Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Lessons Learned II: Genius Hour/Time After One Trimester

Let's start with the obvious, Genius Time (Google 20% Time in the Classroom) is a success.  The goals of engaging a bright, high energy class and keeping them going when their projects hit a rough patch has been reached, but not without some anxious moments by students and myself. The key has been to coach everyone at both the class and individual level.  Regular reminders to all that nothing worthy is ever easy, and real world examples of people that have overcome adversity in two minute stories re-energizes the students.

Recognize the technology limitations-
Several of the students wanted to create "Apps", and had found websites that offered easy creation tools.  However, an overwhelming majority didn't support iPads.  Secondly, some were fee-based, while others wanted too much student information.  

A few students had ideas for creating a knowledge library (for example, scientific animal groupings) using some type of presentation app.  The problem is that multiple classes use the iPads and the students wanted secrecy.  Secondly, Google Docs presentation app doesn't yet work on iPads thus forcing the kids to use Keynote, which fine but most do not have Keynote at home, thus once the file is saved as a PowerPoint file it can't be saved back into Keynote. Most students shifted into writing everything into a simple document, with assembly into a slideshow only when research is completed.

Overcoming the "This is too tough" mentality-
Sadly, a few students either by internal or external reasons have never completed a project truly on their own at any level.  Because of this, they have developed a quick try then abandon mentality.  These few students require my time every day, keeping them focused on the single step in front of them, the big picture is too overwhelming.  After two weeks I had them go back through each day's work.  For the first time some were able to see what they and they alone had created.  

Eliminating the Scam Artists-
A small grouping of mostly boys in each class quickly tried to game the system by shifting into an idea that required the least amount of work with the highest level of entertainment. They discovered that "GarageBand" fit their plan perfectly.  They could create something musical with little effort.  After a few weeks of individual regular conferences I set into place a GarageBand requirement that all music creation required lyrics.  Next year, I'm leaning toward GarageBand being available only to those students as add-on instrumentation but only after a piece has been created using a traditional instrument.

Facilitator Organization-
Even though the Social Studies class is virtually paperless, after a month I realized that physical documentation was critical.  For each student I created a facilitator/conference sheet where I take notes and student initials.  All 48 are kept in a binder for easy, organized access.  The students know that what they said is followed up on, it's a cross between the flexibility of ownership and following one's plan.

Final Thoughts-
Overall, the 20 minute a day Genius Time has gone about as well as I could have honestly expected.  The students are engaged and enthusiastic, to the point that the most popular question I get asked at the beginning of class is, Will there be Genius Time today?  There have been a few mushroom clouds along the way including an update to the iPads that wiped out a couple of unsaved/backed up projects.  But, in value to the students it's been a positive and worthwhile learning experience so far.