My journey into makerspaces and genius hour has been full of ups and downs. There is no clear path and much of it, while based in educational theory that I firmly believe in, is often based on gut feelings. I just know when magic is happening in my classroom. It feels right. It sounds right. Students are engaged, in charge and having fun. I have these moments often during open-ended, student-initiated activities so I know that I am on to a good thing. I surround myself online with people who inspire me daily with stories of innovation and making. I also firmly agree with Sir Ken Robinson that creativity is as important as literacy. Our students will need to be creative in the jobs of the future. They will need to take charge of their learning and not just wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. The research is there to back up these claims, and our curriculum is changing to highlight this need.
So if this all feels so right, why is it still so hard to convince some people that magic happens when you let go. I recently had a conversation that left me saddened and acutely aware of the gulf that still exists in our schools. Really good teachers, who care deeply about their students are still not convinced that having a makerspace or genius hour is important. I hear over and over again that there is not enough time to cover the existing curriculum without adding anything else to it. Or teachers worry about how to assess the time, how to make sure that every student is doing what they are supposed to. They say that keeping a room solely for creative, student-centered projects is a luxury that we can't afford. We need space for break out instruction, we need a space for recording, we need space for testing....
I feel the frustrations that space constraints put on a school. I understand that it is hard to see a room empty when there are so many needs. However, I also know that if we are to shift to a model that puts the student in the driver's seat, we need to provide space for that idea to take root and grow. If we really want to honor the idea that a maker space is different than a regular classroom and want to keep the excitement and enthusiasm of the students alive we need to honor the principles that set it apart from other instruction times. Below are the guiding principles that we have come up with for our iLab. I firmly believe in them and keep coming back to them. I reread them when I am challenged, just to check that they are still valid. I still believe.
I am often asked what kinds of projects do the students engage in during Genius hour. I asked the children to brainstorm all the things that they had tried this year. This list should give you an idea of the range, the imagination and the amazing creativity of this group!
What I did for Genius Hour… (2015-16)
* I learned how to knit and crochet, and I studied trains – Aaron G.
* I studied bunnies, Flip for Gold, 3D Printing, and created a candy machine – Tilly G.
* I learned 3D Printing, how to code, how to drive Ollie, and I studied chicks and chickens – Emily K.
* I studied programming and coded the roamer, I also built a ramp for a supercar and created a google slideshow on supercars– Harry R.
* I learned about Havanese dogs, I learned how to sew, I made a ball maze, and I would like to learn how to make a candy machine over the summer – Caitlin K.
* I built a Lego ninja training structure, cardboard structure, interviewed a running expert and wrote tips on running – Owen S.
* I did a slide show about dogs in hot cars, I tried Ollie, a science experiment, and I made a Lego candy machine – Chelsea L.
* I made a Lego base, a slide show, and a candy machine –
* I did 3D Printing, experimented with electronics and built with lego – Dheen T.
* I learned how to code, I made roamer do a job, and I did experiments about air – Avery G.
* I learned about tree frogs, how to code, how to knit – Deristhi G.
* I made a Google Slide show and created a lego model of my dream soccer team– Seb. T
* I made a model magic scene, I did 3D Printing, and I studied chickens – Willow T.
* I studied Claymation using model magic, I used Roamer and Ollie -
* I did a Google Draw presentation, learned about cats – Julian G.
* I did coding, 3D printing, and now I am studying super cars –
* I did two Roamer projects and learned how to code it to draw a house – Will C.
* I used Roamer and I created a tennis stadium out of cardboard– Will P.
* I did two knitting projects and a presentation about the moon – Caitlyn M.
* I did a presentation about Teslas and learned how to crochet– Liam M.
* I did a project on the SPCA and I used Ollie – Bianca T.
* I built a Lego house, used Ollie, and tried whittling – Elliot M.
* I made a model of the US Open using cardboard and created a board game – Cooper M.
* I wrote my Cowboy Story, created a marble run, and built a lego castle – Maia H.
* I did a project on cars – Rupert H.
* I used Ollie, Sphero, and 3D Printing – Roshan P.
* I did 3D printing and I built a Lego sub – Connor K.
* I did a coding and Roamer project, a knitting project, a project on the moon and a “how many can it hold?” project – Julia R.
* I worked on a project using Roamer, I made a Sphero ramp, and I made Ollie jump – Markus D.
* I worked on a project about cars and remote control cars – Jack D.
* I did a stop motion video, a photography project, Lego pictures, a ball maze, and a “Spot the Strange Things” game – Anna P.
* I did a sewing project and a 3D Printing - Avli
We surveyed our Grade 3 students at the end of the year to find out their thoughts on Genius Hour and what it meant to them.
Genius Hour is........
* A perfect combination between work and play –
* A fun time to do whatever you want –
* A time to channel your inner genius –
* A time when you can learn and have fun –
* When you can pick a project and make a masterpiece –
* A good time to do anything on your mind –
* A time when there is no competition –
* A time when you can do anything you want, from researching to making a game –
* A time to choose what your passion is –
* An awesome time to work but have fun –
* A time to express what you feel –
* An hour when you can be creative –
* Somewhere you can follow your passion –
* A great thing to do with my time –
* A time that is fun and you can learn new things –
* A place where you learn new things – Avli B.
* To work and create at the same time –
* To make anything you want at your own pace –
* A fun way to learn –
* Essential -
* Really neat because you follow you heart –
* A way to do something yourself and learn –
* It is awesome because you follow your passion –
* It’s a way to follow your dream –
* You learn new things and do what you like –
* It’s a fun way to expand your mind –
* It’s a way to have fun and learn something new at the same time –
* You get to try new things that you never tried before –
* It is amazing and a great way to play –
* It’s a way to learn a lot of stuff in a fun way –
* I learn and have fun at the same time –
* A time to learn about anything you want –
* A time when you can learn new things –
* It is an hour when you can experiment –
* It helped me learn to be inspired by things. I loved making candy machines and teaching my friends how to make them –
* We got to learn what we wanted. You learn more when you do what you want –
* It’s a valuable time because you get inspired and get to do a passion project –
* It’s an hour when you get to discover how to do some things by yourself –
* I loved genius hour because it is a fun time to express your passion and be inspired –
* It is cool because you can follow your passion –
* I love Genius Hour because it gives you freedom. It is a friendly environment and you can do whatever you want. It helps me learn better. –
* It is fun and it helps me learn –
* It is an hour of play and learning –
* It is fun because you can do whatever you want –
* I learned that you can do anything anywhere, anytime –
* You can follow your passion and I like that because you can experience different things-
Our Genius Hour has now been in place since September of this year. It is amazing to see how far our students have come in terms of guiding their own learning. At the beginning of the year, students were often unsure of how to proceed and would often ask "what do you want me to do?". We resisted the urge to take over and they have now learned that we will not swoop in and provide answers for them. They have had to struggle, problem solve and be creative in order to figure out a passion worth exploring. As teachers, we have also evolved along our journey. At first, we were concerned about having students document their progress after each hour to ensure that they stayed on track. We soon realized that the form filling often sucked the joy out of the process and was being dutifully filled in to serve our needs, but was doing little to inspire, and motivate our students. In fact, students who are passionate about their topic of study are self-motivated and require little direction once they are fully engaged in a topic. We still reference the 4'cs of Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Communication but have woven them into our conversations and final presentations. Our students have surprised us with their enthusiasm and wide range of interests and delighted us with their desire to share their learning with peers. The projects are personalized and completely open-ended- there are no time lines, no must do's, no teacher direction. The only thing that we require is that students must share with each other once they feel that their project is complete. The sharing aspect is a truly remarkable part of the process. Students stand before their peers and teach them what they have learned, discovered and experimented with. The audience asks questions and is in turn motivated by the ideas presented. A line we often hear now in our presentations is "I was inspired by hearing ... to do this project." Isn't that what true learning is all about?
Please see the images below for some of our latest Gr. 3 projects.
I have been listening for a while to a growing number of teachers who, when discussing ‘Genius Hour’, express that they feel uncomfortable with using the word ‘genius’ in a school setting. They believe that labeling students as ‘geniuses’ puts an undue pressure on them and a ‘genius hour’ could be misconstrued as ‘time for the smart kids’ rather than an educational initiative available to all learners. After conducting a genius hour in my classroom for the last several months, I must politely disagree. Genius hour is all about taking back the definition of a genius. Why is the term ‘genius’ now synonymous with ‘geek’ and ‘gifted’. Ask someone to draw a genius and you will probably get a bespectacled older man or a pimply-faced teenaged boy sitting in front of a computer. Why has our definition of a genius become so narrow over time?
If you go back in history and delve into the lives of celebrated geniuses such as Einstein, Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven…… What you find are highly curious individuals who loved to experiment and often failed. They looked at the world through a different lens and didn’t worry about conforming to societal norms. They broke new ground with discoveries, inventions or works of art. They noticed things that other people thought were irrelevant.
While studying different aspects of life, one thing that all geniuses have in common is the abundance of creative intelligence. While geniuses tend to be exceptionally intelligent, they also use imagination and creativity to invent, discover or create something new. They break new ground rather than simply remembering or reciting existing information. This link between creativity and genius is the reason that we must keep the genius in ‘Genius Hour’.
Children need to understand that a genius isn’t just born, but developed over time. They need to learn that intelligence comes in many forms. Howard Gardner spoke of the theory of multiple intelligences where he including Linguistic, Logical-mathematic, Musical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Spatial, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal intelligences.
Giving students opportunities to experiment, tinker, collaborate, communicate and think critically about topics that interest them is crucial to developing creativity. We know from George Land’s research on creativity that non-creative behavior is learned-unfortunately often at school. In land’s study, 5 year olds scored 98% on a creativity test designed for NASA while 10 year olds scored 30%, 15 year olds scored 12% and adults scored a dismal 2% on the same test.
We also know from other studies that creativity can be increased given the right circumstances. We can learn to be creative by experimenting, exploring, questioning assumptions, using imagination and synthesizing information. Research has shown that in creativity, quantity equals quality. The longer the list of ideas, the higher the quality the final solution. Quite often, the highest quality ideas appear at the end of the list.
Children need to be given opportunities to develop their creativity, to play with crazy ideas and to contemplate what ifs. By implementing a Genius Hour in our classrooms, students learn to appreciate and cultivate original ideas and come to understand that a genius could be the little girl with the ponytail researching a 5,000 year old mummy, the gregarious boys trying to program a Sphero, the soft-spoken and shy student building a skyscraper out of Lego, or the curly haired girl wanting to learn about 3D printing.
The genius in Genius Hour is that we are breaking open stereotypes as to what constitutes brilliance and encouraging all our students to develop a growth mindset. If children believe they can be geniuses, and can open their minds to the possibility, to try things and fail, to persevere in the face of challenges, then their future is only constrained by the beauty of their dreams. Genius Hour provides the space and time for these dreams to flourish.
As Albert Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
As we continue our weekly genius hour times we have noticed that many of the children are running into challenging situations and are walking away from challenges rather than embracing them as a necessary part of learning. We showed the film below to demonstrate the power of believing in yourself (even when others don't) and to highlight what can be accomplished with hard work, collaboration and a lot of creativity.
Our Genius Hour is off and running. We have been amazed by the variety of projects being undertaken. Some project examples include:
Learning how to knit
Learning to control a Sphero robot
Creating a roller coaster out of Lego
Creating a claymation movie
An experiment demonstrating how you can make air visible
Researching haunted places
Creating a police station out of Lego
Learning how to code
Creating a ninja training course out of lego
Designing a maze for a remote control robot
Creating training manual to teach people how to fly a remote control helicopter
Designing an aerodynamic submarine out of Lego
Creating a Mars colony out of Lego
Writing a play
Researching the SPCA
Learning about famous soccer players and their moves
Some of the deepest learning has occurred around the planning and execution of the ideas. We are focussing on the four competencies of Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking and Creativity. At the beginning of Genius Hour students are asked to plan a focus for the day and explore their idea. At the end of our time they are asked to reflect on what went well, what was tricky and any next steps that they need to prepare for. Failure and frustration are valued as important aspects of learning. It is very difficult to come up with your own passion project and plan out what you want to learn. Many students have found that their projects were too large in scope or too difficult to implement. We value these moments as crucial understandings. Innovative thinking and exploration requires students to take risks and be resilient in the face of difficulties. Learning to revamp or retool an idea is key to an innovative mindset. We are hoping that through questioning, experimenting and reflecting on their projects students are learning crucial life lessons. So don't worry if a child mentions that they have changed ideas or now have new partners. Allowing children that flexibility to change directions, go off the beaten path and learn from each other is crucial to developing independence and creativity. In this experience the journey is much more important than the destination.