My students have just completed their second session of Genius Hour. After our first one this past December I was anticipating even better projects and deeper learning. I started them thinking months ago about what they wonder about. I set up a Wonder Wall. we talked, we shared, and I found posts of other students’ projects to inspire the wonderings of my students. But I was met with many blank stares – who knew that finding something they wondered about that is driven by a great question could be so difficult! Too often it was about the doing – “I want to make a pyramid using Mind Craft”, “I want to build an arrow.”, “I want to do jumpshot tricks.” What was lacking was the inquisitive learning. We reviewed great questions, questions that prompted thinking, questions that led to more questions. Finally, after asking students to share their wonderings one night on the class website, the ideas began to flow. One students listed about 20 wonderings which spurred others in their thinking and the wonderings started to build and unfold.
Having a slow start became, really, a foreshadowing of how the rest of this second Genius Hour went for me. I know, I know, it is not about me, it is about the students, but as educators we hope to build new skills in the learning of our students, we hope to push their thinking to new levels whenever we can and wherever we are. Over 4 Genius Hour sessions students were engaged in their learning; I cannot deny that classroom management issues during these sessions was basically non existent. Some students chose to go it alone while others chose to work with partners that had similar wonderings. There was even one group of three as they discovered their paths were completely aligned and collaboration would benefit each.
The questions that were asked ranged from what was the evolution and creation of guitars, how gun powder fires a bullet, and how to create anime using the deviantart website long with many more. (For a complete list of this term’s GH questions visit my class website GH page.) Really, most of the projects had students digging deeper and learning new things. But did it inspire their passions – I don’t feel it did and maybe this is where I am struggling. I have taken the time to really think about what I want from Genius Hour or better yet, what I am hoping for the learning of the students. It is important that students have time to choose their own line of learning but should it not develop their thinking more deeply? I want to help them develop their critical thinking skills so does this mean I need to be more directive with the types of questions they have? But then does this take away from the autonomy of their choices? Does this go back to the control of the teacher? Have other teachers also faced this dilemma when starting out with passion based projects?
Another aspect of this session that really, really bothered me (again I know it is not about me) was that I felt the students had their heads staring at lap top and iPad screens far too much. As my classroom has access to technology on a daily basis and we are a BYOD school (at least in grade 6/7) I am feeling more and more the pull to have students spend some time away from the screens and more on the creative hands-on approach. Research definitely needs to occur, but does this require accessing the computers? Could research mean getting in touch with an expert in their field? The one group of three were looking at why dogs are color blind. I happen to know a dog expert and helped the students set up an interview with her. They were thrilled with this face to face experience and gained so much more than reading the information on-line. I was hoping more students would go in this direction and ask for help with connecting with experts. So I wonder if this should be one of the requirements of their projects – connect with an expert.
I also feel that not enough students are choosing to create or make something. What I mean is that if you want to know how the insides of an Xbox work than taking one apart and discovering connections, wiring, set up are all part of the process. Yes, you can look it up on You tube but isn’t discovery one of the most meaningful ways of learning? There were a variety of students who did create items but did so at home. Arrows were made side by side with a dad, truffle chocolates were made but done at home, not at school. It almost felt like Science Fair rather than Genius Hour. How can I go about adjusting this so more of the discovery happens without parent help/control? Does this matter as they still are working on what they wish to do and are spending quality time with parents? How can I, and should I, expect students to do more of the work at school so that they are not just using their time with me on the lap tops?
There are just so many questions I have before I start the next Genius Hour session. I would love input from those of you who have spent time implementing and developing the learning within Genius Hour in your classrooms. How much do you establish around guidelines of GH projects? Do you ask for a ‘make it’ component and does it need to be done at school? Where have you found inspiration to help students think about their deeper wonderings? These are just the tip of the iceberg for me.
Hearing your stories and ideas may help me find solid ground with which to stand before beginning the third Genius Hour session in my class.