Genius Hour - The Moment of Truth

Post date: Jul 19, 2013 4:18:30 PM

Original post on Profa Baros's Classroom

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.

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.

  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.

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.

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.

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?).

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.

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!

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!

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.

"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.

A project highlighting the many attractions

and reasons to visit Costa Rica, which this

student hopes to do someday.

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.

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".


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.

"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.

Another vacation-themed project about

Cuernavaca, Morelos in Mexico.

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.

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!

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!

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.

The backside of the same "Aztec" project,

an illustration of the Aztec calendar.

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.

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.