In the fall, students researched topics of their choosing, but I accidentally narrowed their output by giving too many specifics up front. In retrospect, I should have more work with some of the students to develop deeper questions.
With the second semester, I gave students a big goal - changing the world. I really enjoyed having a theme because it gave some focus to the projects, which we were missing previously. It also enabled me to do double duty with the argumentative research paper we needed to write third quarter.
The upside of the double duty was the students learned a lot about their topics leading up to the expo. The downside was that it sort of removed some of the "passion" for some of the students. Associating the project with the paper at all made it a challenge for some students to see the entire process in a positive light. Were I to do it again, this is something I would consider changing.
From the whole project, students gave the most positive feedback in regards to the actual Expo day. In my mind, the two (Genius Hour and the Genius Hour Expo) were one in the same. My students did not see it that way, and I'm not quite sure why that is.
I was really surprised by these results because I thought the two graphs would be more similar. I didn't quite get enough feedback from this survey, so I want to follow up with students. I need to understand the "why" behind some of their responses.
The most important part for me was seeing the importance of the "publishing" in action. Students need an audience beyond just their teacher. It was one of those things that though I've read it over and over again - seeing how much it changes the game for students made a real impact on me.
For the Expo, I had every one of my students give a presentation. Even students who have had a lot of struggles throughout the year gave great Expo presentations. One came to me prior to his class visiting and asked "Mrs. Reed, do you think I'm going to be successful at the Expo today? Have I done enough?" A different student who struggles in various areas with school had such a great project, I had two different teachers tell me how impressed they were with his work later on.
Did I have some students who didn't like the Expo? Yes. It certainly wasn't all sunshine and rainbows with all 77 of them, but with 8th graders, it's very difficult (if not impossible) to please all of them all of the time.
In the end, I don't think I've done a project in my teaching career that has allowed students to meet so many standards as once. Reading informational text - Check! Writing - Check! Research - Check! Speaking and listening - Check! I don't think students even realize just how much they've learned. That is something I would want to try to build in to future versions of Genius Hour.
If I had the chance, I would certainly implement Genius Hour again next year. I would have a handful of things I'd want to change, but the overall premise is a very powerful idea. While I'm moving to a different position next year, I will work to involve as much student choice, project-based learning, and publishing of final products as I can. I was truly forever changed as an educator by this experience!