry that once we gain experience, too many people stop this practice because their filing cabinets are now full of ideas and they don't have to 'shop around' anymore. But then we risk losing something so incredible...that conversation with our colleagues, both in and out of our own schools.
I love visiting...I love wandering the halls of my own school and checking out what everyone is doing and I love visiting other schools. Thank goodness for spring break, professional development days, and a principal who will cover my class so that I get these opportunities. Thank goodness for twitter, youtube, blogs, pinterest and all the other online platforms I use to connect with other educators.
Thank you Lindsey and everyone at your lovely school for inviting me into your precious learning space. I can't wait for you to visit my school!
This blog entry was inspired by Ben Wilkoff
's vlog below. I watched it a few weeks ago and have been thinking about it since.
Ben talks about how lucky he feels when he is within a school and he mentions those "moments when you hear someone say aha!
" Those moments really are amazing! I feel so lucky to be with the learners in my class and in my school, especially when I am a part of those aha
moments. It truly is amazing to watch someone learn something new, to see that look in their eyes when the connection is made, when they have created something new, or when they are proud of themselves for a job well done.
Take a look at Ben's vlog:
"Those moments are real". What a great line, Ben. They are real. Real and amazing and sometimes we get so used to them we forget to stop and treasure them. We need to take pause in those moments though, and really recognize how wonderful they are.
I LOVE being a teacher and I LOVE being in school...spending time with children and helping them find their passions, explore their wonders is...well, it is just amazing! I am so grateful.
A few weeks ago, I found out that I was successful in my application to be an FA at Simon Fraser University. I am so excited to spend time with pre-service teachers and am looking forward to the new experience, but I do worry that I will miss being in my own elementary school. I will miss being with my little group of 10-12 year olds when they get their first blog comment from outside of Canada, when they begin their first Genius Hour
project or when they discover the strategy that works for them in Math.
My secondment starts in August and so I will have to soak in every moment with my students until then! Thank you for this vlog post, Ben. It is a good reminder to treasure our experiences in school and to remember that we are indeed fortunate to be able to work with these amazing, inspiring young minds.
So, in response to Ben's original question: "I feel lucky to be within a school. Do you?" The answer is YES! And thank goodness I will still be in and out of schools regularly with my new position!
Why do you feel lucky when you are in a school?