In addition to the StrengthsExplorer curriculum that started the year (I have students writing personal narratives based on their strengths right now – I’ll let you know how that goes after we get past the first drafts), I’ve also been exploring the idea of doing Genius Hour with my students.
I’ve admitted before and I’ll confess again – I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world. I blog, but that’s mostly personal reflections typed out of the world to see. There’s not much on here but basic word processing, and maybe the occasional embedded image or video. I’ve been on Facebook since the early days, but in every other area I’m slow to the game. I got my first smart phone in 2015. I like technology in the classroom if I can see its value to what I’m teaching, but I resist tech for tech’s sake.
Over the summer, a whole new professional world opened up to me and I realized I’ve been shooting myself in the foot by not being more professionally active online. A friend added me to a particular facebook group, that introduced me to some podcasts, which led me to books and introduced me to more and more people actually doing something about the problems in our current education system.
I’ve learned several things. First, I need to get on Twitter.
In saying that, I’m swallowing almost a decade’s worth of making fun of Twits, as my husband calls them. But I’ve come to realize that that’s where a lot of this conversation is happening. People who are changing education are on Twitter, so if I want to be a part of it, I need to be there, too. I feel like the outdated senior citizen in this department, but I’m slowly learning. Slowly. (@CL_Roberson, if you want to find me.)
In the midst of all this, I’ve started following the work of Don Wettrick, an Innovation and Open Source Learning teacher in Noblesville, Indiana. He’s a champion of the Genius Hour project in education and has turned it into a full-fledged class with his high school students. His classes are evidence of everything I’ve been saying since 2012. Teenagers are amazing and capable of doing great things now. They don’t need to wait until some magical moment of being “grown up” to take on responsibility, solve problems, and change the world. They’re doing it now.
So I’m dabbling with a Genius Hour with my 8th grade class. I’m learning with them, back-tracking and refocusing as I see problems come up. I’m watching Wettrick’s YouTube videos and borrowing from resources I found on TeachersPayTeachers.com, but as with anything I do in my classroom, I need to figure out the best way to make this my own in order for it to work. I’ll share more of my process once I figure it out.
The idea behind Genius Hour is that students get a portion of class time each week to focus on their own interest-based projects. They set goals for themselves and try to achieve them, problem solve, and present their efforts to the class and to the world. It encourages inquiry-based learning and taking ownership of the educational process. As an English teacher, it helps teach reading informational texts, critical thinking, and communication. I think that communication piece is going to be huge, as several of my students tend to struggle with their informal writing and presentation skills.
We’ll see how it goes this year, anyway. In general, I still take my life very much one year at a time. My husband and I are no longer bouncing all over the country, but my career is far from settled yet. As I begin my 10th year teaching, I’m just now, for the first time ever, returning to a school for the second year in a row. It’s a tiny school. I’m supposed to be the 7th/8th grade language arts teacher, but current enrollment is seven 8th graders, no 7th graders. There’s also only one 6th grader in the school, so I have no idea what my job is going to look like next year. Enrollment will have to change drastically for it to be anything like it has so far. And there’s still the fact that my heart lies with high school students. So who know what the future holds?
But I learned a long time ago to bloom where I’m planted, even if it’s just for a season. I appreciate the fact that I have the opportunity to try things like StrengthsExplorer and Genius Hour with my little class of 8th graders. I may not be changing the world or making sweeping changes to education, but maybe I can make a difference to them, in how they learn, how they see themselves, and the actions they choose to take.
I’ll leave you with this video from Don Wettrick, explaining a new project I just had our class join. I’m excited about it!