Tag Archives: GeniusHour

10 Picture Books that Celebrate Creativity, Invention & Genius

Okay, I will admit that I am a picture book junkie. Even as my own children outgrow picture books and move into chapter books, I still collect picture books to share with my students as well as read with my own kids. Picture books are glorious short stories with inspiring pictures that speak about big ideas in a limited amount of words.

Previously, I have written blog posts on the power of picture books to inspire students of all ages.  I have found so many new great titles that I will be sharing with my middle school students for read alouds, genius hour, and just for fun.

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Do You Have GRIT?

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Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016) is filled with resourceful information for educators and parents regarding passion, hard work, and determination.

As the genius hour movement and passion projects storm through classrooms around the world, teachers like myself ask what is genius and how it is different from talent and mastery.

Teacher and parents emphasize talent is the deciding factor in a person’s success, but Duckworth argues that work ethic and effort is ranked higher than talent in measuring a person’s grittiness. Duckworth writes, “A preoccupation with talent can be harmful . . .by shining our spotlight on taken, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors – including grit – don’t matter as much as they really do.” (p. 31)

In fact, Duckworth’s formula for success is

2(Effort) + Talent = Success 

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement 

So, one “becomes a genius” and “acquires greatness.” She taps into Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of 10,000 hours described in his book Outliers. “Consistency of effort over the long run is everything.” (p. 50) Duckworth describes “strivers as “improving in skill, employing skill, through hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.” (p. 51) Yes, to do anything really well, you have to overextend yourself, as the writer John Irving points out.

Grit is loyalty and dedication and “there are no shortcuts to excellence.” (p. 54)

Grit has two components, “passion and perseverance.” (p. 56)

Passion is a “compass – that thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately you want to be.” (p. 60).

To find one’s passion or tap into one’s passion the question to ask is What is your life philosophy? What are you trying to get out of life? 

To help answer these questions, Duckworth borrows a three step strategy from self made millionaire, Warren Buffett.

  1. Write down a list of 25 career goals.
  2. Circle the five highest priority goals.
  3. Look at the 20 goals you didn’t circle. These are your distractors. Avoid them at all costs.

Then, ask yourself, “To what extent do these goals serve a common purpose?” (p. 68)

Grit grows and it begins with an interest, then practice – working daily and the discipline to skill driven practice. Then comes purpose and finally hope. Duckworth writes, “passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development and then  lifetime of deepening.” (p. 103) Play is necessary during the discovery phase. Once a passion or discovery is made, then comes development or “continuous improvement or deliberate practice” (p. 118) until mastery.

Purpose is also key, “the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.” (p. 145) NO matter one’s age, one can always cultivate a sense of purpose. Find inspiration in role models, think about how your current work enhances your core values, and reflect on how the work you are doing makes a positive contribution to society (p. 166).

“Growth mindset and grit go together.” (p. 181) Yes, the power of positive thinking. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you are right.”

Growth  mindset >> optimistic self talk >> perseverance over adversity

So what does this all mean for parents and teachers?

Demand high standards

Language is everything – What you say and how you say it matters

Offer Loving support and Trust

You are models

Allow children to cultivate interests

Failures are going to happen, how we respond makes all the difference

“Always reach for your best.” (p. 266)

Character is necessary to grow and flourish. Grit isn’t everything.

Genius is “working towards excellence, ceaselessly with every element of your being.”

Everyone has the ability to grow genius.

 

 

 

 

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Literacy 2.0 – Genius Hour Digital Inspirations

My friend and colleague, Carol Varsalona, author of the blog Beyond Literacy Link has collected numerous photographs and poems from published writers and teachers which she calls “digital inspirations.” These digital inspirations are artistic expressions and short poems that showcase both images and words. All of the inspirations written by Varsalona herself, and an expanding community of writers, are cataloged online in thematic galleries on her blog.

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For a Genius Hour assignment, I asked my students to create a digital inspiration highlighting their Genius Hour project this spring. These digital inspirations became an advertisement of sorts to inform and inspire others of their work this semester. Below is a slideshow of their work. The inspirations highlight the array of passion projects and the creativity among my students.


As technology continues to expand the ways students and teachers engage in literacy, teachers need to embrace the role of digital media in the classroom to foster a culture of creativity and innovation.  Literacy 2.0 brings to the forefront digital tech tools that enhance learning and literacy in the digital age where students are content creators and critical thinkers.

Passion is a powerful agent of change (Lucy Calkin) in a student-centered classroom. As Fisher and Frey have noted in their article, “Collaborative Conversations,” instructional leaders should focus attention on the Common Core Learning Standard Anchor Standard 1 for Speaking and Listening that asks that we prepare for and participate in collaborations with diverse partners, building on each others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Adherence to the ELA Anchor Standard 1 for Listening and Speaking is essential to move educators from the sage on the stage to a more reflective practitioner, facilitator, and instructional coach who aims to create engaged, risk-taking classroom environments where passion exists and writers thrive.

The ideas presented above stem from a workshop Carol Varsalona, poet extraordinaire,  Laura Purdie Salas, and myself will be presenting at ILA 2016 in Boston, MA this upcoming July titled Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0.

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What is truly genius? Overcoming Genius Hour Hurdles

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For the past two and a half years genius hour has been 20% of class time each week. Every Friday is genius hour. Monday through Thursday I might be teaching and focusing on supporting my students as reader, writers, and critical thinkers; Friday is for students to pursue their own passions and interests. Genius hour allows for students to take ownership of the classroom and their own learning.

After the first year of introducing genius hour into my classroom and being inundated with baking and cooking projects, the following year I required students’ projects to be about something they cared about and at the same time take on some aspect of social responsibility. Students created blogs, researched, and initiated projects that addressed issues they cared about from health, environmental concerns, animal and human rights. All of the projects that my students created were inspiring and supported a culture of caring on a community level.

This year, I introduced genius hour with the same requirements and told my students their projects should fit under one of the following categories.

MasterPractice some skill. It takes 10,000 hours to get to mastery.

CreateUse your imagination to create something.

LearnGain knowledge about something that interests you or learn something new.

InnovateSolve a problem. Create a solution.

Produce – Make something.

Serve – Do any of the above for someone else.

But this year, these community-involved citizens have turned up short and my students ideas are so focused on the “positive benefit to the community” that they lack passion and genius. More than two dozen of my students have wanted to create a school wide drive for collecting pet supplies, used sports equipment, food, school supplies, blankets and coats. It is not clear to me whether these collections are driven by passion or are just to fulfill the requirements of another school project. In fact, when two students went to ask my school principal to hold a coat drive, her response was “Does a coat drive warrant true genius?” She later pulled me into her office for a conversation on whether I was spending too much time on genius hour and do I tell my students their “passion project” lacks “genius.” My response was, “No” and “No.”

I have been reflecting on these musings for two weeks now. After two students presented their semester genius hour reflection on how they collected clothes for the salvation army, I thought “Where had I gone wrong with genius hour this year?” My intentions was inquiry based learning that nurture students social awareness and social responsibility. The result was boxes of supplies to those in need. But it is clear to me that many of these projects showed their ability to help the community but did lack true genius.

I am in a state of reflection and revision. I am rethinking the requirements and going to have my students design a rubric in which to evaluate the genius process and product to help us engage in a critical conversation on passion and genius.

 

 

 

 

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Classroom Non Negotiables

Summer is the time to take a deep breath, reflect, and revise for the school year ahead. There are certain aspects of my teaching that are non negotiables – the things that I will not change and or I am committed to in helping to reach and teach ALL my students. As an English Language Arts teacher in a middle school, I am teaching students; it’s not all about the content material. With that being said, these are the elements of my classroom that have become the “everys.”

1. The Interactive English Notebook – Three years ago I became a devoted fan of the interactive notebook and since then, I have been creating my own content to support my students as readers and writers. The interactive notebook has become my textbook and portfolio of what students are studying and learning. Keeping my promise to the earth to use a little paper as possible, I only make photocopies of the interactive foldables for my students; worksheets have been eliminated and Google Docs and Forms have become tools for assessments, surveys, and responses outside of the notebooks.

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2. Article of the Week – I assign little homework. In addition to independent readings outside of class (30 minutes a night Sunday – Thursday), the one outside assignment that I offer to my students is an article of the week. The “Article of the Week” was created by educator and author, Kelly Gallagher as a way to build prior knowledge and background. I assign students an article of the week every Monday and students have until Thursday to complete the close reading and reflection assignment. This year I am piloting a digital article of the week with Actively Learn. Actively Learn houses thousands of free articles and assignments or teachers can upload their own. Here is the thing about homework in my classrooms, students do not get graded on their homework, students earn game points for completed homework. Points equal priviledges. I talk more about the game platform next.

3. Classcraft Gaming Platform –  Each student has an avatar and is on a team. The objective of the game is to gain as many points as possible to unlock privileges like extra days on homework, access to test questions, or extended bathroom breaks. Students work together, as well as individually, throughout the school year earning points based on quiz grades, homework completion, and classroom interactions. This game platform allows for positive peer collaboration and camaraderie, it is a motivational tool for most of my students, and students are rewarded for positive behaviors (and vise versa, lose points for negative behaviors).

4. Reading/Writing Workshop – Returning to my Teacher College roots, I am reinstating the reading and writing workshop in my classroom. As I mentioned prior, I am not teaching a book, I am teaching readers and writers. I want to offer as much time in my classroom for my students to read and write and foster a love of words. Although I do not teach in a block schedule, I will have reading workshop twice a week and writing workshop twice a week for a total of 80 minutes each a week for independent reading and writing, read alouds, and mini lessons.

5. Genius Hour – Friday is Genius Hour. Students will work on a project of their choice with the foundation that it has to benefit the “community.” I am thinking about class blogs for students to write monthly entries of their research and genius work to share with the world the amazing projects dreamed up.

What are your everys or non negotiables? Please share or comments on this blog.

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To Grade or Not to Grade Genius Hour

I recently received the following email from a parent:

Dear Dr. Haiken,
I wanted to send you an email regarding the substantial Genius Project just completed this semester.  The project assigned was very ambitious, and very welcomed by XXXX. She jumped at the opportunity to delve independently into a task of her interest and choosing.  This was not an easy task; it was one that required tremendous planning and tenacity. I must admit that, at first, I was wary of the ambitious project XXXX envisioned, but she rose to the occasion. She made a timeline, sketched (and re-sketched) the designs . . .  She documented her work all along the way, and created the trifold board presentation and brought it to school along with all of her finished designs–and all on time!

I attended the parents reception and saw that a wide variety of projects were presented with varying degrees of difficulty. While I understand that it is a difficult task to grade projects of varying scope, I do not think that it is fair not to grade them at all when some of the students dedicated so much time, energy and passion to the assignment. I think that XXXX’s grade should reflect the high caliber of her work.  I am sympathetic to the grading challenge this project presents, but it was assigned, and XXXX’s GPA should be indicative of a wonderful project completed. As a teacher, you rightly encouraged the students to reach for more, and I applaud you for doing so and for stepping outside the box.  Those who responded and took on the challenge should be recognized and rewarded.

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Is a grade a reward? Does everything completed in school have to have a letter or numerical grade? What does a grade really show and mean to teachers, parents, and students?

These are questions that I have been thinking about over and over again as I rethink another school year. I decided not to grade my students’ genius hour projects this semester. Genius Hour is about allowing students to take learning in their own hands and as I wrote back to this parent, The genius hour project is a project that lets students make choices and take the lead in their own learning.  Not everything that students complete in school is nor should be graded with a number or letter.  The purpose of the genius hour project is for students to excel in an area of personal interest without the fear of failure.

I do have my students complete self reflections and plan out monthly goals for their genius hour project. I do not grade these items either, but these reflections and plans help me to support my students in their genius hour quest.  I have yet to have a student tell me they are disappointed that their project is not being graded. Rather, I want to encourage students to pursue their passions, accept challenges and failures, and at the same time be motivated by personal interests rather than a stamp, sticker, check mark, letter or number.

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Genius Hour Wrap-Up, Reflections, & Revisions

This is the second year that I have instituted Genius Hour in my classroom. Every Friday students have one period to explore, learn, create, discover, research a topic that interests them. The only conditions are that student’s choose a topic that is researchable and will “make an impact on the community” with their topic of choice, no matter how small the impact.

Genius Hour stems from Google’s 20% time. One of the perks employees at the Googleplex get is 20% of their time to work on a special project.  One well known product that has come out of this incentive program is Gmail.

To end Genius Hour this June I held a Genius Hour and Passion Project Expo inviting students and parents to view all the great projects students worked on during the 20 week spring semester. There are so many ways students can share what they learned: a Presentation, Prezi, Video, TED Talk, and or Booklet. I was so impressed that more than a dozen parents attended the Expo and were inspired and impressed by all the projects.

Genius Hour has inspired by students in so many ways. Some students created blogs, others started a book drive or helped those who are less fortunate, students created products and some even are pursuing trademarking their Genius Hour idea. Topics addressed music, art, writing, science, the environment, fashion, animation, and people’s prejudices. I am amazed by the hard work that my students put into their projects and yet, there are some students who did not use the time to their benefit.

I am still thinking up ways to hold students accountable to our weekly genius hour class time. Asking students to write weekly reflections, when I have 95 students is too much. I am thinking of creating a Genius Hour classroom blog and each student writes a monthly blog post reflecting on their process at that moment.

Grading is a challenge too, I do not want to grade the product, rather evaluate the process. I am rethinking the rubric to include a section on “use of class time.” 20% of student’s evaluation will focus on the use of class time. For students who use class time for socializing and do the majority of their presentation preparation at home, they could not get higher than an 80 out of 100.  But then should I be grading genius hour at all?

I did ask students to grade themselves in a written reflection on their work and successes in Genius Hour, I was so surprised how many of my students who I felt worked diligently and successfully gave themselves grades of B or lower and students who I observed doing little work during Genius Hour class time game themselves an A.

Teaching is a reflective process. From one semester to the other, one year to the next, I am always rethinking and re-examining my practices, tools, and techniques to better support my students as learners.

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Give More HUGS: Building a Culture of Caring Through Collaborative PBL

Have you ever thought about getting students actively involved to promote literacy in the community and around the world? This past school year I partnered with the global nonprofit organization Give More HUGS  in a year long Project-Based Service Learning (PBSL) initiative. My partnership with Give More HUGS helped my students  to become advocates for quality education, civic engagement, creativity, collaboration, and social change. Students participated in multiple projects from twitter chats, book drives, and research projects throughout the school year with this amazing organization and its awesome team to promote literacy.

Give More HUGS is a 501(c)3 non profit organization  with a mission to provide students in need with school supplies, books with inspirational messages, art supplies, extracurricular activity scholarships, mentorships, and encouragement to inspire a lifelong love for learning, reading, and creativity.

Twitter Book Chats

My students read at least one outside reading book each marking period. Each quarter I offered one book title for students to read in a book club setting, which meets on Twitter after school hours to discuss the book. Moved by Malala Yousafzai’s campaign for equality education among all people and the collaboration with Give More HUGS, I selected Malala’s autobiography for the first Twitter book chat of the school year because of Malala’s positive impact on the world and the idea that anyone can make a difference to help make the world a better place. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Reader’s Edition) by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick offers insight into Malala’s strength and courage to promote equality education for young women in Pakistan and around the world. The Twitter book chats helped engage students in authentic discussions about the book and share their responses, connections, and questions.

Students  participated in four Twitter Book Chats to address the complex issues raised in each book. Because Give More HUGS strives to promote equality education, I invited the HUGS Ambassadors and Give More HUGS members in the Twitter Book Chats because of the shared interests and goals of equality education for all. This experience gave students an opportunity to use social media to participate in a 21st century book club and social movement to make this world a better place.

Genius Hour  “Shark Tank” Project Pitches

Every Friday in my classroom is Genius Hour. Genius Hour in the classroom was inspired by Google’s 20% time, where employees at Google get is 20% of their time to work on a special project.  Once a week students have one class period to explore, learn, create, discover, and research a topic that interests them. The only conditions are that students choose a topic that is researchable and will “have a positive impact on the community,” no matter how big or small it may be.  At the end of each semester, students share what they have learned in a presentation of their choice and how their work has made an impact.

Once students selected their Genius Hour project, I required students to design an elevator pitch to explain their passion and project interests. Students took two weeks to craft their pitches.  I invited Give More HUGS founder and director, Chris McGilvery and a few of the HUGS Ambassadors into my classroom for students to present their Genius Hour elevator pitches in a “Shark Tank” style setting. Eight lucky projects were selected as “Brilliant Ideas” or “Social Change  Makers” by the HUGS representatives.  The eight “winners” were highlighted on the Give More HUGS blog and offered a wider audience to promote their social action Genius Projects.  You can Read more about this collaboration on the Give More HUGS blog.

Book Drive

Impressed by many of the projects students created, Chris encouraged students to participate in Give More HUGS as Ambassadors. Two students pursued that role and are official Ambassadors for GMH planning projects and raising awareness. One student in particular combined her Genius Hour project with GMH and organized a book drive throughout the school. She and a friend collected nearly 1,000 books during the month of May. Each book will be inscribed with a personal message and sent to schools and organizations that lack resources. In addition to the book drive, the students created campaign called S.P.A.R.K. (Spread Passion and Reading Knowledge)and designed tee shirts to raise awareness and money for schools in need. In designing the project my student stated, “We chose this project because we believe that books are a key learning tool and also to spread our love of learning. We both value our education and the opportunities we have.  We want to spread our passion for reading and learning to others.  We decided the best way to “ignite their spark” was to motivate them by giving them books.”

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Click here to purchase a t-shirt and support Give More HUGS.

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Igniting #Genius, #Creativity, & #Passion Based Learning In the Classroom

This is my second year that I have incorporated Genius Hour into my middle school English classroom. Every Friday is dedicated to my students’ passion projects. This semester we embark on a Genius Hour project where students must build it, create it, or do something. To spark creativity, build community, and get students excited about genius hour students participate in a variety of STEM based challenges every other month. My students love these challenges and it is always fun to watch their creative thinking and problem solving skills unfold. Here are some of the STEM challenges that my students have completed so far this year.

1. Spaghetti Tower Challenge – Each group gets 20 pieces of raw spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and a marshmallow. Students are to build the highest, free standing structure that holds the marshmallow on the top of the tower.

2. Save Fred Challenge – Fred has been spending his summer boating on the great lakes.  However, he’s not too bright (Fred is a gummy worm).  He’s never learned how to swim, and he never wears his life preserver.  The worst has happened!  His boat has capsized and he’s stuck!  Fortunately, his life preserver is in the boat, but unfortunately he does not know how to reach it without falling off and drowning. Using a plastic cup to represent the boat and a gummy life saver to represent the life preserver, students must save Fred using only 4 paper clips.  Students may not touch Fred, the boat, or the life preserver directly with their hands.

3. Sink or Swim Challenge – Students create a boat using tin foil that will hold as many pennies as possible. The boat should float in the water with the pennies and not sink.

4. House Challenge – Students build a house using nothing but 2 sheets of paper, 2 band aids, two paperclips, and two sticks of gum.

Want to know more about Genius Hour?

Mark Your Calendars for Sunday 2/22 #ISTELitChat talking #geniushour with @joykirr 8:30 PM EST 

The awesome Joy Kirr, teacher and My Own Genius Hour blogger,  will be a guest facilitator discussing all things Genius Hour and Passion Projects. Joy facilitates #genius chats on Twitter and blogs extensively about igniting passion in the classroom. She has a wealth of resources regarding genius hour and we hope that you will join us for this twitter chat.

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#GeniusHour Awesomeness

Every Friday in my classroom is Genius Hour. Students are given the entire period to work on a passion project of their choice. The only catch this year, I required that the projects have to impact the community in a positive way. By community, I mean the larger world, our country, our state, our city, our school, our neighborhood. Students decided on who their community audience was and spent twenty weeks working on their project. The results are amazing! I am so impressed by the great projects that were presented. Students created websites, blogs, made videos, raised money to help animals and people. It is awesome to see the results of their hard work this semester. I have posted their videos below, after the project requirement description.

Students had three options in which to present their project, no power points allowed!

Option 1. Whiteboard Animation Video
Set up something with a camera so it won’t move (on a tripod or otherwise). Aim it at a whiteboard or chalkboard. Record and start drawing. Use video editing tools to speed it up to four times its normal speed and add a voiceover (and music?).

Option 2. TED Talk
TED is a group devoted to spreading ideas. Their national conferences and regional TEDx events are famous for offering short, powerful talks and posting them online. Present your own TED style talk, video it, and post online. The TED Talk should be informative, engaging, and inspiring.

Option 3. Prezi Screencast
Create a prezi presentation and then screencast an audio presentation talking through the major points of your Genius Hour project. THIS DOES NOT MEAN FOR YOU TO READ THROUGH YOUR SLIDES. Rather, offer additional information to support the images and text included in your prezi presentation. Use free screencasting sites like Screencast-o-Matic and Screenr.
No matter which project presentation options students selected, the presentation was required to include:
1. Details about the topic. What did the student learn? What new discoveries were made? Where did they find their information? Include text and pictures.

2. How did the project benefit the community? Did the student raise money, educate, bring awareness? How did the student help change the world.?

3. What next? Where are you going to go from here? What could you still do? What would you have done differently?

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