Genius Ideas, Projects, and Outcomes

This year I gave my students a menu of Genius Project possibilities. I didn’t tell them what their project had to be about, rather I categorized four types of genius hour projects (see below). This allows for students to “try out” different kinds of projects throughout the school year as they tap into their passions and curiosity. The projects were diverse, engaging, and student driven.

Here is a few of the inspiring genius projects students completed this first quarter of school.

Help Make the World/Community A Better Place – For this genius project choose a problem and find a solution that will benefit others on a community or global scale.

Helena devoted each Friday in designing a website to help Hurricane Matthew survivors in Haiti. Her website listed and linked websites with information about their missions and goals, and also allowed users to make a donation which would help the citizens of Haiti. She wrote blog posts about the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, updates, and shared pictures. From this experience, she learned how to make a website, became informed about the impoverished island of Haiti, and how to problem solve when it comes to technology.

The UnGoogleable – This genius hour project requires students to research something that goes beyond facts and summary but requires analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  Students will look at multiple theories and present their findings.

Create/Innovate – For this genius project you will create or make something. You can build, design, or create something from scratch.

Learn/Master – For this genius project students will spend their hours practicing and mastering a personal passion of theirs.

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Beneficial or Bogus? Seeking Valid & Reliable Supporting Evidence: Lesson Plan

I am beginning a scientific investigative journalism inquiry project with my students this month and the final project will be an annotated bibliography and feature article. As we embark on the features of a nonfiction investigative journalism piece, the topic of valid and reliable supporting evidence is at the forefront.

Essential Questions:

  1. How can you tell if a resource contains valid information?
  2. How can you determine the saliency of information?

Objectives (KUDoS) By the end of this lesson, students should:

KNOW:

  • Saliency = the most important, relevant information
  • Self-reliance = depending on one’s self
  • The steps to composing a persuasive speech (Prior Lesson)
  • Types of supporting evidence include: testimony, statisitic, fact, and example (Prior lesson reinforced in this lesson)

UNDERSTAND:

  • The importance of supporting an idea with ample examples of valid evidence
  • The importance of skimming information to filter the most important facts
  • How to check the validity of a source

DO:

  • Analyze the saliency of information
  • Skim articles to identify relevant details to support a thesis
  • Locate a valid resource from the internet

 

PROCEDURES

Anticipatory Set: DO NOW

How do you know if information you’ve been told is valid? How do you know what to believe?

Write your response on the post-it notes and post your response on the SmartBoard.

Teacher will read some of student responses with the large class. Questions to further discussion and student thinking: “When researching a topic, how do you know if the information you find is valid?”

Instructional Activity: Station Activity

I. Students will travel to three different QR Codes in order to find evidence to support the supplied thesis/claim. Each QR Code links to an article, video or website for the students to draw out support material (evidence, testimony, statistics, etc). Students will complete a support material research chart as they evaluate each piece of evidence. In addition, students will assess the validity and benefits of QR Code. The articles of information have already been selected by the teacher to assess students’ abilities to judge reliable and valid research documents.

Students will use the 2-D graphic organizer to record their findings from the QR Codes they visit.

Selected Articles, Videos & Websites:

Source 1 – Does Video Game Violence Make Teens Aggressive?

Source 2 – Could Violent Video Games Reduce Rather Than Increase Violence?

Souce 3 – 10 Ways Video Games Can Help or Harm Your Brain from the Huffington Post

Source 4 – Video Game Revolution – The two computers in the classroom will post this website for students to read through the myths about video games. The article was written by a MIT professor debunking the myths about video game violence

Source 5 – This article has no specific information on video game violence but is about the teenage brain. This article is being used to see if students can decifer that this article has no specific connection to the thesis.

Source 6 – The pros and cons of video games. There are many statistics and additional links on the website from this debate website.

Source 7 – Onion Network Video “Are Violent Videos Preparing Adolescents for Apocalypse”

II. After students have had the opportunity to find support material examples from the various stations, students will find a partner who utilized the same sources to discuss and confirm their findings.

III. In large class discussion reflect on student findings.

Questions to ask:

Which research sources were beneficial to finding support material? How do you know?
Did any one find invalid research? What lead you to conclude it was invalid?

IV. One the back of students’ research charts they are to list three ways to validate a resource (exit slip).

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Gamification & Literacy at #NCTE16

Classrooms of the digital age are interactive spaces where literate lives are groomed through the analysis and synthesis of content. Perspectives formed during collaborative conversations give rise to innovative ideas but not every teacher is ready to be part of the digital change. How can classroom environments become havens of active learning and schools encourage students to make wise technology choices to become independent learners with authentic voices?

As part of a round table session at National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference, I presented gamification ideas and strategies for engaged, active, student-centered classrooms where choice leads to increased voice.

Here are a few of the games and activities referenced in the slides that I have created for my students that correlate with units of study.

MidSummer Night’s Dream Symbolism Connect Four

Roll the Dice or Think Dots

Here is how this activity works, using a set of dice [or have task cards Think DOTs that have assignments on one side and colored dots that match a “dice” roll on the other side], students can “roll the dice” to see which activity or question they have to complete. You can use different cubes for different students depending on their readiness, interests and learning profiles. The example that I provided below is a for reading response questions for To Kill  Mockingbird. There are two sets that are differentiated based on students level of understanding.

And for a random Dice Challenge

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What’s With TEXAS Paragraphs

It wasn’t until I arrived at my current school that writing was streamlined across the middle school with a specific format for introductory paragraphs, body paragraphs, and conclusions. We follow a TEXAS format for the body paragraphs of argumentative and literary essays. TEXAS stands for:

Topic Sentence

contExt

textual eXample

Analysis

So What?

The body paragraphs are the meat of an essay. Body paragraphs must include specific textual evidence to support a claim and provide analysis of the textual evidence describing how it supports the claim. Stating “This quote proves . . . “ is not enough. Analysis needs to hold the reader’s hand and walk them through the connection between the textual evidence and the claim. At the eighth grade level, students are required to include three or more examples (2 direct quotes and one indirect example) per paragraph to really prove a claim is valid.

The hardest part for my students is the analysis after finding the strongest evidence to support one’s claim. What is good analysis? And how do students know what to say in the ANALYSIS? I tell my students to get rid of the word “proves” and begin with the words “This shows that” following the quote. This will forces students to EXPLAIN and elaborate on their thinking without summarizing the connection between the evidence and the claim.

Let’s look at a student exemplar.

texas-exemplar

So to help students write off of a quote and practice analysis, I created this graphic organizer

It is not enough to find valid evidence, because evidence itself doesn’t support an argument. What supports an argument is the way students UNPACK or EXPLAIN evidence. Students need lots of opportunities to help articulate their understanding of a text. Explaining and elaborating is a skill students build throughout schooling to help unpack the layers of a text.

How do you help students analyze and articulate their understanding of a text? Share your ideas in the comment section of this blog. I am always interested to know what is working for other teachers and students.

 

 

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Dystopian Reading Quest Gamified

It begins with a thought that inspires and ignites a teaching concept. It could happen while I am reading a book or listening to NPR on my drive to and from work. It’s like the pull on your sweater that you tug at and it begins to unravel into something bigger than you first intended. This is what happens when I am teaching. I will often get a kernel of an idea in my mind about a unit of study or lesson and the more thinking and tinkering, a completely new concept emerges.

I just finished teaching a dystopian literature unit with my eighth grade students and I thought how can I make this unit more hands on, more self directed, and more engaging so that my students are successful readers, writers, and critical thinkers. At the same time, I want them to draw connections between the fictional dystopias and our world today.  What if I gamified it and my students become players in a dystopian environment I create in the classroom? How will it impact their learning, understanding, and thinking?

Welcome to the Dystopian Reading Quest:

The Backstory – We are going to adjust some of the ways our classroom community functions for our next unit. These changes will incorporate technologies we haven’t used in the classroom before that I think will improve communication amongst us. The changes should also ensure that all students are treated equally and are given roles in the classroom that reflect their strengths. We will explore new freedoms we haven’t explored before.

Rules:

  1. No one will be allowed to talk in class at all without my permission. In fact, talking will be very limited from now on.
  1. You will instead communicate with one another via online chat in Google Classroom. I will have access to everything you say in your chats. No other form of communication will be allowed in class unless it is with me or is conducted with my permission.
  1. The class will be divided into 3 groups based on grades. Students with the highest grades will be in one group, those in the middle will be in another, and those with the lowest will make up the third group. There will be no communication allowed outside of these groups in class.
  1. We will no longer be discussing historical connections to our texts. We will be free from the burden of thinking about the past. We will concentrate on the here and now and the future of our classroom. History is not important.
  1. You may not discuss your family, interests, or cultural background. The culture of our classroom is more important. These other details distract from our task at hand. We are all equal. Our differences are not important.

* Other rules may be added depending on the current culture of the individual classroom.

Complete the following badges throughout this unit to earn privileges and unlock powers.  The more badges you complete towards mastery, and complete correctly, the more privileges you will gain and unlock the Oracle of Dystopian Knowledge. Not completing these tasks will result in punishments.  The badges are to be completed in sequential order. 

dystopian-reading-quest

 

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dystopian-reading-quest-3

Students complete six badges while reading different dystopian texts independently to show their understanding and thinking. As a result, students are self directed and working at their own pace towards mastery. The expectations are clearly articulated and students must include evidence and links to their learning. The badges build on each other, it is not a menu board. Rubrics and checklists will be provided as guidelines for mastery learning.

I think these games are gonna be different.” — Haymitch Abernathy in Catching Fire (2013)

 

 

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Blending Words & Images With Sketchnoting

One goal that core teachers and I will be working on this school year is to have students be able to access learning through their own note taking. We are introducing three different note-taking strategies to use in all classes: Cornell Notes Method, Sketchnoting, and digital note taking or enotes.

My science teacher will introduce the Cornell Note Method to students while my social studies teacher will share ways to hyper link notes and curate digital information with enotes. I introduced sketchnoting to my students as third strategy for note taking. Sketchnoting blends words, images, and symbols to convey important ideas, topics, and texts.

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There have been many different sketch notes shared on social media and with the popularity of Common Craft Videos, there are even apps that create digital sketch notes like Powtoon and Wideo.

This week I introduced stetchnoting to my students and then applied it as a way to convey the themes in their dystopian independent reading books.

sketchnoting-101

I found invaluable resources from royanlee.com where I found slides and activities that I adapted for my middle school students. I also showed this video from Heidi Weber on Sketchnoting.

 

Sketchnoting is not about the art work. Rather it is about the ideas as Heidi says throughout her video. Specific sketchnoting techniques include:

Bullets are simple shapes that create categories and subcategories. Bullets can be any shape you choose – a circle, a triangle, a plus or a minus. Bullets help to create itemized lists and to group things together.

Frames are shapes around pictures or words: think ‘picture frame’ or ‘word bubble’. Frames create visual destinations in your visual note taking landscape. Next, you will need connectors.

Connectors are straight lines, arrows, dividers, leaves, and people etc., that move from one note to another, making connections.

Shadows, just like in drawing, draw attention. Watch visual note takers visually record and communicate ideas.

After we looked at examples and tried sketchingnoting a concept students learned in one of their classes this week, we applied it to ELA class. With a lesson on common themes in dystopian texts, rather than complete a graphic organizer, I asked students to sketchnote a dominant theme in their text. The only requirement was to incorporate two textual quotes to support their claims. Here are some of the great sketchnotes that students shared.

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Is All Evidence Equal: Weighing Textual Evidence

This week I gave my students a short response prompt based on the propaganda presented in their dystopian texts. Students are reading Animal Farm, The Giver and Unwind. The prompt was as follows:

A variety of propaganda techniques are used throughout the fable in small and incremental measures to confuse, influence, and keep the other animals on the farm under control, as well as to make outsiders think that Animal Farm was successful.

There are six types of propaganda that are commonly recognized: 1) Bandwagon, 2) Scapegoating, 3) Unapproved Assertions, 4) Slogans, and 5) Fear.

Which type of propaganda did those in control use to their advantage most effectively?

Why did that type of propaganda work so well on the members of the community?

In your short response be sure to identify the type of propaganda used effectively with two or more examples textual support. Also include why this type of propaganda worked so well on the others.

Whereas my students know to include direct textual evidence in their writing, the question remains: Is the evidence students are selecting the strongest evidence to support their claim? 

This year I am requiring students to organize textual evidence using graphic organizers I create to use in tandem with the foldables that go in their Interactive English Notebooks. But is not just about students mastering the ability to pull any evidence from the text, it is necessary  students also weigh and debate the evidence selected so that it is the strongest in supporting their claims.

Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen address this same topic in their book Teaching Interpretation Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning (Heinemann, 2014).

small-group-work-rank-the-evidence-presented-in-the-envelopes-which-is-the-strongest-evidence-and-why-be-prepared-to-defend-your-answers

Based on the ideas presented in their text, I have created a foldable for my students to remember that not all evidence is equal. To reiterate this idea about evidence, I have taken various quotes about fear from each of the three dystopian texts for students to work in small groups and rank the evidence for use in the short response prompt above: Which is the strongest evidence? Why? Which is the weakest evidence? Why? What makes the strongest evidence the strongest? What makes the weakest evidence the weakest? Which evidence tells? Which evidence shows?

 

 

 

 

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Gamification to Boost Student Learning

This month I am presenting on Gamification at the The Connecticut Educators Computer Association Conference and then for my school’s district wide professional development day. I blog often about gamification and I think it is a useful teaching strategy to motivate students and allow for differentiation. Teachers can add elements of gaming in their classroom with activities like Bingo and board games and can introduce Live Action Role Plays (LARP) and utilize game platforms for management and avatars.

Below are the slides from my presentations and a few examples of activities that I have gamified for my students to earn XP (experience points) and unlock classroom opportunities that promote learning and success.

 

Here are three examples of activities that I created based on traditional games and game shows for my students to show their understanding of the texts we read in class.

Connect Four:

 

 

Quick Fire/Bingo Reading Review:

 

 

Reading Quest:

 

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Google Inspiration and Innovation: CT GAFE Summit Take Aways

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend and present at the Connecticut Google Apps for Educators Summit. This two day event was filled with so many amazing workshops and opportunities to learn the ins and outs of the ever evolving Google Suite for Education. The Summit was presented by EdTech Teams and included awesome presenters Chris Craft, Kern Kelley, Jeffery Heil, and others who are all Google for Education Certified Innovators.

There were so many great presentations addressing STEM, Makerspace, BreadoutEDU, as well as learning more about different Google Apps. Of all the awesome workshops that I attended, here are a few key ideas that anyone can utilize in their classroom.

Google Geekiness – Chris Craft and Kern Kelley both led workshops that gave me new ways to utilize the Google Suite with my students and parents.

Say you have a big summative assessment coming up and it has many parts to it. A teacher can add a step by step list of tasks in Google Sheets and then schedule automatic email notifications to any recipient before the task is due. This is great for IEP and 504 students who need larger tasks broken down into smaller and simpler steps. Plus, the email reminders help students stay on task.
Kern Kelley taught me how to make animated movies in Google Slides. By making multiple slides and incorporating .gifs on the slides, students can make short animated videos to convey a science concept, illustrate how they solved a math equation, or even recreate a scene from a book read for school. You can see what I created in less than an hour.

Kelley has written a book, The Google Apps Guidebook (2012)  with his students that details dozens of lesson ideas using Google Apps in the classroom. In the book, he describes the steps to creating animation in Google Slides.

Active Viewing – Showing a video in class or for homework should not be a passive task. With Extensions like EdPuzzle and PearDeck, watching videos and presentations can be interactive and hands on.  Both these applications allow students to embed reflection questions and have students give feedback in written, oral, and video form.

Re-imagine the Rubric – Jeffery Heil addressed the limits of rubrics in conjunction with a Growth Mindset philosophy. Rubrics should not be a menu, but more of a checklist that only includes mastery criteria. He described how he uses badges to help more students meet mastery. Feedback is key and students need to be able to show evidence of their learning throughout, eliminating the one and done assessment mentality. Focus should be on learning, not a grade.

Work Smarter, Not Harder with Google Forms – Well, I have completely rewritten the lessons that I was going to teach to my students this week and put everything onto different Google Forms to collect their responses and show evidence of their learning after attending Jeffery Heil’s Game of Forms session. Now that one can embed images and videos in Google Forms, there is so much that teachers can do to go paperless and create interactive lessons. Google Forms can be used for submitting assignments, pre assessments, exit tickets, and even a Choose Your Own Adventure activity. Flubaroo and Doctopus are two add ons with forms that can grade and manage the flow of student work.

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Students Innovators – I just finished reading Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner. This book looks at the characteristics of student innovators and how their parents and teachers helped to cultivate creativity and innovation. Wagner cites three key ingredients: play, passion, and purpose. Genius Hour and Passion Projects in school are not a new idea. True inquiry is based on personal passion. Today, school is not about knowledge pursuit or memorizing facts. In fact, students can learn what ever they want on the internet. YouTube is a teacher. Learning in the classroom should be about play, purpose, tinkering, and failure as a good thing. Having students learn something they are passionate and then reflect on their learning is eye opening and often inspiring.

I have shared my ever evolving experience with Passion Projects and Genius Hour in my own classroom. To read more about my own experiences with Genius Hour these past four years click here and here and here

This year I have created a choice menu for students to help them with their passion projects and I am creating a more Choose Your Own Adventure approach with my students to help them pursue their passions.

 

 

 

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Mise en place & School

Wikipedia defines Mise en place as (French pronunciation: [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) “a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” It refers to the set up required before cooking, and is often used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat,sauces, par cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift.

September is my time to put everything in place for my students to understand the requirements and routines of the classroom. I use the first month of school to set up our interactive notebooks, build classroom community and trust, introduce weekly Genius Hour and establish the gaming elements of my English classroom.

I have created a gamified Genius Hour activity to kick off the Classcraft teams, build team work, and begin thinking about possible genius projects. Add a little XP – experience points to all the tasks and the challenge begins. I am planning out how to gamify all of my Genius Hour time for my students with various tasks to help them play, tinker, research, and create.

I will have to share the results in a later post.

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