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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.