A Year of Genius Hours: Launch

September 20, 2014 at 8:35 am | Posted in Genius Hour, Learning is Messy, Planning, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Wonder WallWe started with a Wonder Wall. I learned a lot about my students from this alone. For example, what excites them and the individual interests they have. Also, that they are hungry for a voice and choice. After posting one ‘wonder’ several learners asked, Can I write more than one? After learning ‘more than one’ was permitted, I had to end the questioning at a point due to space on the board and our schedule.

Yesterday everyone made a word web in Popplet on his or her iPad. The popplet web should show things they are interested in or want to learn. I introduced the task by creating one of my own showing interests based on things I did in my free time when I was a third grader. See a student example below.

Aiden's Web

Our next step was to Diamond Rank all interests and ideas that were possible on our school campus. I wanted to try the Diamond Rank because it allows the user to bunch ideas rather than create a rank order, which can slow one down when having to make distinct decisions so early in the process. Ideas from the interest web were selected and ranked.


The learners then cut and glued their interest web and diamond rank into their Genius Journals. I chose to use paper journals over an iPad journal for this first project as the iPads are new to many of the students. The semester 2 project documents and images will likely be kept in a digital journal, perhaps in Penultimate or in a shared Google folder.

During our next Genius Hour we’ll take this planning into Tuning In, from Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle. I’ve used Kath’s cycle in the past for complete units of inquiry. Here I am using it as a planning guide for our overall Genius Hour process:

  • Tuning In- What do I already know about this topic, skill or idea?
  • Finding Out- What do I need to find out to begin?
  • Sorting Out- What do I know so far that will help me with my Genius Hour project? What can I use from Tuning in and Finding out?
  • Taking Action- What is my beginning plan? (This is only a starting place because as I learn and reflect I will adjust my plans and my thinking.)
  • Making Conclusions: What did you learn? Tell what you learned about your project, your learning process, your strengths, about the world.

I found a video that reveals one way to implement Genius Hour, and it closely matches the process I outlined above. I plan to share this with my class at our next session to provide an introduction to the process that we are embarking on. Another resource that I’ve found very useful is from a class that I found on the Global Genius Hour Project wiki.

Short Refletion, Digital Book Logs- help needed!

March 17, 2013 at 9:37 am | Posted in Learning is Messy, Literacy | Leave a comment

So my learners log each book they read, and we reflect on the genres and levels of their book choices in conference. I can also select a book from the list and ask what they thought of the book and we can discuss opinions, what they found surprising, etc about that story or nonfiction text. I like the book logs, but not all children like keeping them (grade 3) and some still aren’t doing it independently.

A friend in my school who visited a 1:1 iPad primary school recently told me how they used an app that allowed the readers to photo the recently read book cover, record an audio reflection of the book and post it to a class site holding all these books reviews. There was not only a record of their reading and comprehension/views but it served as a place for other readers to listen to reviews to see it they would enjoy reading it. These grade one readers did this easily and independently. Not remembering the app(s) used, this friend said that StoryKit would work nicely for the photo/recording, but how to create a place to share the reviews that is accessible by all?

I like this idea because it’s quicker and less boring than a written list. More importantly, I believe it would prompt the readers to think more deeply during and after reading because they will share with a wider audience than the teacher, their classroom community.  If I want to tell a friend about a book, I think about how to communicate my thoughts and feelings about it. I am prepared to explain or elaborate on my opinions.

So here’s what I want:

– an app that allows students to photo and audio record their thinking and questions about a book

– the place to store all the reflections so other readers can go there and scroll through the photos of book covers

– each photo tagged with the reader’s name so I can search that tag and see their digital book log

Any suggestions??

Reflections from Prague

February 23, 2011 at 11:47 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Project-based Learning | Leave a comment

I would like to reflect on my experience contributing to A Week in the Life, the Flat Classroom elementary pilot project. My students and I found the experience engaging and rewarding as seen in their comments on a previous post. My conclusions about our experience are mainly based on my students’ comments, but I have also reflected on my role as educator related to organization and implementation. Comments below in quotations are from my students.

We don’t often take time for self-reflection regarding the day-to-day aspects of our lives and there were many discussions that arose during guided reading and our Personal Cultures unit of inquiry in order to define and share the daily characteristics of our lives and school day. There was a good deal of brainstorming and organizing thoughts before sharing to prepare for the final project. “We had to choose what to share about what we have in Prague…”

The value of group work, within class and with global partners, was greater due to the need to communicate in order to collaborate on a final project. For example, students learned to attentively read and appropriately respond to team members’ comments and inquiries in the Edmodo chats. Learning that online communication is a productive means to work with others and share ideas, not just for daily chit-chat, was valuable as well.

Through Skype video chats with 2 classes in the US, students learned firsthand about our similarities and differences and time zones. It was also valuable to see the face of a team member who lives across the world. “That I can know how another country is like and I can picture it in my mind (is valuable).”

A relevant need to focus on the history of our host country arose, “We have different holidays, like in the USA you get a day off for Thanksgiving, not in Prague.” When discussing why this was true, students became aware of the differing histories of various countries and they then became more interested in the history of the Czech Republic.

Clearly, students learned valuable online tools to use to communicate by experience. “We could Skype, Edmodo, email, things like that. Oh yeah, and write of course, send pictures, videos.” Communicating in Edmodo was a great opportunity for my students to communicate with others through chat. Many are eager to engage in online social networking and it was a great chance for them to develop positive digital citizenship behaviors.

Personally, I enjoyed connecting with other educators as well as the strategies and tools I learned to use. One of the most valuable lessons was a reminder that learning is messy, particularly when trying new ways of learning for students and teachers alike. As one student wrote, “We are all still learning” and I can only conclude that she is including me in that comment. It was messy at times, but well worth rolling up my sleeves to participate in!

As a pilot project, we were very open-minded, shared ideas and experiences and adjusted the project as we proceeded. In following projects, a stricter adherence to and definition of steps in the process and final project would help me with planning and organization within my regular curriculum. I don’t mean that students should be restricted, but that each final project will contain certain characteristics in order to be successful. I realize it is restrictive to choose one tool for communication and one for presentation and one for file storage, but on the other hand it can become confusing and over-whelming when many tools are shared and examined and considered.

Keep it simple is always a good rule. Adopting tools that are allowed in all countries and perhaps holding a week of “sandbox” exploration for teachers and students to play with and learn how to use the tools before the project begins will be beneficial.

I will also, within groups, assign roles to team members with leadership jobs given to the most experienced students on the team. For example, assigning the roles of taskmaster, recorder, researcher and so on. Roles would be dependent on the nature of the final project and if there were a taskmaster, recorder and researcher from each school within the team it may allow students to bond better across the globe. The organizers would communicate regularly to keep their in-school team members on task and recorders would share and record events from each city/country.

In retrospect, I would have integrated and implemented more IT tool sandbox activities with my students before starting. This will be easier if the project is later in the year and if tools are selected early on in the project. Allowing students to plan and capture images from the start next time will provide more time at the end for creating the final project on their own. I also predict that collecting images earlier will give shape and deeper discussion of the message they hope to communicate throughout the process.

At the start of the project, providing a team get-to-know-you activity for students to participate in, such as a scavenger hunt or experience-sharing grid on a team wiki-page may allow students to connect sooner. Team discussions in Edmodo would also benefit from a clear purpose each week- perhaps set by the team member in the lead role.

If selected to participate the next project this spring, it will be easier to integrate as we will be engaged in our Prague unit of inquiry during that time. One unit focus question is, ‘How do you get to know a place and why bother doing this?’ As we learn about our city and country, participation in the A Week in the Life project will enhance this unit because students will have greater motivation to take note of and share the unique and similar characteristics of Prague. While on field trips, students would keep their team subject and essential questions in mind and capture images that relate to their topic. As well, the team topics would become embedded into unit thinking and reflection throughout the unit.

Fully Initiated and Back in Business

December 18, 2010 at 10:35 am | Posted in Blogging, Collaboration, Conference, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Planning, Professional Development, Scratch, Tech Integration, Voicethread | 2 Comments

I’ve only blogged once in the last 6 months due to location and occupation changes. I spent 6 weeks on vacation doing virtually nothing online and then began my new position and life in Prague as a grade 3 teacher at the International School of Prague. I’m still pretty much still in the honeymoon Cultural Shock phase due to my fantastic students, wonderful apartment and new friends and, I am in Prague.

But I am tired. After 3 years as a tech integration specialist, it feels great to be a classroom teacher again with my tribe of willing learners. However, classroom teaching can be exhausting even if you’ve been in the same school for years and I haven’t had the time or mental capacity to write or read blogs, completely missed the K12 Online Conference and the Global Education Conference as well as many Classroom2.0 sessions (thankfully all 3 are archived). I haven’t been tweeting or following tweets. I haven’t seen much of Prague either since the weather became too cold for long walks. But that’s about to change as I’ve been through the first trimester, report cards, parent conferences, portfolio collection and assembly, I think I have a grasp of the curriculum and have 3 weeks of vacation stretching before me.

In addition to the regular curriculum, my students have posted two written pieces and a word cloud on their individual pages on our class website and they regularly extend learning and skill practice (in school and at home) using various webgames and subscription sites. They individually recorded in Garageband, an oral reading of an originally written piece for a Voicethread related to an author visit. Most exciting is our participation in “A Week in the Life”, a pilot elementary-level Flat Classroom Project.

A Week in the Life team adding information to the project wiki

So, after catching my breath I am looking forward to reading, writing and listening to online conference presentations! In the five months of school remaining I am looking forward to integrating into my classroom:

They will all seamlessly integrate with and enrich our units of inquiry on Sound and our Host County/City as well as maths, reading and writing. I’m also looking forward to again reading (even after vacation) professional texts and favorite blogs. Why do I care about sharing with and learning from others? Dean Shareski sums it up for me in his K12Online Keynote. It’s so nice to have reached a point where I again feel a sense of familiarity combined with excitement about the possibilities ahead!

A Week in the Life

October 30, 2010 at 8:05 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Shift, Web2.0 | 2 Comments
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This post was first contributed to a collaborative blog for the pilot elementary Flat Classroom Project, A Week in the Life at http://elementaryflatclassroom.wordpress.com/

The first official week is finished and I’m beginning to feel that I can manage this project, and I am still excited about the possibilities and opportunities that are ahead. Granted, I have told myself that this is a pilot and I’m in my first year at my new school and I will do the best I can. But that’s not an excuse; it allows me stay focused on the project’s purpose, the present and not evaluate myself daily against the “big picture” or enormous possibilities in my mind. Reflection occurs, not judgment.

This week we established student user accounts and began writing and reading to share about ourselves and begin conversing with other students. Students learned how to use Edmodo, comment thoughtfully and many students began using proper punctuation and attempted correct spelling more than in daily classroom writing.

I also introduced the project and what they would be doing in groups with students around the world. I think some students grasped the idea, but most will have to understand what the project is about as we go along. (My students are 8 and 9 years old.) We also have a collaboration going with classes in Japan and Canada, and because it’s a year-long project we will also collaborate with them over the next 7 weeks to maintain and nurture that friendship. It is one more challenge for my students though, to sort out who we are working with and when- but I believe they will be able to manage that. I’m planning to set up bulletin boards for each collaboration this weekend to hopefully provide visual anchors.

This coming week I plan to introduce the students to the wiki, have them gain individual access to the wiki and establish the groups with discussion of each group’s focus. I decided to provide a group notebook for each group with essential questions, project timeline and empty pages for notes and diagrams during group work discussions. I realize this is low-tech, but I think it’s a scaffold that will allow them to focus on the group task and communication more. It may also provide a tangible bridge to a digital collaboration. Baby steps.

In reflecting on our first week, I’ve observed students eager to connect with other students in Edmodo by reading and commenting. In group reading, we had great discussions about similarities and differences between the book characters, settings and events and our lives. As mentioned above, I saw students beginning to attend more to the mechanics and message of their writing in comments. We also discussed and practiced digital citizenship.

One of the biggest benefits during these first weeks is connecting with other teachers in the project by sharing ideas and answering each other’s questions. I loved the GoogleEarth tour created by and shared from a teacher in India. It travels to all the schools in the project and being able to use it has saved me time creating my own.

I remain enthused about participating in this project and awed with the implications of what we are trying and all we can learn from this. If I can remain focused on the core and purpose of the project and stay patient with my skill-level and learning my students and I will benefit immensely!

The Challenge of Information Overload

May 29, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Planning | Leave a comment

As a tech integration specialist the last three years, I have greatly benefited from the inspiration and support from my PLN. I went from focusing on a group of students to a focus on co-creating relevant tech-related classroom activities in all subject areas for students aged 3 to 11 and providing teacher professional development and support. Because of this broad focus, I have learned a great deal and discovered many educators and other professionals online who inspire me and who I learn from. However, now that I am returning to the classroom I need to focus again foremost on curriculum and learning that may or may not include technology. This has prompted me to review my Netvibes feed page and not drop feeds but revise my home page to those blogs that are written by teachers and from educators I collaborate with.


My problem is that I can get so side-tracked just by browsing and following tweets appearing among the 20 most recent tweets when I open Twitter. Then there are all the blogs I want to read regularly and podcasts to listen to. And books to read. I want to contribute as well so I need time to write. This summer I look forward to reading and learning more about writing and reading continuums and increasing my Mac application skills in preparation for August, as those are areas I have less experience with as a classroom teacher. I want to become more adept as a user of Myst and Scratch and other game-based learning tools to use in my classroom. I want to contribute to my personal blog again and reflect on life overseas. There are only 24 hours in a day and if I add areas to focus on, something has to take a back seat.

One idea I have is to integrate by reflecting on what I’m reading and learning by podcasting using Garageband (rather than the familiar Audacity) or creating a digital story sample in iMovie or Keynote for use as a classroom model/sample to use next year. I can reflect in a journal on my experiences in the Myst or Quest Atlantis worlds and create a Scratch animation reflecting on one of my summer reading books.

How do you handle the information overload? How do you focus but also stay in touch with the broad views and innovation in education and technology?

Passion and Wants vs. Needs

May 23, 2010 at 11:12 am | Posted in Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Links, Planning, Professional Development, Shift | 5 Comments

Here’s a scenario you may be able to relate to: you read an article or book or just observe a daily event and then you get a great idea that addresses something in your life or work you want to change or resolve. Well I sit with the idea for a little bit and then I want to share it! Sometimes I share and the person gets it right away and wants to join me to develop the idea further. More often, the reaction is not negative but there are questions, What do you mean about this aspect? How does it look in action? and so on. Here is where the generator of the passionate idea can do one of two things. She can be discouraged because she feels the recipient didn’t understand or they don’t like the idea, if they had they would be equally excited. Or, she can take those questions and continue to work on the idea so it can become more fully developed and realistic and also better communicated.

As an elementary teacher, I have “taught” Wants vs. Needs as part of the social studies curriculum (although there are informal lessons on that every day.) As a technology integration specialist the last 3 years, I have needed to develop my adult communication and presentation skills because I currently work with teachers more than students. My apologies in advance, but children are more fun, flexible-minded and enthusiastic than adults. As a result of this experience, I’m going to be a stronger teacher next year, but I will also be a better colleague.

Teachers tend to do their own thing and each teacher becomes known according to her/his own passions and strengths, but this is unfair to the student population because it creates an environment of inequality. Ideally, teachers share their talents, strengths and special views to strengthen the whole school so all children benefit. I’m not faulting teachers, there is usually no time for sharing and there are other built-in school practices that discourage collaboration.

Strafford School Foreign Language committee (most of us)

Many of my proudest contributions as a teacher in realizing initiatives that benefited all students and that are still in effect at the school, have resulted from working with a group of like-minded teachers, administrators and parents. But that group is not often easily or naturally created. If you don’t have a group form naturally around an idea, you are left to drop the idea or keep it to yourself within the four walls of your classroom. But there’s a third alternative, it’s not easy and involves risk and possibly putting yourself out on a ledge.

Last week I read a post by Peggy George on her blog My Web2.0 Adventures.  It was a tipping point for me. Peggy lays out steps to develop an idea before pushing it out. (If it’a been a snake, it’a bit me.) How many times could I have been more effective if only I had sat with my ideas a bit longer, worked longer with the pros and cons to further develop and then communicate an idea better? Marco Torres says that we need to “stay with the questions” and that also means stay with the solutions to get it right.

Also, while I haven’t read it yet, I have listened to Seth Godin share ideas from his new book, Linchpin. From listening to Godin, I began to explore the idea of going above and beyond the initial ideas (what I want to do) to ask what is needed- and to push into those initial ideas to develop them into ideas and practices that can be clearly communicated.

What we want is unconditional acceptance and excitement about our ideas and initiatives but what we need is to question, incubate and develop those ideas further. When met with resistance, stay with the idea (if it still looks like a good one) and develop it so you can communicate why it’s a good path to follow and build a group that will allow the ideas to become a reality.

Other links that inspired this post:
Shelly Terrell’s blog Teacher Reboot Camp post How do we nurture passion?
Another video of Seth Godin speaking about Linchpin
Video: Seth Godin speaking about Education
Daniel Pink’s 2 questions that can change your life
Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (And if you try sometime you find you get what you need)

Time in the Sandbox is needed

October 24, 2009 at 9:53 am | Posted in Learning is Messy, Literacy, Primary, Shift, Tech Integration | 3 Comments
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I first heard the term “sandbox” mode from Vicki Davis on one of her podcasts or read on her blog. The idea is to allow students the time to explore and discover for themselves how to accomplish tasks on a new software program or technology tool. This can be easily framed within a curricular task but the idea (as I understand it) is to allow free exploration or propose a task for students to attempt individually without any assistance. This allows students time to explore a program and develop their ability to find answers on their own. I highly value collaboration, but if one is to contribute you need to bring something to the table and not always rely on others.

I worked with grade four students this week on a project where they were asked to assume a group task involving exploring and planning a dream trip to a particular country. Some students and groups seized the opportunity and needed no guidance and others were frozen, plus there were students in between. I found myself asking those who wanted help, guiding questions that they should be asking themselves. Some searched in Google and then asked which one they should click, missing the idea that they would need to read and make choices.

My immediate thought was that we needed to integrate sandbox sessions for students. When using Math Their Way as a first grade teacher, we spent time at the start of the year allowing students guided play time with the math manipulatives.  If that step was not experienced, the students would need to play with the manipulatives all year rather than use them as tools. Many students still need to learn to explore and “think on their feet.” Sandbox time is needed to allow the independent-thinkers time to flourish and those who need to flex those muscles time to discover they can rely on themselves more often.

Let’s hear it for shifting teachers!

December 3, 2008 at 7:10 am | Posted in Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Planning, Project-based Learning, Shift, Tech Integration | 2 Comments
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Being a teacher in a school that is shifting is challenging. There is more to learn and adopt than the newest math or reading program- at least in those cases it was essentially a newer package of the usual way of doing things. Also, teaching in a shifting school is more than learning how to use PowerPoint well enough to teach your students the skills needed to do a report using PPT instead of a booklet. What is needed is deeper- modeling and providing opportunities for students to learn, collaborate, reflect on learning and create in ways that extend and express content and ideas.

Asking teachers to take the necessary risks to learn new skills, view learning and learners in new ways, trusting the tech specialist and colleagues, and risk making errors in front of students is asking a lot from already over-taxed professionals. It is also challenging for students who aren’t accustomed to being asked to use what they have learned and use content to extend their ideas.

This is why I am taking the time to write and share a post about a colleague- one of our fourth grade teachers who is going out on a limb and beginning the shift. In the past few weeks she enlisted the support of myself and our science coordinator, Brook, to help create a Rainforest unit based on the curriculum content to support and challenge her students. She wanted research and projects that allowed levels of engagement and addressed a variety of learning styles. We brainstormed and Kim created the final project descriptions with task descriptions and rubrics for each. Brook and I supported by helping to set up the resources needed. Kim also asked for my support and from parent volunteers in class during the next weeks while students rotate through projects- she is the grade level science teacher and works with all three homeroom groups so she will have 3 hours a day facilitating students working on projects three days a week.

What is so unique about what Kim is doing? She is collaborating and using available human resources. She is revising her expectations for student learning and allowing for a variety of student learning styles, talents and ability levels. Students are being asked to engage in learning and apply and creatively demonstrate what is learned. By the end of the first project day students were becoming engaged and interested in what they were learning and Kim was exhausted.

It’s not easy and it’s messy. It required a great deal of preparation on Kim’s part as well as her willingness to take risks and believe in the value of revising the way things have been taught in the past. She also realizes she’s not alone and is willing to collaborate. And it won’t be easy for the students either.

On the other hand, it’s so exciting to be part of an environment where real learning is taking place for students and ourselves and I look forward to the journey ahead, reflecting and where that will take us.

After-School Activites

October 29, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Posted in Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Moodle, Planning, Tech Integration | 1 Comment
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I’d like to follow up on 2 new initiatives I’ve written about. The first after-school activity is with my student group, Digital Media Kids. In my last post I wrote that I would discuss our direction with them (to a degree) by asking the following questions, “ what do you see us doing? What do you want to learn? What do you want to express? Who do you want as an audience? After we sort those out, then we can bridge, What do you want to express and how?”

Our first discussion brewed some excitement about sharing favorite interests and getting readers involved. We started posting informational articles and found the main posting interest now is on line games, so now we are allowing game-playing one afternoon, followed by a review. Posts have been expressed in slideshows, written and upcoming podcasts. I love that they are eager to learn different means to express themselves. We haven’t discussed or created essential questions, but it feels right to allow time to get the feet wet, and then stand back and look at meaning and relevancy. The group is five 8-year-olds and a 9-year-old and they are sharing at home and with relatives who are so far impressed. There is fun and learning each hour!

My second after-school initiative is with the grown-ups on campus- holding open-lab hours till 6 Monday through Thursday. It started well and has slowed. I’m not discouraged and plan, after report cards are done in 2 weeks, to get out and be more pro-active by suggesting new ideas and growing further with current projects.

Do any of you readers have similar sessions and in what ways are you succeeding?

Update: October 30, 2008

My position is PK-12 but I live in the LS and focus most of my energy there, my TI colleage focusing on the Middle and Upper school. But this afternoon one of the MS/US Enlish/Writing teachers came in for my After-school tech lab. She was unsure how to use moodle and how to set up the mandated class page “presence” in Moodle. We went over the basics looking at the Moodle site and then I asked, do you want to see some class examples? I loved her reply- “No, I want to do something that suits me and my classes.” So she then told me about how she teaches and showed me one of her daily 3-6 slide PPTs that serve as lesson support and organiztion support for students- many images and light on text. Very positive use of PPT. From there it was a no-brainer. We set up her page so she can upload each PPT as a PPS at the end of each day for students to revisit and absent students to use to get caught up. When she left, she said she has no interested in forums, chats, etc but may be interested in blogs… I know it’s not web3D, but everyone has to start somewhere and I am delighted to have another after-school colleague!

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