Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Final Genius Hour Reflection and Wrap-Up

I've now wrapped up my first year implementing Genius Hour with my 8th graders. I jumped in with a few questions still on the table, but it was a risk I'm glad I took.

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.
One very rewarding thing was how many students reflected in their final blog post about how proud they were of the work they've done.

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!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

'Twas the Night Before Expo

Tomorrow is my students' Genius Hour Expo. The day we've been talking about since we returned to school in January has arrived.

After our first round of Genius Hour last semester, I realized something needed to change. My students spent a lot of time and energy on something that only I saw. The "share out" element of the Genius Hour process was clearly missing. Unsure I could manage filming videos to post online and unclear of how blogs might work for us, I decided to create the Genius Hour Expo.

In my initial vision, students would be presenting something related to their projects to other students at our school. I wanted them to research something that could "change the world" and share outside of our classroom walls.

Since we launched in January, students have written argumentative research papers related to their topics, and then later decided how to take their project forward.

For many students, this just meant preparing a tri-fold poster with the information they already researched for their papers. Others did additional research to add information or pictures to what they were sharing out.

Some students created projects that they implemented prior to Expo day. I had two students sell raffle tickets to raise money for an animal shelter. Another student documented random acts of kindness she did around town. Another student created a mini softball camp for students in our life skills class.

Others have created videos to embed in their projects; some have created interactive components, like surveys, to their Expo presentations. I was purposely vague in my expectations because I didn't want to limit them. For some, that was a challenge - for others it became an opportunity.

So now, Expo day is here. Some students were not as prepared as I would have liked when they left class today.

All students at our school will have the opportunity to attend at least one of the Expo presentations. A schedule has been created, but I still have a lot of unknowns. How exactly will we set up in the library? Should I have gotten some additional tables? Will I get to everyone's stations during our class times? Is there enough time for the visiting classes to see enough of the presentations?

I have asked my students to work through adversity and deal with challenges during this project, so I have to expect the same from myself.

If nothing else, I had a student say to me today, "I am so excited for Expo tomorrow. Like, I have never been this excited for something at school before."

And that makes it all worth it.