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Innovation Corner

posted May 16, 2015, 5:06 PM by Kate Petty

by Kate Petty @techclassroom

Look around your house. Do you have a bunch of unused and probably unwanted stuff? You know, stuff like yarn (crocheting was not your cup of tea?), scrapbook paper, art paper, colored pencils, etc.

Guess what? We all do.

Why not email the parents of your students and ask them to donate their unused craft supplies? I did this and the turnout was amazing. I had pipe-cleaners, puff balls, ribbon, scrapbooking scissors, material, yarn, glue, glitter (lots of glitter), even Lincoln Logs. I created an Innovation Corner in my classroom. A place where my students could go during Genius Hour and other project-related moments to feel inspired and try something with their own two hands. I bought a few how to sketch books from the local Salvation Army and orgami paper from the Dollar Store. I even found sculpting clay on sale and couldn't pass it up.

My 12th graders were apprehensive about playing with their hands at first but they came around and ended up loving the corner. When was the last time anyone let them create something with pipecleaners and glitter? Never. They had a ball.

Your donation quest doesn't have to end there. My daughter's 1st grade teacher sent out a request for unwanted sports equipment. She piled the equipment in the classroom and the students got to create brand new games with them during a Field Day Genius Hour! Check it out below!

IMG_1164.JPG  IMG_1161.JPG  IMG_1163.jpg

The sky is the limit when it comes to what is sitting in around in someone's house!

Genius Hour 2013: First Semester

posted Sep 2, 2013, 3:57 PM by Jillane Baros

Original Post on Profa Baros's Classroom

Each day, I'm getting closer to introducing Genius Hour to my class.  After much thought and input from coworkers, I feel like I've got a solid plan.  Obviously, things will be a little less flexible than this last summer as far as what material we need to cover (I need to demonstrate that I'm meeting standards for Spanish classes), but we have so many more opportunities to really go big with this project so I'm very excited!  Here's what I've got planned so far...

First semester, I'm going to focus on teaching about culture.  I want my students to really grasp what culture is and how it shapes communities and societies.  We're going to start with learning the countries and capitals of Spanish-speaking countries so that students know which countries meet my expectations for researching related cultural information.  Then, we're going to do a few experiential activities for students to start thinking about what culture really is.  Finally, we'll dive right in to independent research on their own devices during Genius Hour and continue that research until the end of the first semester.

Once we get to the Genius Hour phase, students will be collaborating to create an online collection of the resources they've found.  Using blogger, students will create posts to share the information they find on various cultural topics and categorize them.  (They will take down notes about the information they find in their notebooks - a separate grade - and use these notes to help them create their posts and remember facts what they read).  I've broken culture down into ten categories and students will need to create at least one post for each category plus at least 5 additional posts in whichever category or categories they choose (a total of at least 15 posts).  Each class will have their own website and may not duplicate a resource that another person in their class has used (however, they can use their classmates' resources to jump-start their own research!).

All of our students have set up gmail accounts using a specific format from the school.  I will invite the students from each class to become authors on for their class's website using these accounts.  In order to protect student privacy, the blogs are set so that only the authors can view them.  However, I have set up a blog specifically to share student work with all of you in the same format - I will just be copying and posting excellent examples of student posts under my name rather than students posting to the world under their own names.  To view the example account, CLICK HERE.  As students get to work creating posts, I will update this blog accordingly.

Here area few technical tips and tricks I used to set up the class website:

  • Decide what labels students will use when they post.  Labels will automatically pop up once they are used the first time, so I created a post that is tagged with all the labels I want students to use.
  • Set up a redirect for the home page to always display the same information/post.  I redirected this page to the "introduction" post I created which used all the labels I want students to use.  This particular post is excellent for a home page as it introduces the topic, explains the categories, informs them of the labels that represent each category, and gets them started with some sample questions.
  • Set up pages for each of the categories.  In Blogger, you can set up pages as links to a particular URL.  I used this option and linked the pages to the "results" page that comes up when you click the corresponding label.  Thus, each of these pages will pull up all of the posts labelled for that category.
  • Students use two labels for each post.  The first is for the category it goes under (so that it comes up when you click the "page" for that category), and the second is their name so that I can quickly find all the posts a particular student has created (we're going to use the the first initial+last name format for their name label).

Note that I also included a dedicated page for directions on how students should create their posts as well as a rubric for grading the posts.

By the end of first semester, I'm hoping that each class has created a resource they can all be proud of and provides useful information to their classmates.  I'm even thinking about doing a hallway display of the cool information they've found and have some ideas about incorporating QR codes.  Second semester, they will use this resource to propose three research topics and ultimately select one topic for which to complete their final project.  This will be more of a 20 Time style project and more details will come as we get closer!

Genius Hour - The Moment of Truth

posted Jul 19, 2013, 9:18 AM by Jillane Baros

Original post on Profa Baros's Classroom

Genius Hour project highlighting a number

of different research topics.  One was the theory

behind the characters and plot of the movie

"My friend Toto" which she and other students had

watched as kids.  It completely changed how she

viewed the movie and sparked a lot of questions

from her  fellow classmates.

Our Latino Culture Genius Hour projects are done and yesterday we presented our projects.  So, how did we do?  Here's the process we went through, how everything turned out, student projects, and my reflections on it all :)

Goals and Objectives

To make their learning experience as organic as possible, I only gave students one goal up front: Get curious and learn stuff.  However, I formed other goals that I wanted students to achieve that helped me guide the class to where they needed to go (and at least half of my students needed some guidance as to what the heck they were supposed to do).  These requirements were introduced throughout the process as they were needed, though in the future I may outline my objectives in more detail at the beginning for students to get an idea of the "big picture".  However, I worry that introducing the "culture" requirement (see "projects" below) too soon will limit the scope of what students think is "acceptable" to be researching, so I may hold that requirement back until it is time to work on it.

A split Genius Hour project highlighting one of the movies

we'd watched and facts about becoming a neonatal nurse,

which she plans to pursue after high school.

  1. Get curious and learn stuff.
  2. Form "essential questions to answer.
  3. Create evidence of learning through journaling.
  4. Journal about three questions per day (about 30 minutes/question).
  5. Create a product that represented their learning.
  6. Draw connections between their learning and culture.

Poster about government secrets and

conspiracies. This sparked a discussion about

why people believe in these theories so strongly

as crazy as they may seem, especially those

that involve the government.  We also discussed

secrets we now knowthe government has been

 keeping from us such as the current NSA

 data collection controversy.

Introducing Genius Hour

I decided to introduce Genius Hour by having students Googling it.  I really liked this method as it allowed them to use their information-finding skills right from the start and set the tone for the rest of the course.  They needed a fair amount of time to do so - I'd give them at least twenty minutes or so.  Once they found information and took notes (see "evidence of learning"), we discussed Genius Hour on a class level and I answered any questions students had.  Going back, there was an activity we did in another lesson (see "supporting Genius Hour") where I had students write one thing on the board that they felt answered the question they were given.  That was a very successful lesson as every student contributed to the classes "collective knowledge" about the topic, clear trends and themes appeared, and we used the visual display of everyone's contributions to guide the discussion.  This would be a great way to introduce what Genius Hour is and what our goal/objectives during Genius Hour are.

Making ice cream!  A cool recipe for

making ice cream at home using basic

ingredients and tools.  Now my students

want to make it on the last day of the program!

Once students had researched and discussed Genius Hour, I asked them to draft ten "I wonder" statements.  The amount of time and effort required to complete this task varied widely.  Some students were done within five minutes, and others took the remainder of the class period.  Once they were done, they were set free to begin answering their questions (including creating evidence of their learning, which I describe in the next section) as I helped students having trouble coming up with statements.  I did so by asking questions - What is something you want to do someday?  What are some of your favorite things?  What hobbies do you have?  Where would you like to visit? etc.  I followed up their questions with more questions about their answer until I got an "I don't know" response - and they wrote down the question that they didn't know the answer to (i.e. How is it made?  How much would plane tickets cost to get there? What documents do you need?)  Some students came up with questions that weren't researchable, at least without some tweaking (Why does first period seem so long?).  Luckily, with ten questions to refer to, I was able to go down their list and help them create related questions that they could research in order to find the answer to their original question (What affects our perception of time?).

"Dreams" project that led to a discussion

about the dreams other students have

experienced and this student was able

to be our "expert" in explaining them.

Finally, I had students reflect on what they thought about Genius Hour now that their feet were at least a little wet.  Between the research and discussion, drafting "I wonder" statements, beginning research on their own questions, and the reflection, I had a good barometer measurement to see where students were when we started.  This allowed me to meet them with assistance and guidance where they needed me to as well as give me insights for where to go from here with various students.  It was obvious that some students would be able to proceed with little to no guidance and that others needed to learn the basic of how to form questions and find the answers.  Automatic differentiation!

A project highlighting the many attractions

and reasons to visit Costa Rica, which this

student hopes to do someday.

Evidence of Learning

Due to the limited time frame and inability for students to complete work outside of class during this program, I kept things low-tech and simple.  I use Interactive Notebooks in my class and so had students dedicate the entire second half of their notebooks to Genius Hour.  The first page of this section was a Table of Contents where students would write their research topic and the page number they used to take notes about it.  They titled their notes page with the essential question they were answering and used Cornell Notes to record what they found.  Though I personally don't like using Cornell Notes, it was an excellent way for students to organize their note taking in a way that I could follow most of the time, especially since their notes were so varied.  I could use the headings, summary, or the notes themselves to understand what information students had found.  On the opposite page, students reflected on the information they found.  I left this requirement open to interpretation, but gave them suggestions like describing why this was important to them, what was surprising, any connection it had to culture, etc.  In the future, I will provide a list of questions that students can use for their reflections, though their responses won't be limited to the questions that I thought of.

Another vacation-themed project about 

Cuernavaca, Morelos in Mexico.

This worked very well given the circumstances of our class.  During the regular academic year, I'd like to digitize this part of their notebook so they can share their learning with others.  I'm still brainstorming the best way for them to do this, but I think I will have them create a blog of some sort where they can post their essential question, the resource(s) they used to answer it, highlights from the notes they took, and their reflection.  I'd like to find some way to get all of their posts in the same place as well so that they can explore one another's posts for inspiration during their own learning.

"Thinking outside the box" with this project -

on each side, there are descriptions and illustrations

of things this student chose to learn about.  They

were important to him because they were hobbies he

enjoyed and things he'd like to do as a career

in the future.

Supporting Genius Hour

For a number of reasons, I decided to take an inquiry- and experience-based approach to my class, allowing students to find information on their own and provide environments for students to get authentic experience with the culture.  I used this to model what I wanted them to be doing during Genius Hour as well.  Thus, each day's notes was titled with a question.  Oftentimes, students helped me form the question once they knew what we would be doing that day, which worked well as they were able to still have their own questions that they were looking for answers to.  Sometimes they looked for the answer to their question online and other times they looked for the answer in the experiences they had while eating traditional food or learning dances.  They shared their learning with the rest of the class through discussions and presentations, though these were all more or less informal since they didn't have time to prepare a professional presentation.  Yet, they still taught the rest of the class - including myself - many things about Latin American culture from the information they had found just a half hour earlier.  This seemed to make them more comfortable with finding and sharing information, especially for the students that often asked me "Is this right?" or "Is this good?"  My answers to these were to simply repeat the requirements (Does it answer this question?) and have them do a self evaluation to determine whether THEY thought it was "right" or "good".

A model of a Native American village.

This particular tribe is part of this student's

ancestry and she provided a detailed account

of who they were, the influence of the

Spaniards on them, and their ultimate

disappearance as they married

outside of the tribe.


Given our limited time and resources - including that students lived on-campus with residential mentors and had little to no free time with afternoons filled with activities, I kept our projects basic.  I had two requirements: 1) It must represent something(s) you learned in this class, ad 2) You must use the poster board in some way.  Again, I got the "Is this right?" questions and a few students were worried that they'd done the project wrong, especially when they saw what other students were doing.  Again, I repeated the two requirements (Does it represent something you learned in this class and does it use the poster board?") and, when they answered yes to both questions, I assured them that it was perfect then and they're doing great.  Students were making things from models of a Native American village to posters of places they wanted to visit to instructions for how to make ice cream.

A project highlighting the Aztec culture,

which is a part of this students' ancestry.

He felt this was important because it

is "who he is" and the Mexican people

are forgetting who they are and the Indian

roots from which they come.

When they were getting close to finishing the project, I gave them one final requirement - a 100-word essay about how their project connected to culture.  A native speaker of a language can generally write 100 words in five minutes, so this was manageable by everyone (though some students wrote an entire page or two!)  Though they didn't know it, my main purpose in having them write this "essay" was just to get them thinking about the connections their projects had to culture so that they could discuss it during the presentations. I assured them that I would help them make the connection even if they didn't think there was one.  This was my goal - I wanted their project to be truly authentic and what they wanted to research worrying about what I thought was acceptable and worthy of learning about, but it also required them to stretch their concepts of culture and find connections with their project.  Earlier in the course, we discussed my proposition that "Culture is us." Ultimately, students were able to use this statement to find the connections without much help.

The backside of the same "Aztec" project, 

an illustration of the Aztec calendar.

Again, due to the format of the class, we had a more informal presentation of our projects.  I wasn't sure what I'd get with so few requirements and instructions, so I was holding my breath when it came time for presentations!  Rather than presenting in front of an audience, students sat in a circle and took turns telling the class what their project was, what they learned, why it was important to them, and how it connected to culture.  Rather than giving them a list of these questions to prepare, I just asked them to tell us about their project and asked the questions that they hadn't naturally answered.  They were comfortable enough with the group and their projects that the conversation flowed naturally, with other students chiming in asking questions and making comments about the projects.  It created a more community-type learning experience and was a fantastic way to showcase everything students had worked on independently.  I was surprised by the depth to which students had learned about their projects, which was revealed when other students asked more detailed and specific questions and the "presenter" was able to be an expert on their topic.  Though we only had eleven students, we took a full hour to share our projects and nearly everyone was engaged the entire time!  One thing that helped, I believe, was that the first student was someone that had put a lot of time and effort into their project and shared in detail what she'd done without much help with "prompts", so it set a standard and example for the rest of the students to follow.  Of course when she was done and we applauded, one student said "That's it?", and it was!  It was just that easy and natural for them to share what they'd learned and worked so hard on!

A split project with images representing the

various things this student learned about throughout

the course. She wants to work with babies in the future,

so shared some details about them, including that

they do dream, but not with sound since they

haven't developed the ability to speak yet.

In the future, I would like to do some sort of discussion like this for Genius-Hour style activities where students are typically learning about a variety of topics in an more unstructured environment.  I plan to do Genius Hour leading up to a full-blown 20 Time project during second quarter, so this would be a great way for students to share what they had learned.  However, I think a more formal presentation will be in order for 20 Time projects as students will have learned about their subject and completed a project with more rigorous requirements and detail.  But for Genius Hour, I couldn't have asked for a more perfect "capstone" experience!

Genius Hour Week 3: Three Distinct Groups

posted Jun 29, 2013, 6:31 AM by Jillane Baros

**Original post on Profa Baros's Classroom**

Three distinct groups of students have emerged within my classroom and, though my program is a special one for students who might be considered "at risk", I imagine similar groups will emerge in any Genius Hour classroom: the "This is awesome!" group, the "Ok, I get it." group, and the "What is this?" group.

"This is awesome!" - 42% of my students

Profile: Just under half of my students fall into this group.  These are the students that got the concept of Genius Hour right away, came up with researchable things they were curious about with relative ease, and got right to researching and note-taking without much direction.  More than one has expressed outward excitement since beginning Genius Hour as well and have tried to convince me that more days (or even every day) should be Genius Hour.  They're never at a loss for ideas of what to research.

Challenges: Is there such thing as having too many questions?  I don't think so.  However, I can see that it would be difficult for them to focus on one thing to research at a deeper level.  If we were to transition into doing a 20-Time project, it may be difficult for them to choose just one thing to focus on.  These are also the students that I would predict would try to do over-the-top and/or "perfect" projects and may get struggle when implementing their ideas.

Goals: These students already have the skills to form a steady stream of questions, research the answers, and produce meaningful learning.  For them, my Genius Hour objective would be to take these questioning and researching skill to a deeper and more advanced level.  This would include asking more detailed questions about a single topic, making connections to other topics (as well as academic subjects), and acting on their research to experience the "real-world" implications.  Finally, these students would likely do the equivalent of Genius Hour on their own sometime in their lives and would probably research and discover their passions and develop the related skills without a class explicitly asking them to do so.  However, having an organized Genius Hour gives their passions, dreams, and desires formal recognition, validation, and guidance.  Moreover, if we can encourage kids to engage in these types of activities early on, those skills will translate into other courses as students discover meaningfulness and self-efficacy in their education.

"Ok, I get it." - 33% of my students

Profile: These students struggled initially with the concept of Genius Hour.  It took longer for them to develop their own questions and most needed help from me to come up with their ten "I wonder..." statements.  Even then, many of their questions weren't "researchable" and required interpretation before moving on (i.e. "What does it feel like to be famous?" -> "What do famous people deal with?").  However, once I took them through the Genius Hour process on the first day, they picked up speed and were working more independently.

Challenges: After three weeks of Genius Hour, I'm getting the impression that most of them are at least feel luke-warm to warm about Genius Hour.  I do have to check up with them to make sure they don't get stuck every now and then, but I'm feeling fairly confident about their work and progress as long as they stay on-task!  This group does have a tendency to get off-task every now and then, but that seems to improve when they start feeling excited and get more involved with what they're researching.

Goals: My goal with this group is to get them turned on to learning.  I feel like they're right on the edge of being able to tell me what they're excited about and diving right in.  A few of them have actually identified themes in their research and have related those back to what they want to do in their future (one wants to be a neonatal nurse and has researched multiple baby-related questions!).  I've seen a lot of improvement in this group and I'm excited to see what their final learning products will be!

"What is this?" - 25% of my students

Profile: Each student in this group has unique characteristics, but all of them have similar work.  They are the ones who I'm still working with to understand the goal and purpose of Genius Hour, though I think we made some breakthroughs this week (see below).  In the beginning, they also struggled with creating "I wonder..." statements, and when they were done, nearly all of their questions lacked meaning even to them.  This is the group that would prefer a "normal" class where I tell them what they're supposed to know as they're not sure where to start and not sure where to go once they do get started.  Many will argue that this group is not ready for Genius Hour and should be relegated to doing tasks requiring basic skills before moving on to something as complex as Genius Hour.  To me, this is the group that needs Genius Hour the most.

Challenges: There are a few common obstacles that hinder their ability to fully engage in Genius Hour: a lack of meaningful questions, a lack of skills to research those questions, and getting off task.  Of course, the last challenge is a result of the first two as students aren't excited about Genius Hour because they don't know what to do.  As I stated before, each of these students has unique reasons I've identified that contribute to these obstacles.  I have to check on this group frequently as they are usually stuck and/or off-task.

Goals: First and foremost, these students need to develop the higher-order skills required to formulate their own questions and research their answers. (My second goal would be for them to also find motivation for learning, but I've realized they may or may not be ready for that yet as discuss below).  It doesn't seem that they've ever been asked to do so before and so they'd feel much more capable of learning facts explicitly taught to them and spitting them out on the test.  In other words, they'd prefer "normal" school because that's all they've ever known.  But it is my mission to expand their worlds through self-efficacy and self-direction in learning.

  • At first, I tried doing so by "inspiring" them about things they're passionate about.  For some, this worked.  For example, I finally connected with one of my students when he asked me if he could "Predict who will win the Superbowl next year."  I told him, yes, that would be a great Genius Hour question as long as he did research to back it up (stats, draft picks, schedule, etc.) and wrote down facts on the "notes" page and then presented his prediction on the "reflection" page.  For the first time, he was able to take an entire page of meaningful notes during class, which was huge for him.  Later on in the period, we discussed why researching this might be important to him because there were plenty of people whose careers were devoted to researching stats and making predictions (namely sports analysts).  Plus, he could tell me who to bet on when I move to Las Vegas this fall!  The next day we continued began working on our the displays for students to demonstrate what they learned, and I checked in with him to find out what he'd be researching about today.  He said he really enjoyed researching the stats and how they come up with them and thinks he'd really enjoy a career doing that!  So, he's decided that's what he'll focus on for his Genius Hour time and project.  I couldn't have asked for a better reaction!  Now, we just need to work on getting more direction and better research...
  • Unfortunately, the "motivation approach" didn't work for everyone.  After doing some (deep) digging with another student, I was able to list find three things that were important to her and make suggestions for how she could research and do her project on any one of those three things.  However, she felt much more capable asking "How is ice cream made?"  I had to admit that it was a perfectly valid question, and she felt capable of researching the answer to it.  That is justification enough.  I realized that she may not be ready to form or tackle "meaningful", "big", or "important" questions just yet and that I needed to meet her halfway.  This would still represent a big step for her just to form a researchable question, do the research and take notes, and finally produce a product representing her learning.  She's still performing high-order functions, even if it's not about something particularly exciting to her (she got a good kick out my suggestion that she could become the ice cream man haha).
  • In the end, I got a good, solid page of notes on a question and at least an effort at a reflection about those notes.  They also have at least initial ideas for their final project representing what they learned.  The quality and quantity of research for these students wasn't as rigorous as the rest of the students', but it was a huge leap forward for each of them.  It's the progress that counts.

Genius Hour Week Two: 2 Struggles and 2 Successes

posted Jun 21, 2013, 5:58 PM by Jillane Baros   [ updated Jun 21, 2013, 6:03 PM ]

**Original post on Profa Baros's Classroom Blog (6/21/13)**

Last week I introduced Genius Hour to my students, and this week we spent the entire class period researching various ideas.  We had a lot of interesting experiences today - some 
shed light on some of the struggles my students may have and that I need to address and others confirmed how awesome this really is.  For week 2, I have two of each to share :)


I have a few students that still aren't sure of what they're supposed to be doing.  In fact, one student told me today that he'd rather me just present information and tell him what he was supposed to learn.  That would be so much easier.  I was a bit taken back by this comment!  I was completely honest and explained that this is the problem I have with "traditional" education: we spend thirteen years telling students what they're supposed to know and what they're supposed to do and never give students the chance to figure this out for themselves.  So what are they supposed to do once they graduate?  Who's going to tell them what to do then?  And if they're always looking for someone to tell them what to do and how to think, they'll never reach their full potential and always be limited to what that person wants.  I think he got the message, and I encouraged him to figure out who he is, what he wants to be, and what he should learn!  That's what Genius Hour is all about.

Multiple students are struggling to break down their questions into researchable items. Later in the period, I had a student that had developed a general question ("What would it take to visit Mexico?", but couldn't figure out where to go with it.  I started asking him all sorts of more specific questions regarding transportation, documents, limitations on visiting, etc., and that seemed to help.  Another student had a question concerning why time seemed to go slower during a certain class, but couldn't figure out how to research an answer (on the other hand, I just Googled "Why does time pass slower?" and got fascinating results such as a Wikipedia article about time dilation and "10 ways our minds warp time").  How can I better help students through the process of developing questions, developing a plan of action to answer them, and then finding/recording valuable information?


The secret is out!  My students know that I'm blogging about their work :)  I reminded students of this and said that they were welcome to find it.  However, I did not tell them where to find it!  Pretty soon, one student, and then a few more found my blog.  For a brief period, many of them were reading and laughing at what I'd written about our first week.  They seemed genuinely pleased about their work and experience being showcased online.  (And, if you're one of my students reading this, I hope you're learning something!) What I found most interesting, though, was that many of them spent quite a bit of time pulling up the pictures of their notebooks and reading what their fellow classmates had written in their notebooks.  I hadn't even planned for them to access each others' work, much less expected such an amazing result from doing so!  Since names weren't included, it was left up to their best guesses which of their classmates wrote what, but while reading their peers' ideas, some students became interested in questions they hadn't thought of before.  One boy in particular read another student's question about how childbirth felt to a girl, thinking it was a bit silly at first, but then spent the rest of the period researching how birth pains could be simulated for a male.  While I intended for students to share what they were working on in various ways (like in-class discussion and presentations), I gained an even greater appreciation for the power of student collaboration and following one another as they work through the Genius Hour process.  I'll definitely have to make this a priority in the future.

I set much clearer expectations for students today.  Last week, even though I gave them the opportunity to research different questions and complete multiple pages in their books about those questions, almost every student wrote about one question and only a few filled the page with notes about the question.  I was excited because all of my students had a great in-class experience, but wanted to see more evidence of their experience in their notebooks.  Today, I gave them explicit instructions for what I expected: They would be responsible for researching three questions and filling up six pages.  On the odd pages of our notebooks (right-hand pages), they would write the main question they were researching on the top of the page, then use Cornell Notes to record the information they find to answer their question and fill the entire page.  On the opposite page (even page number), they would write their Reflection, which I was hoping would be at least a half page and include what their reaction to what they researched and learned (Was it interesting or not? Why? Would you want to learn more about this in the future?  What does it have to do with culture? etc.).  I tried to stress that I know they're learning awesome stuff, so please show me evidence of what they're finding!  Since we have a 100-minute class, that gave them over half an hour to work on each of their questions, and most of my students were perfectly happy with it, some even doing more pages!

I have permission from students to share their work again, so I will update this post in the (very) near future to include examples of what they achieved.  Once again, I had a class full of geniuses!

Genius Hour: Week 1

posted Jun 15, 2013, 8:14 AM by Jillane Baros   [ updated Jun 15, 2013, 8:18 AM ]

**Originally posted on Profa Baros's Classroom Blog

"How did you know that?"

"I Googled it."

The first student had asked a fairly complicated question out loud ("Do babies dream?"), and within a few seconds, the second student started telling her about the REM cycles of babies, something he knew nothing about just a few moments beforehand.  That's the beauty of Genius Hour.

Though I officially introduced Genius Hour yesterday, we built up to it throughout our first week of school.  About a week or so before this class started, I realized I was going to have to change my approach as a teacher.  Most of my students in this "Latino Culture" class would likely have much more experience than I with Latino culture as they would likely be Latinos themselves (sure enough, most of my students do speak Spanish a grew up in "Latino" families and communities).  At the same time, I realized that the driving force behind Genius hour and all learning are questions.  I'm beginning to believe that the most effective learning happens when a question is present, whether explicitly or implicitly.  (For example, in a regular Spanish class, students are often wondering "How do you say....?" or "What does ...... mean?", even if they don't actually ask those questions)  If students are forming these questions, then they will better appreciate the answers.  If students can form their own questions, they will be more motivated to find the answers.  If students are finding the answers on their own, they will likely remember them.

Want evidence?  Check out this TED talk from Sugata Mitra about the Child-Driven education:

As a result of my insights into students forming questions and the above TED talk, I decided to restructure my class around these questions.  In turn, this modeled what I wanted students to do on their own when we got to Genius Hour, though they didn't know it at the time.  On the first day, after doing a K-W-L about culture, I asked them "What is culture?".  They wrote this question as the title of their page in their Interactive Notebooks (For more information about how these work, see my Interactive Notebook page) and set their page up in Cornell-notes style (not only is this an effective strategy, but it allows me to easily find and understand what they did during class).  Then, I turned them loose for 10 minutes and told them to answer that question.  We had limited computers, but while I had a pair or two using the computers, many students elected to use their phones and ipods instead (Fantastic!).  I asked them to use the entire time to find information and expand their answers beyond just a definition - and I was pleasantly surprised that many of them did just that!  Students were reading entire Wikipedia pages, looking up the origin of the word, finding examples, and even figuring out what it meant to be a "cultured" person.  Here are the results of two students' work** from that lesson, including my notes and responses (click to enlarge):

Throughout the week, I did my best to present the topic of each lesson in the form of a question even if we weren't going to be using the internet.  One day, we did a simulation of what it's like to be in a foreign culture and reflected on that experience by answering "What is my culture?"  Another day we learned a song and dance for Latin American countries and capitals, and the question was "What are the Latin American countries and capitals?"  Because each students' responses were often unique, the best discussions happened the next day after I'd read, commented on, and written down some of the ideas my students were coming up with.  It's a beautiful thing to see what students can discover on their own.  It's difficult to let go and trust that they will learn something without your direct input, much less that they'll learn the "right" stuff that you wanted them to.  However, while many of them more or less learned my objectives on their own and through the whole-class discussions, I found that my students were coming up with ideas and insights that were better than mine!

 Finally, on Friday, it was Genius Hour time.  The entire second half of their Interactive Notebooks are dedicated to their Genius Hour class periods.  To begin Genius Hour, I had them title one of their pages "What is Genius Hour?" and gave them 10 minutes to find the answers.  Then, using some last-minut inspiration from Kate Petty's post "Learning Over Performance", students had to write 10 "I wonder..." statements.  I've included pictures of their notebooks from this activity below. 

Some A few students came up with their ten "I wonder..." statements fairly quickly.  Others struggled quite a bit after the first four or five.  With these students, I adopted a quick method to get them going by asking them "What is something you want to do someday?" and then following up with questions about what they wanted to do until I got an "I don't know" answer - which didn't take much.  For example, one girl said she wanted to go to the Bahamas.  I asked her "How much are plane tickets to get there?"  "I don't know." "Write it down!  'I wonder how much plane tickets to the Bahamas cost.'"  Done!

Here are all of the notebooks** from this activity (click to enlarge):

Once students had all ten "I wonder..." statements, they were set loose to answer their questions.  I told them the statements they'd written aren't set in stone, but rather a starting point. Going forward, as they come up with new questions, they create new pages (on the odd-numbered pages) with the question at the top and then everything you find about it down below.  The space on the left-hand side of the Cornell notes are for related questions that help you answer the big question at the top.  The left-hand pages (even numbers) are for reflecting on the information.  I gave them a few questions to reflect about, including "Why did you want to learn about this?", "Is this important?", "What do you think about this?", and for the purposes of my class, "How does this relate to culture?".  I also asked them "What do you think about Genius Hour" and a few students wrote a quick response on the bottom of the page with their "I wonder..." statements.

A few students had trouble with "I wonder..." statements that weren't really research-able.  For instance, one girl's statements were all things like "I wonder what my future will be like."  To help get her started, I looked through her questions and found she wondered if she would be a nail technician when she grew up.  I asked her what it would take to become a nail technician  to which she responded "I dont know."  Bingo!  She spent the rest of the period researching how to become a nail technician and what the job was actually like.

One method I naturally adopted when I became a teacher was to answer (most) individual student questions loud enough for all students to hear.  That way, many students can benefit from one student's question.  This was particularly helpful during Genius hour as my conversation with one student inspired other students.  Moreover, by modeling this "open discussion", it allowed the students to open up and discuss with one another the things they were interested in.  For instance, one girl was wondering why people believe in the Illuminati and we started talking about what the Illuminati were.  In a no time, I had many students eagerly looking up information about the Illuminati to find out what our conversation was all about.  On the same note, the conversation that I began this post with was the result of students wondering out loud and spiking their peers' interests as well.  I couldn't have asked for better collaboration!  This was fostered by every student having their own device (a few elected to use their cell phones and ipods rather than the computers again), but giving them the freedom to collaborate with one another as long as they brought their own ideas to the table as well.

All in all, it was a successful day.  Students learned about vacationing in the Bahamas, secrets that the government is hiding from us, the percentage of Native blood that Mexicans tend to have, the Illuminati, dreaming babies, how to do their makeup differently, singing techniques  why some of us don't dream, how it feels to go to space, why they started talking to a fellow student, how long their hair would be if they didn't cut it, how to become a nail technician, what the basic guitar chords are and what they can play with them, and whether TuPac is still alive.  I've got a class full of Geniuses!

**All student work shared with permission.

Learning Over Performance

posted Jun 8, 2013, 9:11 AM by Kate Petty   [ updated Jun 8, 2013, 9:24 AM ]

Original Post on 6/6/13

Lately I've been doing a lot of research on intrinsic motivation. Why? I guess I'm sick of assigning a reading and then competing with the SparkNotes answers I get the next day. I know what you're thinking- if I was an EFFECTIVE teacher I'd be able to ENGAGE those students right into reading. You're wrong. I've done everything. Yes some do read- maybe 3 of 112 students will read the whole book. We can bump that number to 30 who will actually have read more than one chapter. Really? Determined my seniors would read just one book (some for the first time in their high school lives), we read the ENTIRE last book of the year aloud in class. It was Brave New World, and yes it was awkward at times. Reading a whole novel in class wasn't exactly torture but it wasn't a very effective use of class time.

    I'm a reader. I love books. I breathe words. Yes, it is hard for me to see students who don't like to read. So that is why I decided to look into motivation. I tweeted, I researched, I #CoffeeCue'ed, and I reread Daniel Pink's Drive.

    This time through the idea of Learning Goals vs. Performance Goals caught my eye. I was immediately struck by the "Aha!" uttered by my brain when I realized that the unsuccessful 20 Time projects this year were performance-related. Those students who decided to shave time off their mile, get better at snowboarding, cook one meal per week, etc were the students who didn't have much to do in class. THE STUDENTS WHO DIDN'T WANT TO LEARN ANYTHING AND ONLY WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING, sat around the classroom during 20 Time and didn't do a thing. They were doing it OUTSIDE of class. While a goal like that is commendable, it is hard for a classroom teacher to swallow while she watches her class period get wasted away.
    So I read and then I reread and then I reflected on the concept of learning goals. Simply put, learning goals are goals in which you learn about something. Learning goals have no end. The goal is to learn. Period. I believe it is impossible to know EVERYTHING about one thing. If those same students above had decided to learn what makes a body perform better, what are the optimum conditions necessary for improved performance in sports, or what makes food good, they would have had a lot to learn about in class.

20 Time Impact:

    Thanks to an epiphany by Jillane Baros, next year my students will spend a quarter in a Genius Hour model. I will ask them to 10 write "I wonder..." statements at the beginning of the year. They will spend one hour a week researching those statements and presenting their findings to the class. My hope is that they learn how to create learning goals AND they learn how to spend a solid hour researching a topic that they will be held accountable for. I will assign the 20% Projects during the second quarter of the year.

Reading Impact:

    Way harder. How do we motivate students to WANT to read a chapter or ten chapters? Is it manipulation? Reverse psychology? Harry Potter magic?     If we simply ask students to create a reading goal and they do, will they follow through? Do we ask them to create a learning goal for the year? They'll create the goal...we all know they'll say anything. It is the follow-through that doesn't happen. Teachers have always forced the follow-through with threatening grades. Threats don't work well, especially with high school students. They've "learned" how to call a bluff and/or many of them just don't care.
    So then we focus on why we read. Why do we read the classics? Why are there approved book lists for high school students? Why do we read Oedipus, Romeo and Juliet, and To Kill a Mockingbird in high school? Is it because we need to know universal themes later in life? Is it because we want to make sure we get the random, obscure references to "The horror! The horror!"? I know why I want my students to understand the concept of Big Brother and I know that they won't come close to understanding the concept unless they read 1984. But I am in my 30s and I've read the novel three times a year for ten years. I still don't understand all of the ambiguities and straightforward warnings Orwell was trying to convey but I sure have fun trying. My students can too, but they have to read it to get it. What a crazy circle we've just come around to.
    My friend and colleague, Andrea, suggests a reader-response challenge. When they read, ask them what they "got" out of the reading before we cram the accepted response down their throats. Ask them to evaluate and analyze the differences. Will they appreciate their differences or will they strive to become more like the mainstream? Is either of those responses right or wrong? Ultimately, if I assign a chapter at home, will they stop relying on SparkNotes as a substitute for actually reading the chapter? Must we read the first book in class aloud and model the process before I can ask them to try it at home?
    So many questions and so much frustration. I will keep trying next year. However next year I will lean toward learning-based goals. I will work on getting them to read because they want to read, not because they are expected to. I will let the concept swirl in my brain for the summer. I will try Andrea's idea. I will go to Florida and buy a Harry Potter wand at Universal Studios if I have to. I will try your idea too if you tweet me @techclassroom.

I received some advice on Twitter and Edmodo since this article was originally published:
Joy Kirr recommends TED's SOLE Toolkit (originally recommended by Mark Barnes)
Mrs. Morrison recommends Booklove by Penny Kittle

20 Time with Profa Baros

posted May 30, 2013, 8:58 PM by Jillane Baros   [ updated May 30, 2013, 9:17 PM ]

*** This post was originally published on (5/30/2013)***

Who am I?

I'm a first-year teacher ready to spread my wings and fly with my own classroom.  I graduated from Boise State University in 2011 with a B.A. in Psychology and Spanish.  I earned my teaching certificate and endorsement in secondary Spanish from Northwest Nazarene University at the beginning of this year and am finishing up the last few classes required for an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction.  This fall, my husband and I will be moving to Las Vegas, Nevada where I'll be teaching in a K-12 charter school.  I simply cannot wait to finally have a classroom of my own - where Genius Hour and 20 Time will be an important part of my curriculum!

What do I teach?

My primary position will be teaching Spanish in middle and high school.  This fall, I will only be teaching Spanish 1 and have six classes.  I plan to dedicate Monday-Thursday to language instruction and teaching culture on Fridays through Genius Hour and 20 Time.  Because my school is in transition, roughly half of my students for the 2013-14 year will be 7th graders and the other half will be a mixture of 8th and 9th graders.  Given that all my classes will be mixed, I'm excited about the ability to differentiate and personalize my students' education through Genius Hour/20 Time.

Before I begin my teaching position this fall, however, I have the opportunity to work with the Boise State TRiO Upward Bound program.  This program is near and dear to my heart as I spent a summer working with them as an undergrad and was inspired to become a teacher as a direct result.  The Upward Bound program is for students who would likely not graduate high school and go on to college.  They have an Upward Bound class during during the regular school year, and many elect to join the summer program where they live on-campus in the dorms for six weeks and take classes for high school credit as well as participate in exciting extracurricular activities.  I've been asked to teach an elective class titled "Latino Culture" for 1.5 hours each day.  It will be a nice and cozy class with around 15 students enrolled.  Again, I have a mixed group as the class is open to any students in the program (grades 9-12).  Due to the nature of the program and class, I have a lot of flexibility and resources at my disposal, which will allow us to make the most of our 20 Time!

What is my goal for 20 Time?

Before I explain my personal goals for 20 Time, I'd like to share a video from Kevin Brookhouser's class that was and is one of my main inspirations for why I must do 20 Time.  It demonstrates the wonderful things students can achieve if we just get out of their way and why it is so important for them to have this opportunity.  I particularly love how the passion and pride for their projects simply radiates from each student as they share their accomplishments:

My primary goal in doing 20 Time/Genius Hour with my students is to inspire within them the desire to learn.  In order for this to happen, students need to be motivated and encouraged as well as given the tools and skills that will help them succeed.  I hope to bring these elements together inside my classroom and inspire students to take what they experience into their lives beyond its walls.  If I'm lucky, a few of my students may even discover a passion for something that they'll pursue throughout their lives and careers.

Secondary to my lofty goal of inspiring my students, there are quite a few objectives that students achieve when participating in 20 Time/Genius Hour that administrators like to see and can be connected to various mandated standards (including the Common Core).  Each individual 20 Time and Genius Hour experience will address a unique combination of learning objectives and each teacher may chose to emphasize certain items more than others, but this is a general list of what students can achieve during 20 Time/Genius hour - all of which are essential skills that students will need in the "real" world.  During 20 Time and/or Genius Hour students will:

  • research a topic
    • identify a topic of interest
    • answer self-generated questions
    • find reliable and credible information about that topic, drawing upon several sources
    • make sense of that information
    • read independently and closely
    • create evidence of learning (blogging, journaling, note-taking, etc.)
    • articulate ideas to others
    • cite resources
    • draw connections between various topics
    • develop 21st century skills using technology
  • develop a project/product
    • plan their project/product
    • create a realistic timeline
    • gather resources
    • develop skills necessary for implementation
    • collaborate (with teacher, team members, and others as necessary)
    • implement their plan
    • reflect upon the process and final project
  • present
    • pitch their idea
    • share their learning (possibly in the form of a project/product) with others

NOTE: For specific Common Core standards met during Genius Hour/20 Time, check out this website.

In my case, the circumstances of each of my classes dictate which of the specific objectives listed above I will focus on with my students, though I hope to at least informally touch on each of these.  Moreover, because I am using 20 Time and Genius Hour to teach culture, I also want students to develop an understanding of Latino culture.  I hope that they'll have a broad and general understanding of the culture through what is presented to them by their peers and what I teach them as well as a (at least somewhat) deeper understanding of the particular topic they chose to focus on.

What will our 20 Time look like?

Due to the various circumstances surrounding each of my classes, things will necessarily look a little different in my summer Latino Culture class compared to my regular Spanish classes starting this fall.


This summer, we have 5 weeks to work with (plus a week-long break for July 4th).  Thus, I'm going to start right into 20 Time so we can make the most of our time.  I'll explain to students the ideas behind 20 Time (I'll go more into detail about this in my next post) and tell them they are allowed to study anything they would like to related to Latino Culture.  Each student will be provided a poster board with which they will create some sort of visual display that represents the most important or interesting thing(s) they learned.  I am purposely going to be vague about what this display will look like - my students will be much more creative than I am, but here are a few ideas I came up with:

  • road map showing how one idea led to another throughout their research
  • build a model on top of the poster
  • create a collage
  • use the poster as the cover of an oversized book
  • drawing or painting
  • movie poster

I can't wait to see the creative ways that students decide to use their posters!  At the end of the opportunity, students will have two opportunities to showcase their work: In class, they will present their creation and explain what they learned, why they chose to focus on this, how they chose to represent their learning, and answer questions from their peers.  They will also be able to display their at the last event of the program where all the students in the program get to show off their work.

I plan for students to be able to complete their entire projects in-class, though I anticipate some students may want/need to work on them outside of class as well.  Throughout the class, I want students to document their learning and progress through journaling in their notebook.  Each week, they will write an entry about what they learned (citing resources) and reflect on their learning.  As for what they're going to be learning, I'm going to be fairly flexible.  Some students may want to learn a little about a lot, while others may want to learn a lot about one thing.  That's fine with me.  Moreover, because we are on a university campus downtown Boise and students are living on-campus, we have access to more resources and more flexibility than a normal class might allow.  (For example, if a student would like to watch a particular foreign film, I can check it out from the university's Modern Language Resource Center.)


Right now, I'm considering two plans for how to approach 20 Time this fall.  Luckily, I have all summer and a test-run with my Latino Culture class to figure out what I'm going to do.

My first idea would be to have students spend first semester researching topics they're interested in, including ones related to Spanish-speaking culture, and then do a project related to Spanish-speaking culture during second semester driven by their interests and passions.

  • First Quarter: I plan to introduce Genius Hour to my classes after the first few weeks of class and allow my students to research whatever topics interest them whether or not they are related to Spanish class.  My intention is to allow students to discover what they truly are interested in without any influence from what I 'dictate' that they learn.  Throughout the quarter, they will have opportunities to informally share what they're learning with one another.  At the end of the quarter, I'll conference with students about what they would like to learn more about and begin brainstorming how we could connect that to Spanish-speaking culture.  By doing this, I hope that their culture projects stem from something they are intrinsically motivated to leran about and are truly interested in.
  • Second Quarter: I want students to begin researching Spanish-speaking culture using their interests derived from first quarter.  For instance, a student interested in food and nutrition might start researching common diets in different Spanish-speaking communities and evaluate how healthy they are.  I will begin guiding them toward brainstorming projects they could do related to their topics of interest.  Again, they will have many opportunities to share what they're learning about with one another.  At the end of second quarter (first semester), students will complete a project proposal of sorts that will identify a project they would like to work on throughout second semester (and possible one or two alternative projects should their original idea fail to work out).
  • Third and Fourth Quarters: We will being projects during 3rd quarter and continue working on them throughout the rest of the year.  The first step will be for students to plan their project in detail and "pitch" their project to the class and community.  Then, they will implement their plan and create their final product.  I plan for students to present this to a large audience, though I haven't decided on the format.  Right now, both a TED Talk-style presentation appeals to me as well as a "culture fair" - but I've got a long time to figure out the details.

While I believe this plan would be very successful and interesting for students, I have a nagging concern that I may deprive some students of the opportunity to complete a project that is truly connected to their interests and passions by requiring that the project be related to Spanish-speaking culture in some way.  I'd really like to see what my students can come up with on their own without any restrictions.  Thus, I came up with an alternative plan that would allow students to complete two projects - one related to Spanish-speaking culture and the other purely their own:

  • First semester: I will introduce students to culture, and then provide them the resources to research Spanish-speaking culture on their own during 20 Time.  After having some time to research Spanish-speaking culture, they’ll choose a culture project to complete during the rest of first semester culminating in a culture fair with all of their projects on display for the school and the community.  I’m even thinking of having students complete a scavenger hunt at the fair as they visit other projects and learn about culture from their peers.  If they have extra 20 Time after completing their project, they can use it as a “Genius Hour” to research and explore their interests.
  • Second semester: During second semester, students will complete a second 20 Time project, except that it can be about anything they choose.  After completing the project during first semester, I think students will be excited to have the opportunity to do another one on a topic of their choosing.  Moreover, I’m hoping that their experience during first semester will give them ideas for how to approach their project during second semester.  Finally, while first semester will be more condensed and focused, I want to make the projects during second semester a big deal, including researching the topics that they are interested in, developing a plan and proposing a “Pitch” like the one described on, carrying out their plan, and presenting it like a TED talk that will be open for other students, faculty, administration, and members of the community to attend. 

The only drawback to this plan is that there is less time for students to engage in "Genius Hour" to learn how to engage in inquiry-based learning without the pressure of trying to complete a project.  I may have to adjust my timeline some, but I'd really like to make room for it like I had in my original plan.

The next steps for 20 Time...

For the next month or so, I'll be focusing on my Latino Culture class.  My next post will be on June 14th when I introduce 20 Time to my students and we get started.  I can't wait to share with you how I'll get them started, their reactions, and how our first day goes!  Stay tuned!

Diving Into 20-Time at PHS

posted May 11, 2013, 11:35 AM by Tom Driscoll   [ updated May 11, 2013, 3:33 PM ]

*** This post was originally published on (4/28/13)

Over the past year, I've noticed the term "20% time" popping up in conversations with colleagues in the flipped learning community.  Karl Lindgren-Streicher had mentioned it during a #flipclass chat and later discussed it briefly in his FLN podcast appearance.  I then heard a recent FLN podcast that focused specifically on 20% Time.  Host Troy Cockrum, who has implemented 20% time himself, led a great discussion with Kevin Brookhouser and Kate Petty.  After hearing this incredibly thought-provoking episode, I finally committed to learning more about this new concept.

First, I tried to connect with many of the 20% Time thought leaders on Twitter by searching the hashtag #20Time.  (I also realized that there is a #genioushour community that has a very similar approach.)  Joy Kirr directed me towards an excellent livebinder loaded with 20% Time / Genius Hour resources.  I then checked out Troy's blog Kevin Brookhouser's website and Kate Petty's new which is specifically devoted to this topic.   Next, I spent some time over April vacation reading Daniel Pink's Drive, a book I wish I had read a few years ago when it was first released!  He also has an abridged version of his argument in the influential TED talk called "The Puzzle of Motivation." 

I was now officially committed to piloting 20% Time for the rest of this school year.  Final guidance was sought from Troy, Kevin, and Kate before finalizing my introductory presentation and lesson plan.  To build excitement for the project, I leaked bits of information about it throughout the week.  (Autonomy, Purpose, Google, Intrinsic Motivation, Passion, and 20% Time.) Some students actually spent considerable time trying to figure out what the heck I was unveiling later in the week.

Friday's introduction to 20% Time went extremely well!  The students seemed genuinely interested in the concept and excited to start their projects.  Troy's suggestion to kick things off with the Ghost Drive Through was a big hit with the kids, even those who had already seen it.  Also, although I was hesitant to include them in the presentation, students were intrigued by the studies on intrinsic motivation that were cited in the book "Drive."  Most students ran with the Brainstorming session, but as expected, some had no idea where to start.  I tried my best to get them to at least think and ponder what they might be interested in, even if it is not something that immediately comes to mind.

For those readers interested, I have included the presentation that I delivered to intro 20% Time below.  I have also included links to the Brainstorming Form and Lesson Plan document.

Although I have just started implementing 20% Time, I feel that it complements flipped learning very well.   As this pilot program progresses, I will have a better idea regarding the "marriage" of these two approaches and their potential to bring flipped learning to a whole new level. 

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