I am beginning to feel like my classroom is reminding me of the few years I taught science to middle school…more specifically our science labs. Being a classroom teacher has always involved a bit of experimenting to try out new things, but with the expansion of ideas through blogging, Twitter and other websites in combination with working within a PYP school that encourages collaboration and trying things out, I find myself regularly engaging in the scientific process and experimentation with my class of 9 year olds. Currently I have three larger experiments going, with another one in the works….and it’s Term 4. Sometimes I get an idea and think, “Maybe I should wait to try that next year and start fresh” but then I think, “Why wait? It could work with these kids and everything doesn’t have to start at the beginning….if they got a good idea in the middle of the year, I would hate for THEM to wait until next year to try it.” And so I jump in….my question for one experiment, “If given the choice of learning about anything, would the students have a valuable learning experience? Would it be worthwhile?”
Experiment #1: Genius Hour
I’ve been reading about Genius Hour through several blogs (listed at the end) and I really liked the idea. This video by Dan Pink hooked me – http://bit.ly/aDXnVP. More and more I am starting to shift my thinking and priorities into skills the students learn rather than the actual content. With today’s changing world and the incredible amount of information available, I think it’s inevitable. Genius Hour fits this. It is Term 4, but why not start now? I got one of my colleagues on board and away we went.
We introduced it to our students – think about what you are interested in…if you could learn about anything what would it be? For the next three weeks we would give them one hour a week to learn about anything they wanted. The requirements? They had to start by finding a book or printed material as a base. We talked about how much of what we learn is through reading. They had to learn something new. We reviewed our earlier discussion about what learning meant. They had to share their learning to the class at the end of the three sessions. That’s it. When asking the students what they wanted to learn about, I was surprised that most chose ‘school’ type things. I showed them some examples from a blog from another class that had done Genius Hour in the US. One of my students asked, “Did you mean we could learn about anything? Like it doesn’t have to be school stuff?” I laughed. Half of them changed to things they were actually interested in, like basketball skills, AFL history and hairstyles instead of sea creatures and bats.
The Genius Hour three sessions have finished. Next week is sharing our learning time. But I already love it and think of it as a success. Why?
– We chose Friday afternoon for the sessions. Normally my class is all over the place at this point. I have never had a more focused, quieter classroom on a Friday afternoon than these last few weeks. It is our most focused time of the week.
– Most of my students asked to work on it at home. Because they wanted to, not because they had to.
– I have some students (as everyone does) who struggle to work with others. Some of these actually chose to work with others and did it beautifully.
– My students started recommending and bringing resources in to help each other in their Genius Hour learning. I overheard one student saying, “Ooh…I found the perfect video for you to watch – my brother showed me the other day. It fits perfectly with what you are doing.” Another went to the library to find another book…she turned up without a book for herself, but checked out one she found for a classmate that she thought would help her (and it did). Another girl went around asking other students for advice on her colour choices for her poster to see which would be the most effective (and learned that yellow on white is not a good combo). A student who is a poor speller found a good speller to peer edit their Powerpoint. I never told them to help each other, they just did. And not just their friends. I could have walked out of the room and no one would have noticed….they didn’t need me as much, they had each other.
– At the beginning of each session, I had them write a very brief plan of how they were going to use their time. They seem to be learning so much about time management and thinking ahead/adjusting their plans to fit the time/resources they have. And they have learned to talk their plans out with me in the process.
– They have been incredible at finding resources…they have gone beyond books to watching videos, searching the internet using key words, asking other people they know and more.
Time management, resourcing, working collaboratively, being inspired to learn, presenting…all of these things have made this last hour on a Friday afternoon valuable as a learning tool. I’m not so concerned with whether they chose bats or basketball skills, that wasn’t my purpose. It was about the skills, not the content. But I am curious to see how the sharing of learning will go next week…the experiment continues…
Genius Hour Blog Post Index (a collection of different posts about the topic)
My main inspiration was from this initial blog post I ran across….http://henriksenlearning.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/100-minutes-of-genius/