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.
Once the children had a plan we quickly realized that organization of materials was going to be of paramount concern. We needed a place to store individual and group project materials such as wool, lego, science equipment, papers ... in inexpensive, readily accessible containers. Ikea provided the perfect solution- The GLES box. A plastic, stacking container that costs only $1.75. We quickly bought 30 of them and labeled them with student names. They store easily in our classrooms and help to keep students organized :)
An issue that we wrestled with was how to keep the student's voice and choice and a constructivist model while still ensuring that students were using their time wisely. We decided to have a planning page that helped the children plan, focus on competencies and enable them to reflect on their learning. We have the 4 C's posted in our room so the children are familiar with the language and know that they are an important part of any project. The star box is for any aha moments that come up in their work. The reflection piece is based on a coaching model that we use at our school for students and staff from the Roy Group http://www.roygroup.net. So far the form has worked well for some students and not so well for others. We quickly realized that students wouldn't take the time to do this on their own so built in a 5 min reflection and next steps time into each Genius Hour. Since we only meet once a week it is important for students to plan their next steps and make arrangements to bring in needed materials. Some of our teachers feel that it is too constricting for some groups that don't seem to need the support and have chosen not to use it, but overall I think it helps the students to keep a focus.
Our next lesson began by showing the video 'Obvious to you. Amazing to others' by Derek Sivers. The message being that we often judge our own ideas harshly but not holding back and sharing your ideas can result in valuable inspiration.
Students were then divided into groups and set off with their mentor teacher to flush out their passion project. As a group, we had toyed with the idea of being completely constructivist in nature and letting students naturally discover their projects, but again due to our space and materials limitations we decided that students would need a little scaffolding to help them prepare for the next lesson. We provided each student with a planning form to fill in.
Not surprisingly, some students knew exactly what they wanted to study and eagerly filled in the form, while others had trouble coming up with an idea. I had read from my research that an open ended model of learning can result in a flip in achievement. Top students in a traditional setting often struggle with the vastness and unpredictability of a passion project while students who might resist pen and paper learning thrive on exploring their own ideas. We certainly saw this phenomenon in our setting. Some of our students were paralyzed by the idea that there was no 'right' answer and that there was a very real potential of failure as part of the learning process. Other students, eagerly embraced the notion of free choice and came up with much better ideas than we could have provided them with. I was left wondering how can we as teachers inspire all our students- serious and playful-to take risks in their learning?
“Constructionism is not interested in pitting serious against playful, but instead finds ways to live at the intersection of the two” - Paulo Blikstein (2015)
Now that we had all these amazing ideas we sat down as a team and looked for patterns or natural groupings that we could make. Ideally, in a maker space setting, students would independently choose their topics based on available materials but due to necessity we are starting with ideas first and bringing in materials later to support student learning. Having six teachers allowed us to group students into the following groups:
We also had a parent information evening where the classroom teachers presented the idea of 'genius hour' to the parents and handed out the letter below:
The challenge of trying to create a Reggio inspired makerspace in an individual classroom necessitated a few adaptations. While trying to stay true to the constructivist/constructionist philosophies of the Reggio Emilia approach and the Maker movement, it was necessary to create a framework that best utilized our existing facilities, staffing and student population. I was very lucky to have the support of our school librarian, technology integrator, program specialist, grade 3 teaching partner and our classroom assistant (Yes, I know that I'm incredibly lucky!) We met to discuss our launch and decided to use a Genius Hour model as a starting point. In order to inspire the students to think creatively we began with "A Pep Talk from Kid President to You" video clip. The kids loved it!
Our next step, now that we had students riveted and excited, was to introduce the idea of Genius Hour. We began by asking the children "What is a genius?" "What does a genius do?" The responses were more than we expected. Students thought that a genius was:
I am continually amazed by the depth of response that young children will give when you take the time to discuss and analyze an idea rather than simply telling them the answer.
At the very beginning.....
Currently in British Columbia, Canada we are undergoing a huge shift in our educational curriculum away from rigid, outcomes based learning to a more fluid, big ideas, core competency based approach. Personalizing education for our students has become a priority in our province and has wide-spread implications for teachers at all grade levels. While conducting my research for my literature review I found myself constantly examining and reflecting on my own practice and grade 3 classroom environment. The papers I read, and schools I studied were so inspirational that I wanted to immediately implement changes. Creating a Reggio inspired makerspace in my own school is my ultimate goal. However, constraints such as lack of space and timetabling issues immediately became apparent. We do not have any extra classroom space in my current school and while the administration are very forward thinking, the value in creating an innovative makerspace is still a new idea.I immediately saw that I would need to start small and gradually build up to my grand vision of a K-5 innovation space that incorporates aspects of both the Reggio Emilia approach and the Maker philosophy. I began looking for a way to bring a focus on the 21st century competencies through constructivist/constructionist experiences within my own classroom to my students on a regular basis. I was also conscious of the fact that as a university prep school, many parents in my school still need to be reassured about the value of ‘play’ and tinkering in higher level grades. I stumbled upon the ‘Genius Hour’ idea- time set aside in class for students to inquire into a personal passion or an area of interest. It originated from a work practice developed at search-engine giant, Google. Google allows its engineers to spend 20% of their time to working on a pet project of their choosing. The idea is very simple; allow people to work on something that interests them, and productivity increases. I began to see that a Genius Hour could be the perfect vehicle to introduce a modified Reggio-inspired makerspace. Within a Genius Hour model students take ownership of their own learning and develop knowledge through a passion project that they are intrinsically interested in and are in charge of designing and modifying. Genius Hour is designed to spark curiosity and engage students in design thinking- through questioning, planning, creating and improving. I immediately saw parallels between the constructivist Reggio inspired approach that encourages the joy of learning and the constructivist maker movement that provides opportunities for learners to tinker, experiment, iterate and collaborate in a personalized context. I approached my administration over the summer about piloting a program with my teaching partner in grade 3 that would draw upon the resources of our school technology integrator, program specialist and librarian to provide a consistent time for students to explore their passions.