GH with My Geniuses–Week 1

The Friday before Spring Break, usually one of the craziest days of the year, we held the gaze of 40 sets of 4th grade eyes. No one wanted to miss a word of what we were about to discuss…today ended the wonder…today we would answer the question “What is Genius Hour?”   I had teased my kids with the idea of studying anything THEY wanted for 30 minutes each Friday. It had been on the class calendar twice already, and each time it had been moved.   They were mesmerized….

After viewing a few videos collected by experienced GH teachers (see them from Hugh the Teacher here) and some talk from the two of us and our technology guru, who had, in her classroom, finished a few Genius Hour projects, the real questions started.

“Can I do my project on Legos?”

“I really like horses…”

“Me and my friend really want to do something about soccer.”

“Is it OK to study the planets?”

“So you are saying, like, anything is OK…really?”

I sent a form home over the break and set up a Q and A in Netschool, in case anyone needed help with their projects over Spring Break. I was ready. They were ready. And we were all more than excited…

The day we came back the questions began again.

“If I need to talk to a baker, can you help?”

“Do you think I could find out how to do this?”

“Can we really study ANYTHING?”

YES! YES! YES! I let them know they needed to consider just these 3 questions:

Why is this important to you? Could it/why should it be important to others? How will you teach others what you learned?

The last would be a presentation of some sort, but they could determine what that would be. We have done a few presentation tools, but with the help of our dear LMS, we can learn more, I told them confidently.

Fueled by the power of my #geniushour PLN and resources, I knew this would be the beginning of something incredible.

The projects proposed in the second session blew us away! Yes, we did have to reel a few in a bit, but most were practical projects and things that a kid could do by himself. Some would work in groups, building robots or websites, some would start researching their own genealogy or creating a new uniform or even shoes for a sport they love.  One of my favorite projects involved baking a cake with cookies inside.  And of course, her final project will be to present the how-to (using Snapguide, probably) and BRING THE CAKE!  Aw yeah….

My kids were hooked…nothing had held their attention like this self-directed learning. All I could think was “Where has THIS been all of my life?!?”—kind of like I felt when I really understood how to do a PBL!   When 2:30 rolled around, they begged for a few minutes more! WHAT?!? It was 2:30 on a FRIDAY, and my kids wanted to work longer? Yeah, seriously…

Week two spilled into today, and I had to set parameters for the GH projects. They want to finish work, come in at recess, and stay after school just to do more.   I had to let them know when we could and could not work (the time on Fridays, early mornings before the bell, and during recess) or else they spent the daydreaming, talking, and planning!   It was hard to say though, because GH is not only their favorite time of the week but mine, too. This was said with pride in their enthusiasm for learning but sadness that all learning does not get to happen this way….yet….

As I prepare myself and my team for a more inquiry-based approach to 4th grade learning, I plan to use my GH experience as a jumping off point.   And I question, if we can do it right, could every subject be this interesting? Everything, even the “boring” things, like phases of the moon (which for some reason just gets me down every year 🙂 ). I’m looking to a few great books like this one, the forward-thinking teachers in my school and district, and my trusty PLN for those answers!

GH is everything I thought it would be—this messy, crazy, loud teacher’s dream come true!   And I can’t wait to see what will happen next!

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Brave Teachers, Brave Kids

As part of our Open House presentation, my 4th graders and I had to talk about our SMART goals.  Knowing how I have failed miserably with the T in SMART (timely, including an end date) and maybe even the S and the M (specific and measurable), I planned on this going something like this:

Me: Let’s talk about the goals we have set this year!

Kids: [flipping way back in their journals to the beginning of the year]……(crickets)……ummmmm….

But THIS is how it went instead:

Me: Let’s talk about the goals we have set this year! (pause)

Kid 1: I really wanted to speak out more in class….(1st one to speak!)

Kid 2: I wanted to be brave enough to try the spelling bee. (Made it to the 3rd round!)

Kid 3: I have been working hard to start math problems every time, not wait for the answer. (A leader in math who now helps others when they are stuck!)

Kid 4:  At the beginning of the year, I was scared to speak Spanish, I had a goal to practice more.  (HUGE improvement with second language!)

And it went on and on for at least 10 minutes, my students sharing their goals, amazing me with their thoughts.  And as I listened, I realized I knew what they had been working on because I saw the evidence and the results even though we had never even discussed them!  It was magical!  How did they learn all of this?  Why did they care to make goals and try for something bigger?  I sure hadn’t been their teacher on this part…

Then I realized a trend, most of the goals had to do with taking risks.   My quiet girls wanted to speak up.  The shyest girl in the class, she was the spelling bee representative from our class.  My mathematicians, discouraged from state testing (ugh…) and the new challenges of 4th grade wanted to practice, to learn, to GO FOR IT!  Where did this even come from?  I had an odd theory…maybe from my summer promise to make this “My Year of Living Dangerously”.

I shared this idea with my kids at the beginning of the year, and anytime that I took a risk, I told them.  These exchanges happened in side conversations, in my writing examples, in the technology that we were beginning to use.   Some of my risks were small, like staying up late on a school night (gasp!).   Some of my risks have been big, like transitioning to online homework, and finally posting this blog.   I took my kids along as we tried Google Sites and recently with Genius Hour (just a month before state testing!  Yipes!).  Why?  Well…why not?

That “Why not?” attitude is clear in the goals they set and have achieved.  Why not be the first to speak?  Why not try something that is REALLY hard?  Why not try something big for my Genius Hour project?  Why not!?!

I’ve always believed that I can’t ask the kids to do something I am not going to do, can’t, or won’t do.   Here I saw what happened when that took place on a whole different level within the walls of my classroom.   The climate has always depended on my actions with my kids, but seeing them own their bold, risk-taking goals was way more that I ever thought possible.  And as my kids continue to take these risks, I take them too, inspired by their curiosity, kindness, creativity, and bravery.

So…let’s risk looking silly in front of our peers for the sake of our learning and the betterment of our kids!  Let’s not let the fear of mistakes keep us from trying something new or scary!  Let’s be bold learners and adventurous teachers!  Why not?  You never know who might be following you!

(P.S. If you are good at helping 4th and 5th graders set SMART goals, just let me know!  I am not afraid to ask for help!)