My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve our lives through research based on our interests. What will we learn? What message will we share? This blog is a log of our learning experiences, mine and the students'... HOME - SEE ALL POSTS . Check out the LiveBinder to see what other teachers are doing during their Genius Hour time!

Friday, August 15, 2014

We Are In Charge of Our Attitudes

I just finished the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand. Woah. Among many things, it made me think of my word for 2014: Gratitude. With that in mind, here is how I'm going to approach the 2014-2015 school year... Have a STELLAR YEAR!

HappinessInYourLife.com
Source Unknown

Illinois State Beach




Our tire cover on the camper...

And this is how I try to live my life... thank you to my husband for introducing me to this quote...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Passion-Based Learning: Ready, set, go!

No matter the name, the goals are the same:
     Keep children engaged during school by letting them know you value them.
     Give children opportunities to collaborate, share their skills, learn what they want to learn, and share that learning with others.
     Help children stay life-long learners.

Names for this type of learning, that most likely happens outside of the "regular curriculum," include Passion Time, Genius Hour, 20% Time, Innovation Time... and the list goes on. Some teachers set aside time weekly for students to learn what they choose. Some schools have one day or one week a year dedicated to students owning their learning. Whatever you decide to do, your students and you will benefit - but I'm writing today to suggest guidelines for getting started. There are many decisions you should make before you begin. Don't let these scare you off - you'll have to make these decisions at some point during the process, so you might as well get going on them now.

Created by me with Diptic & Over apps.

Here is a brief "how to" guide for getting started:

1. Decide if you feel students need to focus this "choice" learning on your subject or a certain subject only. If so, your ideas for how to proceed will be different than if you leave student choice wide open. This will also help you determine the name you will give to this time.
2. Decide how much time you will dedicate in class, and stick to it. Which day(s)? Next, tell the students and parents, so they keep you accountable. Keeping parents in the loop is crucial - be sure to be proactive in this regard, and update them often through your class website or emails.
3. Decide if you will have a gradual release for ideas... Begin by asking students to teach their talent? Maybe a classroom-wide service project? A challenge? Learn something new first?
4. Decide your end result - Will students share throughout the year? Each semester? End of year? Will you require a product? An action? A presentation?
5. Figure out how your students will share. Will just their class know what they're doing? Partner with another class? The school? The world?
6. Decide if you will allow for pairs or group learning, or if you will require students to work independently. You will need to make this clear to students from the start.
7. Write down your expectations for class time. Some teachers have a small set of rules. These could include the following: be productive, learn something new, create, collaborate... Think of scenarios you'll run into (students watching YouTube videos) - will these fit into one of your expectations for students? Once you decide, put them on the board under your goal for the day.
8. Decide if, or what, you will grade. If you will grade, decide just how. If you will not grade, gather some reflections for the students to complete anyway. Reflection is a key step in this process.
9. I believe one-to-one conferencing with students is essential. You will need to figure out a management system to monitor your own students' progress. Will you use a journal to keep track? A checklist? Goal sheets? Student sign-up? Will you have mentors come in to help?
10. Research ideas as to how you will introduce the concept of passion-based learning to your students. You will want to explain the reasons behind your choice, and of course give them the "how does this benefit me" reason. This will also help you wrap your head around how you will keep students focused as they work. Ideas from teachers are here, videos are here, and picture books are here.

Once you get started, follow these steps Gallit Zvi laid out.

Count on tweaking your ideas from week to week and year to year... Students' ideas will provoke change in your classroom, and in your thinking!*

*Disclaimer: Be ready to be the loudest and most engaged class in your hallway...


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Blogging Blunders

I've tried blogging in my 7th grade ELA class for two years now, each with a different tilt...

Quick overview of 2012-2013...

My goal: have students reflect on what we're doing throughout the year - mainly for Genius Hour

We set up our blogs through Kidblog.

Pros and Cons:
     + I was able to see new blog posts easily.
     + One class was on one page.
     -  Not all three classes were on one page.
           Resolution: I easily created a page on our class blog for this.

Results:

I assigned blog posts for reflections - for Dot Day, Cardboard Challenge, and Genius Hour posts.
These were graded blog posts, but students chose how I graded them (from Sylvia Tolisano's rubric).
I really didn't assign a ton of posts - I only give independent reading as homework, and I need to check out the laptop carts if I expect them to blog in class. I also saw this as just a substitute for a notebook - I was not assigning authentic blog post assignments... It was also hard to grade them using a blogging rubric, as those were not always the standards we cover in class. So... blogging really fell by the wayside for us. I needed to change things.

Quick overview of 2013-2014...

My goal: have AUTHENTIC blogging experiences, so they continue to blog

We set up blogs through Blogger this time, as they all have Google accounts through school.

Pros and Cons:
      + Students could design, adding background picture or gadgets, or... so many choices!
      - They took a lot of time to set up.
            Resolution: Took the time when the reruns of Big Bang Theory were on.
      - I did not set up the blogs so I could moderate
            Resolution: I found out I COULD, thanks to @alcp! I may do this next year.
      - Cannot check the blogs easily (like on Kidblog) to see if there are new ones. 
            Resolution: @TeachMrsFerrari taught me how through Feedly! <-- post from @langwitches
      - All blogs are not all in one place.
            Resolution: I made a page on our class blog for a list of their blogs.
      + It was fun making a ThingLink for each class like I saw another teacher do (It's been so long I forget who deserves the credit!), and the kids love it.

Results:

I did not assign blog posts (except for the first paper blog). This meant that those students who don't do anything extra never wrote any more blog posts. That was the major blunder. Another was that since there weren't that many blog posts written, there weren't that many to share, hardly any comments on them, and not many in-class role models to celebrate as a class.

With that in mind, we did experience some successes:
-May Joy's description of herself - I never asked students to write this, but she definitely got what I was hoping our purpose for the blogs would be!
-Annie's story was featured on the 100-Word Challenge Showcase!
-Christina wrote a review of Hate List before she was even finished with it.
     The author commented - and then REPLIED to Christina's question!
Click here for the full post.


- Colin used his blog to raise money. His most successful was his water campaign.
- Claire kept trying different things - her novel(s), Psychology Saturdays, Fan Fiction...
    Sadly, she hasn't kept this up over the summer...
- Annie tried many ideas this year... For one blog, she copied and pasted funny photos 
      & videos.
   She ran into a few people asking about the appropriateness of the "cheeky quotes" 
       widget she had, and what the purpose of her blog was... She was upset by this.
   She then began a new food blog and that, too, was copying other people's ideas.
   By the time our genius hour presentations came along, she had begun 
       this book review blog! Sadly, she has not kept this up over the summer...
   I love how she experimented with blogs (although I was worried for her, and realized 
       I did not give lessons on "how to blog") and finally found something that works for her.

Some statistics:

Nine of my 64 students blogged - inconsistently, but they did blog for a bit. 
Four of these created NEW blogs!
One of these is still blogging over the summer - Woot! Woot! It matters to that one... 
       Please take a moment to check it out and comment. I suppose it was my dream for ALL
       students to keep a blog over the summer! I'll keep dreaming...

Changes for 2014-2015...

My goal: model throughout the year how to blog authentically, while requiring certain posts and using ELA standards on which to grade them

We will continue to use Blogger. This is so they may continue with their blogs in 8th grade...


What I will do to prepare my students for blogging...

--Share this document with articles regarding using other people's ideas on your blog.
--Set up something like this post - good "How To" to start with.
--Discuss WHY people blog.
     Share Top Ten Things I've Learned About Blogging from a 5th grader.
     Share some of the reasons from Pernille Ripp's post What Does Student Blogging Exactly Do?
--Start with paper blogging from McTeach - BEST LESSON EVER.
--Teach how to (and why!) comment.
          Solid posts regarding leaving good comments:
               How to Be a Good Commenter from John Scalzi
               Commenting from @BalancEdTech
               Quality Commenting - student guest post from @langwitches
               Leaving Good Comments PDF from Solution Tree
--Teach students how to embed videos, add Clustr Maps, give credit where due, set comments settings to "anyone" and "never" for moderating (requests were going to email accounts that the students never check).
--Go to #comments4kids on Twitter, and comment on some together as a class. (Then 
     tweet out #ICommented from your class account when your class comments!)
--Find a class that is blogging already and comment on some of their posts TOGETHER 
     as a class.
--Purchase a world map for marking reader comment locations. (Purchase pins and 
     string, too.)
--I've thought about requiring students to comment, but I'll work that out with my partner 
     across the hall... Still not sure about this one.
--Include parents - we had our first blog posts (passion paragraphs) ready for Open House.
--Email parents or advertise on your class blog when there are when stellar posts.
--Require reflection blogs, using portions and variations of this rubric or this rubric (or both).
     Does anyone want to help me with this? I'd love to create a short rubric that fits the 
     CCSSs & allows for reflections, as well!
--Require some (how many??) independent reading blog posts, using these rubrics.
--This rubric can be our ultimate goal, but I won't grade them with it!
--At the end of the year, emphasize once again how blogging is usually used for authentic 
     purposes. Show them that it is okay to delete posts they no longer need on their blog, 
     in order to start fresh. What do they really feel a passion to blog about? Or not...??

Final thoughts:

I exposed these seventh graders to blogging last year - it was really the first time they'd 
     set up a blog and been let loose with it. They currently do not blog in 6th or 8th grade,
     so I feel it is my duty to at the very least expose them to the idea of blogging and
     leaving a positive digital footprint. I know now that I need to model and require 
     some blogs from students. Model, model, model, and practice, practice, practice... 
     These will be my main changes for this upcoming year. How do YOU approach 
     blogging with your middle school students??

how to make animated gif

I know I will have many more blunders...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Genius Hour? How about Genius Curriculum?

Guest post by A.J. Juliani

It was only a few years ago that I started doing a 20% time project with my students. As I began to share the work I was doing online, I met a group of teachers so passionate about this type of learning...that I could not help to be drawn in to what they were doing as well. Joy Kirr, Hugh McDonald, Denise Krebs, and Gallit Zvi are rockstar teachers in my book. Not because of necessarily what they've done with Genius Hour...but because they share what they've done with Genius Hour. I've learned so much from them and the large group of teachers out there giving students choice in the classroom. 

Flash forward to today. It's a few years later. The Genius Hour wikispace, Joy's Livebinder, Angela Maiers's Choose2Matter movement, Robin Theissen's Global Genius Hour Project, and Paul Solarz's site of resources are consistently being used by teachers around the world to give students choice. I sit back and watch the #geniushour feed and #20time feed on Twitter and I'm blown away. I see the community on Google+ sharing...teachers like Nick Provenzano, Erin Klein, and Vicki Davis all getting involved (and many, many more). And yet...

It's just the start. 

I wrote my book about 20% time and Genius Hour primarily because I wanted to reach a new audience of teachers and educators. I hope this text is used at the University level and in Graduate classes, as well as by school leaders, to introduce the power of choice in learning. As I see this idea spreading like wildfire I'm reminded of the three problems that led me to start the 20% project with my students:

- There are many adults who are unhappy with the work they do on a day-to-day basis.
- When students go into the work force they often have no idea what they are passionate about...
- School tends to force students to walk a straight line rather than give them a choice in their learning.

These reasons are all interconnected, and why student choice is so important in the "big picture". However, let's think bigger about Genius Hour or 20% Time. I'm not proposing the entire school day is filled with student choice and every class is like a Genius Hour...nope, that's not how it works. But, it can look different. 

Here's a simple way to think about the possibility of a "Genius Curriculum":

1. Most students already have a set of skills that they need to master and demonstrate in each grade level...and drilled further down into each unit. The Common Core and other standards-based curriculum have focused on the skills (not necessarily the content) and that is great for student choice. 
2. Right now, it is very easy to tie one particular piece of content to a whole bunch of standards... Think about how we use a textbook, or how we use certain texts for Language Arts class etc. But that is the easy way out... and is an antiquated way to think about curriculum. We have millions of resources today at our fingertips that can help teach the same skills...why only use one?
3. If we are focusing on skills, then there are many ways to assess that skill or skill set. Let's not limit our students to one form of assessment at the end of a unit, but instead give them choices as to how they demonstrate knowledge and mastery.

A Genius Curriculum, then, has these specific features to it:

     -common set of skills students need to learn and then demonstrate mastery
     -a litany of resources that teachers can provide to students to learn/master those skills
     -a wide variety of assessment choices
     -student choice opportunities for learning resources, assessments, and pacing

Are there still going to be times where students should read a text as a communal activity? Yes! Are there still going to be times where students all demonstrate mastery through a shared assessment? Yes! However, there will also be "student choice" infused into the daily learning activities and assessments when possible.

A Genius Curriculum is no different than how we learn outside of school. Here's a final example:

A few years ago I wanted to learn how to use Wordpress to design and make websites. I searched online for articles and watched some videos. Then I tried my best at getting a site up and failed a few times before asking another person online for help. They helped me get started, and then I used more articles and videos to get better and better at Wordpress design and now I help many teachers who are just starting with Wordpress. 

I did not get a degree in any type of "computer/programming" area... yet, I can build and design my own websites using Wordpress. I did not take a formal class, although I could have. I used resources that helped me, while someone else learning Wordpress might have used different resources, or some of the same resources. I asked one person for help and they pushed me past my pain point. Now I continue to learn through informational text when I need it.

That is learning. That is how we all learn each day and week. Multiple learning sources that we can sift though, multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills, and multiple ways to reach out for extra help. 

Do you think a Genius Curriculum is a possibility? How do you learn today? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Guest post by A.J. Juliani

Friday, June 27, 2014

Rules

I've taken the liberty of capitalizing beginnings of tweets, completing words, and adding ending punctuation on this conversation via Twitter four days ago...

"Not a fan of genius hour or other schemes to justify rest of the school day being laborious or irrelevant" -Gary Stager, Ph.D.
"The word 'scheme' hit me hard. #Geniushour affects 100% of the week" sent with an attachment to the link to a blog post where I defend Genius Hour. -me
"Why call it an hour then?" -Stager
"Don't think the name matters. Isn't it about kids thinking and building a passion for learning?" -Kathy Turley
"Of course the name matters. Words matter." -Stager
"Words DO matter. I'm fortunate I have 1hr/wk that changes the other 4hrs students & I have together." -me
"Don't care about Dan Pink. Why not read Dewey, Hawkins, Kohl, Meier, Littky, a Papert, Malaguzzi?" -Steger
"They all have something to offer. Everyone has their favorites doesn't mean 'Pink* is wrong.'" -Ihor Charischak
"Pink makes up stuff and spreads junk science. He's wrong." -Steger
"Have read most of those but why not package it for people. G.H. is one way to use what they say." -Jarrod Lamshed
"The challenge with packaging GH = it becomes consumable & discarded and when the package is discarded, the underlying principles often go along with it." -Dave Quinn
     * Pink = Daniel Pink, author of Drive (one book some teachers link to Genius Hour)

And I'm in a sour mood for the next two days...
I don't get it. Why not support something that COULD POSSIBLY BE one way teachers can BEGIN the process of letting students take over their own learning? Does it matter what you read that gives you idea of letting students ENJOY school while taking ownership of their learning? Does it matter that people may be "packaging" it, but they like at least a portion of what they're seeing from students - and it's more choice than their students have ever had? Heaven forbid it changes the rest of their week with students, or maybe their outlook during future years! Harrumph.

Skip two more days...

Holland Michigan - where my love and I would rendezvous and eventually get married! We visited on our three-year anniversary this year to unplug, relax, and enjoy the water. One of our stops: Kirk Park

Here - they have rules, warnings, and guidelines... .......All    the    way    to    the    beach.







Some people can look at them and think... this park will be no fun. I won't be able to do ANYthing. And then... they get to the beach...see and hear the waves...feel the sand between their toes...

It got me thinking about all the rules teachers and students have. A quick overview of a student's morning at my middle school:
     Rule 1: No biking or skateboarding on school property.
     Rule 2: No throwing snow on school property.
     Rule 3: When you walk in the door, no hats allowed.
     Rule 4: Turn off any devices and leave them (and your jacket) in your locker; get to homeroom.
     Rule 5: Sit in your seat and be quiet while we listen to announcements.
     Rule 6: Stand for the pledge of allegiance.

Phew! And that's all in the first ten minutes of a student's day!

What about teachers? I have at least two rules imposed on me:
     Rule 1: Create and maintain a safe environment where children can learn.
     Rule 2: Cover curriculum.

Some people will look at student and teacher rules and think... this is so hard on the students... no BYOT... maybe scripted curriculum... how can they cover all that curriculum in one year... students won't be able to do ANYthing fun. And then... they visit the classrooms... see and hear student engagement in various ways... see curriculum being covered and (GASP!) students smiling...

What are school rules for?
     SAFETY
     RESPECT for learning

Would anyone doubt this? If I don't like the rules I have to teach by, I could leave. The facts are, however, the reason for the rules makes sense. I like my school. I even like to follow rules. I don't like to make waves. I will work my hardest at covering the curriculum in the few hours I have with my seventh graders. I will work with other teachers as to how this can best be accomplished. I will try to keep my students having FUN while learning the curriculum. AND... I will also have one hour of my five hours with children where they can pursue their own learning.

I am currently not in a position to change my entire school or my entire district. Nor do I have the drive or energy to do so. I do not even pretend to have the knowledge of HOW to do so. How many teachers are like me? How many want to begin to change students' lives by making a difference in his or her own class? If so, it cannot hurt to try something similar to Genius Hour. And if you don't like the name, by all means - change it. Here is a list of some other names, or create your own. I've defended the name I use here. The whole point of this type of learning --> to engage students, to help them imagine and then express their creativity, to help them discover their passions, and to encourage them to use their own genius to make a difference in their world. I just cannot sit back and watch as some teachers trash good ideas - just because it may not be possible for some 100% of the time.

Compare class to the beach. Even with all these rules, I found time to swim in the water, play frisbee, build a sand castle, splash around, and even read my "assigned" summer reading book...

If you want to work in a building or district in which the "genius hour" or "20 percent time" philosophy IS truly 100% of the time, try one of these schools. If you want to stay where you are and make a difference in your own classroom, try - at every opportunity - to give your students choice in HOW they learn your curriculum, and choice in WHAT they learn. Then please share with the world what you are doing in your classroom that is making a difference. It doesn't have to be ALL or NOTHING. Some people have a hard time starting small. I won't be knocking them for trying - I'll be supporting them all I can.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2013-2014 Year in Review

My 19th year of teaching - feels like my first, once again!
Since this post is really just for me to use to reflect on the year, I'm using bullet points...

June
- ICE CAP Mini-Conference - presented on Evernote to a group of teachers who were not on Twitter!
- Genius Hour LiveBinder was voted into the top 10!
     --Tina & Barbara sent me free bookmarks, then 300 more for Parent Night in September!
- Created our class Weebly, thanks to this stellar role model Weebly from Paul Solarz

July
- #ELAtlap chat! Because of Bernice Homel, we learned how to run a chat and how to archive it!
     --We've since changed the name to #ELAchat!
     --Shameless Plug - Find #ELAchat on the first and last Tuesday of each month, 7pm CST.
- Met F2F - Mindi Rench, Bernice Homel, Katie Hurkles, Megan Ryder, Garnet Hillman
- Facilitated a session for the first ever EdCampHome!
- Created & shared collaboration documents for MS teachers - all in one Google doc folder.
- Notice & Note group through school - nice to read a professional book with teachers I know.
- Reviewed Role Reversal for MiddleWeb

August
- Presented with Jen Smith on using Twitter to your advantage during Tech Academy for our district
- Facilitated a session on student choice and presented with Paul Solarz on Genius Hour (Passion Projects) on Opening Day for the district.

September
- My approach to Parent Night was very different this year... See this blog post.
     I think taking this approach really helped start a strong relationship with the parents.

October LOTS OF PICS here
- Presented on "Student Choice in the ELA Classroom" at IATE with Gary Anderson (congrats on your retirement this school year, Gary!), Russ Anderson, Jaclyn Han, and Amy Pine
- Met F2F - Nancie (last name?) & Maggie Vonck while they were in town from Green Bay!
- Helped organize and run EdCampChicago in WoodDale with the best crew ever!
     --Met F2F here - Ben Hartman, Jen Vincent, Jenna Hacker, Steve Wick, Eric Patnoudes, Jeff Zoul, Meg Van Dyke, Tasha Squires, Ben Kuhlman, Kimberly Hurd, Rick Rowe, John Corbett, Brendan Murphy, Kristie Bleers, Jason Hanrahan, & countless others!
We even had Kimberly at the house overnight - only Twitter teachers, right?!?!
The great crew this fall - including my hubby!
November
- Reviewed Common Core English Language Arts in a PLC at Work: Gr 6-8 for MiddleWeb
- Reviewed Teaching with Tablets for MiddleWeb
- Idea Paint (District Grant received last year) was finally painted on 12 of my 15 classroom tables!

December
- As a group, the #ELAchat ladies read Whole Novels for the Whole Classroom, and had teacher and author Ariel Sacks moderate the chat.
- Read 78 books in 2013
- Began a quick magnet name poll system for students - thanks to an idea I saw on Twitter, of course...

January
- Had FOUR COLD DAYS!
- Began the Power of Appreciation blog
DG58 Literacy Blizzard Playdate - facilitated a session on genius hour using reading, and got a cake pop for my birthday from Bernice! ;)
   --Met Christopher Bronke, Jodi Piekarz, Samara Silverman, Ed Casey, Elizabeth N., Justin Greene, Theresa Allen, Matt Coaty, Kristen Mattson, Mark White, Dara Kappel, Maggie Maslowski, & met more teachers to add to my PLN.
- EdCamp Madison
   --Met F2F - Ben Brazeau, Principal Joey Sagel & his crew, John Gunnel, Brian Durst, Andrea Kornowski, Melissa Emler, Alex Bocian, Darin Johnston & Melissa Johnston from IA, and countless others!!!!
Three states in the Genius Hour session! (John - WI , me, & Darin - IA)

February
- Bought 139 books for $37 at AHML sale

SIT Conference - I volunteered at this stellar conference for KIDS in technology!!
     --Met F2F Lynn Szabo, Jill Maraldo and Charlene Chausis
- ICE Conference - Learned about Doctopus and Goobric from Marcie Faust - Invaluable!
     --Met F2F - George Courous, Sue Gorman, Tim Scholze, Lance Fuhrer, Andy Fekete, Akemi Sessler, Joe Robinson, Erin Jackle... and more!



- Went to a workshop through our district to hear Rick Wormeli!
     This caused a few discussions at my school, for sure. It was a good push for me, at the right time.


March
- Reviewed arc of If Only by Amy Pine!
- Skyped with Nancy Wahl's class to help out with Genius Hour
- EdCamp Iowa
     --Met F2F here - Jimmy Casas, Matt Degner, Becky Ince, Tim Hadley, Aaron Mauer, Aaron Becker, Bill Porter, Gail LeGrand, Julie Bauer, Sarah Nelson... This was the most fun (and the most learning, I believe) I've had at an EdCamp, for sure.















- Met & was able to eat dinner with Amy Smith and her daughter on Spring Break in Nashville, TN!
- Skyped with one of Dean Shareski's students
- Students received shoes to test during Genius Hour from UnderArmour Women & Asics
- CNN Schools interviewed me and some of my students for this article about Genius Hour!
- I put in proposal for "PD in Your PJs" to IATE - I'm in!
- Reviewed arc of THRIVE, by Meenoo Rami - My first time participating in a blog tour!
- Completed a photo-a-day challenge, thanks to inspiration from the ICE conference

April
- A student taught me how to fly - by using Pixlr.com

- Created a Poet Tree thanks to Kimberly Hurd sharing the idea via Google+
One of my favorite distractions this year!

Some poems were found discarded...

Some poems told of heartache...

Some poems were fun to find!

- Received a copy of Dash from the author (and local teacher) Greg Armamentos for my students to read and review
- Enjoyed a lunchtime author visit from Tim Shoemaker to our Genius Hour writers' club
- Was enticed by passionate teacher Nancy Wahl to write a proposal for the annual ASCD conference
     --Still waiting to hear! ;)

May
- At Taft (our three-day, two-night outdoor ed. trip), I was reminded that 7th grade boys are still babies in ways, and I learned that I can keep it together when a rock makes a child's head bleed profusely.
- I was nominated for a Bammy ??
- I was interviewed for a Talks with Teachers podcast about... you guessed it... Genius Hour.
- A student set up his own Shutterfly site for every 7th grader on our team to share their Taft photos
- EdcampChicago at Palatine High School - I could get used to this!
- Our class was featured in this Imagination Foundation article about why we do the Cardboard Challenge
- Tried the Whole Novels approach for The Outsiders
- A student made a Little Free Library for the community!
- Received a copy a novel written by a student this year
Summer
- Just keep tweaking, just keep tweaking...

What will my 20th year bring...?? BRING IT ON!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Genius Hour Year Two - Reflection

I'm a numbers person. 
I like to see graphs and charts. 
I always wonder... 
     Can you quantify what happened during Genius Hour this year? 
     How??

I did this same reflection with numbers last year (see this post), and had to crunch the numbers once again. Our second full year under our belts, I decided to just focus on fourth quarter for this reflection. Of course, more changes are coming for next year, but fourth quarter was "true" Genius Hour - I let students read, research, create... it was up to them.

I'll just get right into the number crunching I did. Keep in mind that I had 64 students participating. Let's start with presentations. Our presentations for which I had permission to publish are located here on our class Weebly.

Presentation Quality
  Last year, we did not focus on presentation quality. This year, I gave three mini-lessons on presenting. One was regarding visuals, one regarding audio, and one regarding body language. I still didn't want to over-analyze, so I quickly went down the list of students and gave the first "grade" that came to mind:
  0 = not good    
  S = solid          
  * = stellar
 
2013 Stats



























Anyone interested in what school subjects students learned about? I was...
I didn't know where a couple of these fit in... Video games? Designing with Minecraft? DIY (Do-it-Yourself)? So they have their own category. (Some DIY projects could have been classified as science, some as family & consumer science, some as art...) I'm so glad more this year are geared toward reading and writing - I think that happened because I started with Erin Olson's idea of Read, Be Inspired, and Act on It (or Do Something Inspiring)...

2013 Stats











Just how productive were students during class time? If I'm using 20% of our class time for students to learn what THEY want to learn, this had better be productive... Here are the questions I asked myself:
Did students work on their project during this hour every week?
  0 = no               S = somewhat       * yes
If they did not work on their project in class, did they read or were they productive in some other way?
  N = no                                         Y = yes
I put these two together to see student engagement in class...

2013 Stats


Then I considered...
What about a "typical" day in LA class? What is student engagement like then?  If the numbers are low, it could be a mixture of things... My passion for the content, techniques I use to keep students interested, student preferences for content, student emotions, family life, etc. etc. etc... I could go on and on about student engagement in a middle-school classroom, but I still had to measure it to make any sort of comparison.  This year's "typical" reading and writing day was a tough one, but there were still days during which I lecture, then facilitate, then students do independent work. What does student engagement in this setting look like?
I decided to measure student engagement in typical lessons in this fashion:
  0 = does not know where we are in the lesson
  S = can participate if called upon
  * = participates without prompting











2013 Stats

Let's put the two side by side...
Genius Hour In-Class Engagement                   Engagement in Typical Lessons


Which would you rather have? In which setting would you rather be? The latest talk I've listened to that has really focused on why students need to be engaged in lessons is this one by Brandon Busteed. This is a 35 minute speech that was tweeted out by Denise Krebs over a year ago. This is what I've come to realize - It's all about student engagement, and letting students know you care about them. In this video, he says that from the last Gallop poll, only 61% of middle-school students are engaged during lessons.  I truly feel that all parents, teachers, and administrators need to hear this talk. Please take the time to listen to him - I cannot sum it up here, as there is so much he says that is vital to our students' education.

Speaking of student engagement...
Another number I wanted was student engagement outside of the school hours.
Is there evidence of work at home?
  0 = no               S = somewhat   * yes

These numbers are very different from last year. This could mean many things. For me, at least, a good take-away is that it meant more students were engaged during class time, and this helped things run smoother for me this year. Classes did seem to be more chaotic (loud, messy, where is so-and-so?), but I wasn't keeping everyone on track as much as I had to last year.

I wish we could have collaborated with other students, and two other students from across the world wanted to collaborate on a music project! Unfortunately, that's when one of my students decided to create the band, instead of going alone on her project.

Tyler & Matt's LFL
This year, however, we have two new changes - I was able to get a mentor for our nine novelists, and three groups of students ("Play It In Reverse" band, Little Free Library, & Which shoe is best?) reached out to the community for help! One teacher from a local district, Christopher Bronke, wanted to mentor, but the two students that would thrive under his mentorship never jumped at the chance (and I KEPT bugging them!). Bonus for us (as I didn't push this): we had six students from my classes who have made a difference in someone else's life. A Little Free Library was created, books were collected and sent to children's hospitals, money was collected for water in Africa, and hand-made goods were sold to collect for a greenhouse for our school garden.

Our classes were also featured in two online articles this year - CNN Schools did a story about Genius Hour (check out the sixth photo), & Imagination Foundation picked up our story about why we do the Cardboard Challenge in preparation for Genius Hour.

One more thing - I need to share a quote from a student who was NOT engaged during class time. He wrote this in his reflection: "Genius Hour was my favorite bc it felt like I had freedom in school." Another wrote, "I liked Genius Hour because we got our own time to do something we liked." No kidding.

Please tell me in the comments... What else could I try to measure for this reflection? What do these graphs tell you? What's the next step?
Wordle made from students' one-word reflections

2013 Wordle made from students' one-word reflections...


All graphs were created at this easy-to-use website: Kids' Zone Create-A-Graph