Sunday, June 26, 2016

Genius Hour: What I learned this year!

Genius Hour. Passion Projects. 20% Projects. All of these names are different, but the soul of each name is allowing students to dive in deep about one of their passions and let them FLY. If you are not familiar with the idea it is based off of Google’s 20% rule. They give their workers 20% of their work time to work on a project that they are passionate about as long as it is connected to Google in someway. For example GMAIL came from a 20% project. Over the past few years Genius Hour has become part of classrooms all over the world!

I have done some sort of Genius Hour project in my classroom since I started teaching back in the 90’s. I worked in Mexico for my first 10 years of teaching and we used the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM). SEM provides opportunities for students to explore their interests in topics through Type 2 and Type 3 projects. If a student was interested in a topic he/she would work in the Center of Excellence (COE) room with the Gifted teacher. We strongly believed that ALL kids showed giftedness in different areas at different times. So the COE was a revolving door of sorts. Kids would work on projects for a few weeks and then a new group would come in.  I love so many aspects of using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. I especially LOVED the training we received from Dr. Renzulli and Dr. Reis from The University of Connecticut.  If you ever want to attend a tremendous training on differentiation, curriculum compacting, passion projects, creativity attend CONFRATUTE! It is worth every single penny!

The difference between our Type 3 projects from long ago to Genius Hour now is that we are ALL working on a project in our classroom. I love this inclusion piece. I love how we all help each other. I love when a student is researching for his own project and he runs across something for someone else’s project and is SO EXCITED TO SHARE. I love how we celebrate all of the stages of a Genius Hour project for every student.

I have learned so much about my students through Genius Hour this year. Genius Hour is always popular in my class, but this year it just exploded of happiness and rigor! I have been reflecting on what made this year different and am excited to share with you what I have learned.

In the book “Kids Deserve It!” by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome they talk a lot about finding your tribe. I sometimes feel lonely in my work. I tend to do things a bit differently and don’t always know whom to talk with to reflect on how things are going. This year I started using Twitter and Voxer on a daily basis. This has provided a tremendous support for me. When I came across a situation with Genius Hour I could tweet out to #GeniusHour to ask for some help problem solving. Or I could Vox with some teachers who use Genius Hour. I think I thought I needed to figure things out on my own, but have found this year that having a tribe is SO MUCH better.
I love the book “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude.” This quote has been my guide for a long time, but I hadn’t realized how much it relates to Genius Hour until this year. Giving students a CHOICE is an uncommon experience for them. Letting them choose their topic, how to present their learning, and where they want to present their learning are THREE different uncommon experiences for them in a school setting. It was a lot of work to schedule 23 different presentations, but it was worth all of the time and effort it took! We had students present in each classroom at our school. Students presented at the middle school and even at a senior citizen home in town.

“I do not need to be in control!” Let me repeat that again “I do not need to be in control!” This was my biggest lesson during Genius Hour this year. I do not need to make decisions for the students. I do not need to tell them how to present. I do not need to take over their project. By letting go of the control and letting the students choose what they wanted to learn about we had students engaged, students giving their best, students stepping out of their comfort zones, and the list goes on and on.

I learned so much about each of my students this Genius Hour round. I was able to have these great conversations with them about their passions and why they were interested in certain things. I was able to connect them with other adults in our community who have the same interests!  In "Kids Deserve It" the authors talked about relationships and how they need to be at the forefront of what you are doing EvERY DAY! Genius Hour provided that for me this year. It takes TIME, but it is so worth it. 

The presentations blew me away this year. I know I keep saying that, but they truly did. Just to give you a sample of what the students accomplished. I share this with you to show how DIFFERENT the presentations can be and how AWESOME that truly is! 
A student created a Japanese meal for his favorite teachers and his mom! 
A kiddo created his own bakery! He made up his own currency for kids to use. Baked cookies and brownies. Learned about giving change back. SO FULL OF CONFIDENCE!

Another student learned about gold and he taught first graders about different strokes! He had them all try them out! 

This sweet girl created her own cook book and COOKING SHOW! It was amazing!
Jakin's family is moving to Costa Rica this summer, so he spent his Genius Hour time learning Spanish! He then worked with a small group of 1st graders and taught them several words in Spanish. 

There are so many resources out there to help you with this process! 
The Genius Hour Handbook was just released last November and I read it in three hours! I LOVED it and it is chock full of resources, best thing is it was written by TWO TEACHERS! Also has a truckload of free resources for you to use! I would highly recommend jumping on Twitter and search for #GeniusHour as you will find tons of people ready to help you get started. Jen Rundee of Rundee's room has some wonderful support for Genius Hour on her blog!

Since I loop up to 5th grade in August I will get to be with my same kiddos! SO EXCITED! I have some new goals for Genius Hour time for this next year. 1) I want students to blog about what they are learning during the process 
2) I would like to see their presentations be in front of authentic audiences! I want people in the audience that are truly into what the student is talking about. For example if a student does a project on CrossFit then we will contact our local CrossFit Box to see if they can present there. 
3)Really want to spend more time with kiddos that are struggling with what to do. I don't want to rush them to pick something.

Have you used Genius Hour in your classroom? What was your learning? What are you struggling with? Share your comments below and let's help each other!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Year with Flexible Seating!

 “What she wanted was a classroom where students could move around freely, sit comfortably, and work together. The more she thought about it, the more she knew she wanted her classroom to have a similar feel as the children’s section in Barnes & Noble or a creative play space in a museum.” –Erin K, Teacher and Technology Expert

A couple of years ago I started seeing a lot of posts on Instagram about #FlexibleSeating or #AlternativeSeating. I was intrigued by the idea, so I started researching a bit more about it. I had a lot of questions, but I knew that my heart was sold on this idea right from the start.

Heavy Influences:
Edutopia: Learning Environments

Cult of Pedagogy

A Principal’s Perspective

Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller

The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George  Couros 

Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student  By: John Spencer and A J Juliani

My first year teaching, 20 years ago, I had my desks in rows, but that just never felt right to me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. My 9th grade students would turn their desks to form groups almost every day. It never occurred to me to leave the desks in a group setting.
I have come a long way from those cemetery rows in my classroom! The past few years I have used The Daily Five approach in my reading instruction and it has expanded to my math instruction as well.This allows for a lot of flexibility of where students sit and learn. Our main space “The Gathering Place” is a constant, but where students sit to read, write, and share does NOT have to be at a desk.

As I became more and more immersed in The Daily Five philosophy I realized how important student choice is. I also saw that by giving student’s choice I was getting back much more quality work and engagement. Kayla Deltzer (@TopDogTeaching) says “The more power I give up in our classroom. The more I get back.” #TRUTH

At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year I knew I wanted to dive into Flexible Seating options, but I also knew I wanted my students to be a big part of the process. We started the year with our desks in groups, but students ALWAYS had the option to sit where they wanted. We spent MUCH time at the beginning of the year creating expectations for the different options in our room. We used the approach of “What Does it look Like, What Does it Sound Like, and What does it Feel like” when I working in this space. 

We did this not only for spaces, but for ALL THINGS: Read to ME, Read to Someone, Technology, Math Centers, and the list goes on  and on. There was not a question about the expectations as we could refer to our charts we created at anytime. 

I tend to do most of my whole group teaching at The Gathering Place (no more than 15 minutes at a time) and then let the students head off to their individual work or group work. This is where it became so much fun! We talked a lot about how the whole purpose of this was to find the BEST PLACES for you to work. We talked a lot about how that could be different for different assignments. I  picked five students to track where they sat during the year and it was so interesting to watch.  One student ALWAYS sat a table/desk when she was doing math, but for writing she had ALWAYS had a clipboard, a blanket, and a pillow, and for reading you would ALWAYS find her in one of the comfy chairs. Whereas another student was all over the place for things and he did just fine!

This is the day we found out we got the grant! The kids went CRAZY! 

Remember that at this point I still had 22 desks in my classroom, but also let students be where they wanted to be when working. In October we found out that we received a grant from the McPherson Education Foundation for $1,300. The kids were JUMPING UP AND DOWN. We decided that we would do a SLOW process of #DitchingTheDesks. We took five out that first week and added in  four IKEA tables and some stools along with some more pillows, and bins.

Over the next few weeks we added in more options and took away desks. Please note that the students did NOT have to get rid of their desk. Remember this was ALL about having the BEST SPACE for learning for each child. I had three students who kept their desk during the school year. They didn’t always sit at their desk, but they liked having THEIR space.

By January all, but four desks where out of the room. We got more bookshelves for #ALLTHEBOOKS and also went back and forth on how to store our supplies. We purchased bins from Really Good Stuff that we loved at first,  but changed over to the 10-Drawer Carts from Sterlite by the end of the year. They seemed to work better for us. WE also used a Community Supply model for pencils, pens, markers, scissors, etc.

We did have a BIG challenge with the Fire Code! My classroom was written up in January for having to many flammable items such as blankets, pillows, furniture, and rugs. I was in a bit of a panic as I knew what I was doing was the BEST decision for my students, but I also needed to follow the  law.  We worked to find places to store our pillows and blankets  so that when we were not using them they would be in a cupboard. We got rid of a few chairs that we were not using very much. A few of my teaching colleagues helped me greatly with looking at different ways to organize things. The students helped as well. It was a total community effort. In the end it worked out, but I do have to admit there were some moments of panic!

I am teaching the same group of students again next year as I loop up to 5th grade with my kiddos. At the end of the year we did dream and discuss changes we wanted for the upcoming school year. We use the app SeeSaw A LOT so the students would like to have a recording booth of some sort.  Also they want to have an additional bungee chair (the most popular seating choice in our room). We wrote a Donor’s Choose grant from some wobble stools, I am really hoping to get them!  Students also wanted to be part of setting up the room from the beginning!

We will for sure have some new friends join us this next year, so we will need to do a good job of going over expectations and helping our new friends understand the reason WHY we have the different seating options. I think at the end of this NEXT year I will have students make movies about how to use the different seating options for my new group of students coming up! I love that idea from @mrvesco from #KSEdChat. 

I am looking forward to August 10th when students come in from summer break and help set up the classroom. I have a feeling it will be the easiest classroom set up yet! Can’t wait to see what they decide and how our classroom changes throughout the year!

I am SO GLAD I took the risk to try this. I am a better teacher because of this. I think about my students FIRST now, I use to think I did that, but now I know that I do. I have learned so much more about teamwork in the classroom and how to create a culture of learners and team players. I love watching the creativity of the kids just blossom because they are not confined to a desk. I can't wait to see what happens next year!

Have you jumped into Flexible Seating? What have you learned? What has been the best learning for you in this process? Share in the comments below! Let’s help each other!