Monthly Archives: October 2012

Experiment #1: Genius Hour

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 –  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….


Categories: Education, Thinking | 3 Comments

The Power in a Quote

A fine quotation is a diamond in the hand of a man of wit and a pebble in the hand of a fool.
Joseph Roux

So I was trying to figure out how to get my students to start consolidating what we had been talking about (what is a need? what is a want?  what is well-being?) and process that in terms of childrens’ needs around the world.  And I wasn’t sure where to go so I thought out loud (as I have a tendency to do) in our workroom and a colleague from another team suggested finding some quotes and starting from there.  (side note: while it drives me to distraction so much, I do have moments where I love sitting in a workroom with 12-15 other people)

I had never really used quotes to start children discussing and thinking about something before, but I liked the idea of it because I know that I find quotes thought-provoking and powerful in my own life.  I have them around my house and in notebooks, these thoughts from others that I value.  There is something about a quote that speaks to us in a way that makes us reflect, question, wonder and feel in a way that very few things can match.  They can evoke so much passion and inspiration.  To me a quote is that tiny short way of wrapping up a person’s experiences and beliefs that calls out to others to understand and respond.

And so I tried it out….we put two classes together, divided them in pairs and had them go around to different quotes (relating to childrens’ needs) that were posted around the room.  Their task?  Read the quote with your partner and talk about it – what does it mean?  Do you agree/disagree with it – why?  They then had to write down their thoughts and leave them posted next to the quote and move on to a different one.

Things That Went Well

–  As I walked around the room, the students were engaged…I didn’t have to redirect too many of them. (at least for 20-25 minutes…which is about as long as they last in most independent discussions at 9 years old)

–  I stumbled across some really thoughtful discussions between pairs – whether they thought it was more important to feel valued or to have food/water (one disagreement between a pair on priorities of needs), amazement/disbelief at part of a quote and some children who were wholeheartedly supporting a quote about children deserving to be loved and have family/friends.  They agreed and disagreed with things and explained why.

–  Some of the students seemed to connect more on an emotional level with what people were saying than some of the other things I had shown them…when having to rephrase what someone said, they really had to think about what it meant and understand it.  They thought more deeply.

Things That Didn’t Go So Well and Should Probably be Rethought

–  In chatting with my colleague, apparently I stumbled across more of the great conversations and she ran into students who weren’t sure what some of the words mean and didn’t know what to do.  We talked about how it might have been more helpful in the future to read the quotes as a whole group and define any important words before they set out in pairs.  If they couldn’t understand the word/words, it made the rest of it pretty difficult.

–  Many of the pairs chose to agree/disagree and explain their thinking but skipped the part where they were supposed to write what they thought it meant, even after I reminded them to do so halfway through.  Which tells me that maybe they weren’t totally sure what it meant or didn’t know how to rephrase it in their own words.  Some of the quotes I chose were a bit beyond their level and perhaps I needed to find some simpler ones that they could all connect with a bit more.

–  There were some misunderstandings of quotes….we haven’t come together and wrapped up the ideas/activity and to be honest I’m not quite sure what the best way is to go about it, so that’s still needing to be thought out (soon)

I would LOVE to hear any ideas/ways of using quotes to inspire thinking or any other thoughts as it’s something that is very much in ‘rough draft’ form in our classroom at the moment!




A Few Quotes about Quotes 🙂 (from

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself. ~Marlene Dietrich

Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted, than when we read it in the original author? ~Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life, 1873

Fine phrases I value more than bank-notes. I have ear for no other harmony than the harmony of words. To be occasionally quoted is the only fame I care for. ~Alexander Smith

Short sentences drawn from long experience. ~Miguel de Cervantes

Categories: Education, Thinking | 1 Comment

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