Sunday, 25 September 2016

Perpetual Beta

As an experienced educator(over two decades, eeeek!) it would be easy to fall back on tried and tested “old school” ways of teaching and class arrangement. But that is just not me!
In recent years I have shifted my pedagogy from a teacher centered model to a blended learning, student centered model. I have adopted a more inquiry based approach to instruction, done away with report cards and engaged students and parents through documentation of student learning in digital portfolios. I have embraced the growth and maker mindsets and strongly believe in the importance of global connections and preparing students for their future.
During the past few years I have noticed that many of my students have done their best work while laying on the floor, sitting against a wall or snuggled up in a beanbag chair. I began to explore alternate classroom set ups and took the plunge this September. I had many questions running through my head while planning:
What would students do with all their supplies? Would students choose learning spaces based on their needs or the needs of their friends? How would I manage all of these different seating arrangements? How would the lack of overhead lighting effect learning? Would students be respectful of the space? How would we build a sense of community without formal learning spaces? What would parents think? So many wonders!
While we have only been a learning family for 2 weeks, I do have a few observations to help me answer these questions. In order for students to have a place for supplies, I purchased magazine boxes to hold their duotangs/notebooks and pencil boxes are stored in the 4 desks that have been provided for students who would like to work at a desk. My students have displayed both their love of their new space and have demonstrated that they are able to take care of it. They eagerly tidy up and clean up, they are proud to call Room 205 their classroom! I have had nothing but positive comments from parents! On Meet the Teacher night, one parent told me that parents from his country only dream of classrooms like this for their children because this type of learning environment was reserved for only the elite and wealthy. It was this moment that brought peace to my heart and mind. I had made the right decision.
I still have many questions and not every moment is easy, as many small problems arise over the course of the day but I know that all the hard work and planning were worth it, because I am doing what I know in my heart is best for student learning, even if it means living in perpetual beta!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

A Genius in the Making!

While sitting at home one summer day, I was scanning Twitter and noticed an interesting tweet by a Surrey teacher mentioning Genius Hour. I knew nothing of this, so I tweeted back and asked what Genius Hour was all about. And thus began one of the most powerful and valued friendships of my career, for on the other end of the Twitter conversation was the amazing, Gallit Zvi. The 140 character limit made a deep conversation a challenge so I asked Gallit if she would be willing to meet up for coffee so that I could learn more about this idea. She graciously agreed and we met for what felt like 30 minutes but was actually more like 3 hours! I absorbed all of the information and ideas that she shared with me. Books like DRIVE by Daniel Pink, Out of Our Minds and The Element by Sir Ken Robinson. Gallit shared stories of what Genius Hour in her classroom looked like and how her teaching partner, Hugh McDonald also offered Genius Hour to his students. I learned about Caine’s Arcade and the Cardboard challenge. I was sold!

The previous school year I had begun to explore inquiry based learning in Science and I felt that Genius Hour would be an excellent fit. I shared videos such as Caine’s Arcade and books that might give my students an awareness of the idea of passion and the notion of exploring ideas that you have always wondered about.
Since my students were 8, I thought that I would enable my students by providing them with an opportunity to explore a topic they knew about: themselves. So our first Genius Hour projects were about what the students loved, what they were passionate about, and what they valued. Again, since they were 8, most of them had never been asked these questions before. I brought in other staff member to share their passions and interests so that my students would have some points of reference when they were thinking about themselves. Students were given a choice of how they wanted to share their discoveries with the class. Digital and non-digital formats were all acceptable. Students spent the first Genius Hour block, writing and planning in their Passion Portfolio and for the next 3 weeks they designed and created a presentation about themselves. Each student presented their learning to the class and was given peer feedback in the form of questions. And so it began…
Each year since then I have offered my students an opportunity to explore their wonders and passions during Genius Hour. I have scheduled Genius Hour on Wonder Wednesdays because I felt that it just made sense. It also meant that Genius Hour would never be missed due to a holiday! One thing I have learned is that you never, ever cancel Genius Hour because it causes a revolt from students.
I am often asked how I manage Genius Hour with primary students. I always reply, with runners on my feet, an extra cup of coffee and a whole lot of patience and most importantly trust in my students. They learn about accountability, cooperation, communication, problem solving, critical thinking and personal responsibility. Is it always awesome? Nope. Is it always deep? Nope. Are students always responsible? Nope. Is everyone always 100% engaged? Nope. But does that stop me? Nope. It doesn’t stop me because I know that even in failure there is learning. Even in mess there is learning and even in chaos there is learning.
I also learned that Genius Hour needs to be flexible, it is not about a specific way of doing it but rather an idea that lets each group of learners explore in a manner suited to them. Yes, I have had some students end up with nothing to share with the class. Yes, some of the projects have been a flop. Yes, some of the students couldn’t handle the responsibility. Yes, they have all learned something! Did they save the world? No, but not all kids will do that, especially when they are 8.
I firmly believe that students need to reflect on what they have accomplished, examine their struggles and make plans for next time. At the conclusion of each Genius Hour session, students are given 15 minutes to reflect and plan for next time. They record their thinking and share with me, so I can give them feedback.

In the past I have had students do projects using essential questions like: What is the best combination of kitchen ingredients to create an explosion for my model volcano? Which recipe for Playdoh creates the smoothest and longest lasting dough? Other years students have been interested in learning about creating with cardboard and baking brownies.

In my opinion, every teacher needs to make Genius Hour work for their students and themselves. As long as students have an opportunity to investigate, create, discover and learn about their passions or wonders then it is a success.

Genius Hour has become a constant in my classroom, and it is all due to a chance tweet and an amazing woman who was willing to share her passion and time with a stranger. I was even inspired to create The Global Genius Hour Project as place for educators to share their students genius!

Thank-you Gallit for sharing your time and for being an amazing mentor to so many!
Gallit has so much to offer about Genius Hour that she recently published a book with Denise Krebs entitled the Genius Hour Guidebook. Their book contains many tips and tricks for facilitating Genius Hour in any classroom and offers support and ideas for educators that are unsure about where to start.


Latest Posts from Other Lead Ambassadors:

Sunday, 27 July 2014

#DENSI2014 Reflection:To be honest, I struggled.

This was a year of firsts for me, both personally and professionally. I began the year teaching a whole new grade, one that I had not anticipated. But I ran with it and quite enjoyed the challenge of learning a new curriculum and discovering what older students were capable of. I took on many roles within my school district, among them was facilitating the Discovery Education Ambassador program after a colleague was unable to continue. I also volunteered to pilot a new digital assessment tool and participate in a new method of reporting student learning to parents. I opened up my classroom to visitors from all over the globe. I also gave my first Ignite speech at our Surrey District Engaging Digital Learners dinner series. I presented in front of over 200 fellow educators that included our Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent and Directors of Instruction! I even volunteered to host a table and give my Ignite speech at the Global Education Day at ISTE2014 in Atlanta. I facilitated workshops on Discovery and Inquiry Learning, I moderated Twitter chats and participated in many Google hangouts sharing my love of teaching and learning!  BUT, these learning experiences did nothing to prepare me for my participation in DENSI2014  Even though I took on many leadership roles within my district and may appear to be an extrovert, I am not. I am an introverted leader and I struggled at DENSI2014.

You see, DENSI2014 in Nashville was also a bunch of firsts for me: the first time I made a crazy video where I was totally out of my comfort zone, the first time I had travelled by myself, the first time I stayed in a hotel alone, the first time I had gone to a conference by myself, the first time I went to a week long institute…... where I knew no one. I had made a few casual acquaintances during ISTE2014 and had met Dean, Porter and Chad at other Discovery events but I had never gone anywhere solo. Everyone was kind and helpful but still I struggled. Struggled to find my place among so many AMAZING educators who all seem to know each other and have history. I had heard so many stories about the DEN family and the powerful connections that everyone had with each other and I definitely witnessed these relationships but I struggled to put myself out there enough to jump in. I think this is the first time this year that I didn’t jump into something. I’m not sure why. All I know is, I struggled.

One thing that I do know is that I learned many new tools and had an opportunity to share of the things I learned through being an Ambassador Lead last year. I think my favourites were Connie’s Green Screen workshop, Lea Anne’s Coding Workshop, the DENSpeaks speeches, the session on the new look for Discovery,the Maker Faire, and of course the Nashville tour day. I learned a lot not only about education tools but about myself, as a person and an educator. I just wanted to say a special thanks to Sandy, Terra Lee and the rest of the Canadian team for welcoming me with open arms and to Karen Z. and the rest of our DENmazing Race team for the fun memories(my first firefly siting!) and for Kristin Magee for all the laughs, smiles and hugs! And of course, to the amazing Porter and all the folks at Discovery for the wonderful opportunity to learn with the best!

And another first for me blogging….I’m not much of a writer and would prefer a conversation but this post has been poking at me since I returned home. Phew!

So ultimately DENSI2014 taught me more about myself and also allowed me a window into how many of my  introverted students may feel about their classroom community. I now have a deeper understanding and more empathy for the  introverted students in my class and for that I am thankful!!  If I had it to do again would I do it differently? Well, I am hoping that I will have the opportunity to JUMP at DENSI2015 because now I have a whole year to build relationships on Twitter and Facebook with all the amazingly talented folks that I saw at DENSI2014!!