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, October 10, 2014

Third Annual Cardboard Challenge

Additions / Changes that made this year even better than last year...
     Give students a paper reminder for guidelines the Monday prior.
           Use only the supplies you bring - don't count on others for supplies, including adhesives.
           Have a title, your first name(s), and directions ready to display.
           Be nice to customers, and do not give up!
           (Only one group forgot their cardboard - but they created a game anyway!
           And not like last year, only ONE student came totally unprepared!!)
     Ask students the day prior to name who is bringing what for their group.
     Invite parents the weekend prior - and give them specific times. TWELVE parents came!
     Remind parents the night prior - letting them know it's still on.
     Create a "Welcome" sign.
           This year I added our article from the Imagination Foundation website, too!
     Set up part of the room for creating, and the front part of the room for final displays/games.
     Stop the class a FULL five minutes to help students decide who is bringing what home
           or use the time to recycle their project.
     Make cardboard strips to tape onto the wrists of students (great reminder!) who are
           bringing home their games after school.
     Have bandages ready for when you slice your finger with the box cutter...

With these changes, this was our best year yet! Many thanks to Caine's Arcade and the Imagination Foundation for starting this wonderful idea!

More articles and blog posts on why this day is so very valuable...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jury Duty Ramblings

I'd gotten the notice about a month ago - Jury Summons for October 8th at the Daley Center downtown. That's cutting it pretty close to the Cardboard Challenge date, isn't it? No worries - every time I call the night before, they don't need me. Well, I guess that was in my former life. I called last night - they "needed" me.

I wrote detailed sub plans for the new digital curriculum and shared them with colleagues I knew would get them to the sub and be able to explain the myriad nuances. I looked at the map as to how to catch the blue line from Rosemont, and tallied up the cost. Got money from my honey and my bag ready to go - including one professional book (and highlighter, of course), one juvenile book, my watch, phone, and iPad. I awoke at the same time as usual, but took my time in the morning. I was anxious. To the 10th power. I did NOT want to postpone the Cardboard Challenge tomorrow. This was my only true worry. It might just be my favorite day of the year. The question kept going through my mind - What if a STUDENT was absent Thursday? Would I postpone it for him? Was it fair to postpone it, or should I just let them enjoy the day without me? A generous coworker said she'd help with it if I couldn't make it - should I just let it go on? On, please don't let me be chosen for a jury!

Prayer came in to play. I usually only pray for God to keep me, my family, and my friends safe and healthy. Never to not be chosen for jury duty!! How trivial! I sometimes think that if I pray for trivial things, I won't be heard as much when it matters... So today my prayers were of gratitude, each time a different panel number besides mine was called.

I made the best of today, even though my nerves were on the fritz. On the "L" I read, and when I arrived early, I took in my surroundings. I scoped out the building and figured out how to get through the metal detectors and to the 17th floor. Once I received my sticker, I snuck over to the big window and took in the buildings.

As it turns out... 
I did not serve on a jury.  
I do not have to return tomorrow. 
The Cardboard Challenge is still ON.

I came away from today grateful & humbled. I came away from today with more questions than I've had time to think of lately. I thought I'd document them for myself - to return to when I'm worried about something such as missing the Cardboard Challenge. Most of these thoughts stem from the view from the Daley Center's 17th Floor...

So many people. So many stories. No one the same. People struggling, physically, mentally, financially... Others rushing by on the phone, some speaking another language. Pigeons surround Garrett's popcorn shop, while customers line up outside the door. Workers on scaffolds in the street, cranes lifting huge items onto roofs, police with bullet-proof vests watching walkers. Tourists heading into Macy's (Marshall Fields!) while locals sell StreetWise newspapers. Wind whipping around corners and the sun warming faces.

Who am I to think I can make a difference? Some people went into education thinking they could. I fell into teaching - I didn't even think kids liked me. Some days I feel I can make a difference, but days like today make me feel so very tiny.

I read a book today - Don Wettrick's Pure Genius: Building a culture of innovation and taking 20% time to the next level. He wrote of change. Of spreading the message of your one class, or your one idea you tried. Of using social media to get the message heard. He included words from a prior student, who wrote about sawdust. Yes, sawdust. It used to be considered useless, until someone decided to make particle board out of it. I look around this massive, busy city, and all I can think of is "Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind." What if... What if I started thinking of ideas as sawdust? What if I took this time I had today and wrote down my rambling thoughts and shared them with others? Would it inspire others to share? If I kept it up, would I be able to make something out of this dust I'm made from? What are all these people in Chicago doing today? Are they sharing ideas? Are they making new connections, or making previous connections stronger? Are they spending time with family, letting them know how much they are loved?

This city overwhelms me with its diversity. With its myriad stories. Sometimes life overwhelms me. So many decisions each day. What's my priority supposed to be? Can I really call the Cardboard Challenge a priority? What's the litmus test here? It's engaging to 90% of my students. It's something they'll always remember (hopefully). It's something the parents can enjoy as well. It's something for us to remember throughout the year when we talk of perseverance, creativity, collaboration, and failures. It's a time for past and future students to join, and teachers as well. It's a community-building experience. I think it passes the test. I think it's okay for me to want to be there tomorrow, even if I am only a speck of dust on this big, beautiful world.

I have soaked up this day. I said hello to strangers on the street, smiled at vendors, given a dollar to a musician, taken photos and videos to share with my love, and gotten my fingers orange with Garrett's cheese popcorn (yes, I brought some home to share, as well). I am grateful I do not have to serve on a jury tomorrow, and therefore not feel guilt at postponing the Cardboard Challenge. I also know, however, that my world would not have ended should I have needed to head back downtown tomorrow. I would hope my students would understand how much I wanted to be with them on this special day. I know that others have so many more worries than I do, and I have nothing to complain about. This makes me even more grateful for all I have. This, too, I think we need to spread. Even though we are just a speck of dust, our smile or compliment or "Have a great day" can make someone else's day a bit brighter. I wonder what they're going through today. All these people out here in this huge city...  All these stories... Not one the same as another.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Process for Genius Hour

How do I hold my students accountable when I'm not grading them?

I see myriad blog posts about pitch proposals, planning sheets, deadlines, reflections... the list goes on.  I have had certain parts in the year when I'm as open as any teacher as to what students can learn or create for Genius Hour. And yet, I find that some students need a scaffold to see how the process works.

So I put many ideas together, added a quote for each (I love quality quotes!), used a magnet sheet and had students write their names on small slips of magnet, and this is now on the back chalkboard. I'm aware that this is just one more step to helping students succeed with Genius Hour. Some students will thrive without this guide, but for others, it will be a good scaffold to encourage them to plan and follow through.
Via Joy Kirr
     I'm reading...
     I may have an idea...
     I'm brainstorming ideas.
     I'm seeking feedback from peers.
     I'm finding a mentor - to guide me on the journey.
     I'm researching and documenting.
     I'm putting a plan together.
     I'm ready to share with the class.
     I'm ready to share with the world.

See the document I created here, if you'd like to copy and create your own. I took a screen shot of each full page, then put four on one sheet of cardstock paper, so these steps are only 4 1/4" X 5 1/2". The circle is supposed to represent a web of sorts, with the title card in the middle connecting the threads. I wanted to make sure students knew they can jump around in the process. Knowing where each magnet name is will also help me when it comes to one-on-one conferencing. (I'm debating taking out the "I may have an idea" stage, but it looks like a couple of students are on that stage right now! I'll keep it this year...)

Another version (much cuter!) is here, courtesy of Chantel Sebastian (@SebastiansClass):
Used with permission from Miss Sebastian
     Teacher Conference
     Expert Work
     Final Product
     Ready to Showcase

A bit younger version, grades 3-5 from Matt Coaty (@Mcoaty):
Used with Permission from Matt Coaty

Would you like a younger version? Check out Laura Bright's (@lbrightedu) blog post about her Genius Hour "map" for first grade!
Used with permission from Laura Bright
Turns out, Laura had seen a tweet from Mark White (@mwhitedg), who currently teaches 2nd grade. It looked something like this:

Here is the old one I used to use - I still like it, though - it's very simple, and fits 7th grade ELA!

Here is another - in Pictograph form - from Evie O'Dor (@evieodor) -
       The Life Cycle of a PAT Project

What does your Genius Hour process look like? Let me know in the comments and let me know if I have permission to add it to this post. Thank you for sharing!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Finally Realizing My Own Passion

I finally get it.

After hearing Angela Maiers in person at BLC12 (Better Learning Communities, Boston, 2012), reading both Classroom Habitudes and The Passion-Driven Classroom, seeing her work regarding Choose2Matter with high school students, following all the tweets and retweets of her words and work, and watching her podcasts, Google HangOuts, Skype sessions and now my favorite - "Passion-Based Learning with Angela Maiers".......

I finally get it.

I think I listened to this visit with Angela about 15 times now. She explains "passion," as she does whenever I listen to her words. After listening to her so many times and actually thinking about my own life and how I'm motivated by my own passion, I finally get it. Here are the words that have resonated with me this past month, and the message I will be sharing with my students this year.

"Many people think passion is doing what you like to do. And that projects should be wrapped around what kids like to do... But the root word of passion is 'to suffer; to endure.' So, passion isn't doing something that you LIKE to do - that's called a 'hobby,' or a 'project.' It's not even doing something that you're good at doing. That could turn into a job or a career or a project again. Passion is discovering what you MUST do.

"If you were asked to not do _____, what would your life be like? When you talk to individuals who are passion-driven, there is no event, there is no project, there is no beginning and end, and there's certainly no mastery... You're never finished. Passion becomes your energy, it becomes your fuel, your soul, when you think you can't rely on anything else and then passion whispers in your ear and says, 'What choice do you have?' because quitting is not an option...

"This is where the word 'suffering' becomes important... When something gets hard, or when something becomes high risk... when you start feeling the pressure of it... it's at that moment when you decide to cross the line, when something stops being fun, when something becomes incredibly, absolutely, almost sometimes almost excruciatingly difficult, if you stay with it, you are driven by passion. If you give it just isn't true passion."

Just this month, I have realized what my passion is. It is giving students time to pursue their own passions. It was my 40th birthday, in January of 2013. On this date, I crossed "the line." I felt the pressure, and Genius Hour stopped being fun...

There was a parent that had been angry with me throughout the first half of the school year - for various reasons. I remember three specific reasons - Her child did not do as well on the ISAT as the year prior, and nothing I was doing in class seemed to be helping her to do better on the next one coming up in April. I was not giving enough homework, her child didn't have any grammar or vocabulary or root word work to study at home, and class was "too easy." On this date in January, she wanted to meet with me and the principal so she could explain her concerns more. On this date in January, in front of the principal, I also heard the criticism, "Genius Hour is crazy. All the parents think so. You should do more PR for it."
Nope. I can cut through the yard!
Although I had my principal's support, it felt like I'd been punched in the gut. Although I knew that Genius Hour was the only day of the week I saw her child smile in class, I felt defeated. I wanted to go home and cry. It was the first time any parent had stepped on my toes about Genius Hour. I left the meeting, and left my principal to talk more with the parent. I went home and had my birthday meal. I don't remember if I cried or not, but I do know my husband and I talked long and hard about it. One thing he asked me, "Do you think you're doing the right thing?" Yes. "Why do you think so?"

I slept that night. (I'm blessed that I can sleep most nights without trouble!) I woke the next day and wrote this blog post about the changes I'd be making. And then I acted. Out of suffering. I endured. Quitting was not an option. She wanted PR for parents? OKAY! I took the notes I'd been keeping to myself in an Evernote folder, and I put them into an online binder - for all to see.

The LiveBinder was created out of pain. It started because Genius Hour had become something I MUST do with my students. I needed to defend it. I needed to find the stories that motivated others to try it. I needed to let parents know just WHY I was using this time in class on a weekly basis.

It grew. During the #GeniusHour chat once a month, teachers had always been asking - How do I start? How do your hold your students accountable? How does this prepare them for standardized tests? What can I use to inspire my students? What do you do about students who have a hard time with this type of learning? I started making the LiveBinder helpful to teachers, as well. I began collecting, every day, posts and ideas that people were tweeting out about their own trials and tribulations, creativity, innovation, engagement, passion......

There are now OVER 400 teachers who have made the Genius Hour LiveBinder what it is today. Call it what you will - Genius Hour, 20% Time, Passion Projects, Innovation Days... All of these days are incorporated into precious school hours because of teachers who are passionate. These teachers know that their students need time to follow their own passions, or be turned off by the institution we call "school." Who to thank for this LiveBinder? A parent who didn't understand Genius Hour - because I didn't explain it. Who else? YOU. We should thank all the teachers who have made the LiveBinder what it is, and all the teachers who will help it grow further.

I received an email from Sherri Stokes this past week. She wanted me to put six different resources on the LiveBinder. These resources are in FRENCH! World language teachers will be so happy to see them. In addition to the resources, she shared with me a lengthly story from a parent who was giving her blessing to Genius Hour, because it had helped her daughter and their family. This is more fuel for me. This feeds my passion in ways I can't describe.

What's next for me? I will continue to be PROactive with parents, and let them know what we're doing right from the starting gate. I will continue to curate resources found on the #geniushour and #20time hash tags. I cannot stop. This I MUST do. I've heard of too many success stories to stop now.

What's next for YOU? Please...
     Keep writing about what you're trying in class, and WHY you're trying it.
     Keep sharing this writing online, and tweet it out for the world to see.
          (Use the hashtags so more teachers see your tweets!)
     Keep trying, tweaking, and trying again.
     Keep doing what you know is right.
     Keep asking others for help. We can figure this out together.

You do your share, and I'll do mine.
Let's keep passion-driven learning alive during school hours.

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!
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.


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.


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


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?
     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...

- 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

- #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

- 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.

- 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!
- 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!

- 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...

- 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)

- 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.

- 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

- A student taught me how to fly - by using

- 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! ;)

- 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
- Just keep tweaking, just keep tweaking...

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