Sunday, January 18, 2015

Genius Hour in a 5th Grade Classroom

I've had a lot on interest on my Instagram page about how I run Genius Hour in my 5th grade class.

For some general information on Genius Hour (Passion Projects and 80/20 time) CLICK HERE

Let me be the first to say, I am by no means, an expert in Genius Hour.  I have read NO book on the subject, although there are a couple on my TBR list. I have, however, read many articles and blog posts about Genius Hour and how real teachers are using this motivational research tool in their classes.
If you know me, you know I'm self taught in many areas. I wanted to make more cool things for my classroom, so I taught myself. If I want to try something new in class, I research it and then make it work for me. There is no exception when it comes to GH. I have turned it into something all my own and now that I have just one session with 5th graders under my belt, I have some tips.

1. Have an Objective
What do you want your kids to get out of GH? Every classroom is different and there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to this approach. I have found that buying materials from TpT is no help on this one. What one teacher does in his or her room may not work for your kids, but then again, it might. For my first session, I wanted my kids to develop their researching skills. I wanted them to be able to choose something they love and find out more about it. Plain and simple.

2. Be Organized and Prepared
Does your school have the technology to support you starting a GH endeavor? Our school has an iPad cart that is shared between grades 3-5. If I want the cart, I can use it on days it's available to grade 5. If I get to use it, that means my Science, other ELA and Math teachers don't get to use it. I have to be organized when getting the technology into my room. I can't (on the fly) decide to grab the cart if we don't get to GH on the day we are supposed to. I had kids choose to do PPT presentations and they needed lab time. Be prepared for that as well. Also, be flexible. There's nothing worse than a teacher who can't go with the flow. Be willing to share materials with other teachers and have students work with technology tools on certain days.


3. Be Ready for a Loud Classroom
If you're like me, you like a nice, quiet and orderly room. Well, I had to throw that out the window for GH. I had kids practicing drumming, shooting anti-bullying videos, watching YouTube videos and organizing Lego Stop Motion Movies. It was NOISY. Who cares?? Get over the need for the perfectly compliant room. The room is noisy, but I bet your kids are engaged AND actively learning!

4. Be Willing to Offer A LOT of Support for Some Students
Guess what I was not prepared for? Kids not being able to choose a topic. BOOM!
I thought it would be easy for my kiddos to pick something they are passionate about. I even used this example in class: "When you start to daydream in class, what are you thinking about? What is always on your mind, what can you NOT wait to get home to do?" I thought I was so inspirational. I was wrong. Some of your students, particularly kids that don't have ideal home situations will need help. Some of your kiddos that struggle academically, will need help. You need to be there and willing to guide them along. What games do they play? What sports do they like? Is there a career that they want more than any other? Be ready to ask a lot of questions and encourage your kids to THINK about it.

5. Students Should have an Essential Question to Guide Their Research
This is part of where I went wrong this year. The students that listened to my original directions and had a guiding or essential question, were the students who were most organized in their research. Your kids have to HAVE A PLAN. This is not something that they can "wing it" on and be successful.
Guiding questions help focus their GH time, it's the question that they want answered by the end of the project.

6. Materials are Needed for Student Support
My kids kept all of their GH stuff in two-pocket folders. These worked well, but next year I may try to use binders. They will be harder to store, but they will be able to house more than one session. As far as handouts go, you will need some papers to keep their thoughts on track while working. I recommend a sheet to fill out initially for a project proposal, a log to keep track of work time, a parent letter and maybe even a choice board for some kids that might need a lot of help. A friend on IG recently recommended this LiveBinder site for GH materials and I have started collecting freebies and making my own handouts for our next session that starts in February. Please share any resources in the comment section below!

7. Help Students Determine an Effective Way to Present What They Learn
Guess what, guys? A lot of your kids are going to want to do posters. I'm serious. Let them loose and see how many say their presentation will involve a poster. It's so bizarre. I think our kids have been so trained to do Shoebox Dioramas, Posters and Note Cards. I actually had one student tell me he was going to present his findings by writing an essay about it. I was like "Um, you hate writing." It's the truth, the dude DREADS writing. Why would he pick that as his final presentation? He didn't know that there were other ways out there to show me and his classmates what he had learned. Explore options with your class.

8. Inspiring the Class is not Difficult
Show them videos, here's a great blog post with a lot in one spot: CLICK HERE
My kids were OBSESSED with the Panyee Football video, and it may or may not have made me cry in class. Who am I kidding? I always get emotional in class, because I'm passionate, Guys!!
Once you have a session under your belt, you can also share pictures and stories from your first group. I know I have many examples for my classes next year.

9. Set a Schedule and Don't be a Flake
Teacher Confession: I can be flaky. True hallmark of a new teacher: wanting to try anything and everything you get inspired by. Do your class sessions the same day each week so kids can expect it. Make sure to have materials ready. Don't freak out about not being able to use one whole hour of class time. Our sessions were once a week or once every other week for about 30 minutes at a time. It was plenty of time to get started and get some quality work under our belts and I never felt like it was taking away from Language Arts. We were cultivating our typing, researching and reading skills the whole way along. It's a win-win!

10. Be Prepared to be Blown Away
You will be so impressed by what some of your kids come up with. We had everything from a student making lavender soothing sachets to a complete Anti-Bullying Mini Movie by a group of students. This is where kids can shine. I had my doubts while in the process and I have a lot to work on to be prepared for the next go around, but there's no way I'll get rid of this GH time, because the kids love it AND they really took ownership over their learning.


Overall, I am excited to start our next session in February. I feel a little more prepared than last time and the last thing I really need to work on is our materials. Especially a rubric for presentations! When I come up with something, I will be sure to share it. Please follow me on IG for contestant updates about our Genius Hour journey! Don't forget to comment below with any resources that you have found useful!

4 comments:

  1. You are hilarious! I cry all the time, too. It's what we do :) Sounds like GH is so much fun!

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  2. Sorry I'm SO late in discovering this post (thanks to your IG help!) but I'll blame it on the newbie-teacher-blogger thing I've got going on. In short, I'm obsessed with this idea! We sound like very similar teachers - I'm always getting inspired by new things that I want to do with my kids! You seem right-on about the organization part... I'd love to get organized and try to do this at the end of the year, but maybe it'll be something I start at the beginning of next year! Anyway, I love it. Can't wait to hear more about it from your blog/IG! :)

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  3. Loved reading your post!! I'm planning on starting genius hour in my classroom so I am looking for as many ideas as I can get!! And that football video makes me cry every time I see it! ha! How did you use that as a starting point for inspiring your kids about genius hour? I've been wanting to show it to my class ever since I saw it, but wanted to make sure I introduced it and had a discussion about it in a powerful way! I'm thinking a topic revolving around finding something you are passionate about and figuring out how to make it happen. I'd love to know what you did!

    Thanks!!

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