Sunday, September 18, 2016

Genius Hour Is Back for the New Year!

After two successful years of cool Genius Hour projects, I let a lot of factors drag me down last year. Sadly, I was never able to get any sort of Genius Hour off the ground. This year, I've returned to being way more active about building a positive, love-based culture in my classroom, and making Genius Hour a priority in that culture is important to me.

On Wednesday, we spent some time thinking about what we care about to kick-start our personal passion projects for the year. Some of my students had done Genius Hour in previous classes. When they saw it on our day's agenda, some were excited. One boy told me he wasn't sure what his project would be, and already had anxiety over it. At this point, I was Captain "Slow Down!" I don't want you even thinking about projects yet, I told them. My big worry if kids are starting with a project is that they'll get bogged down with ideas of what's possible, what's doable, and what's "easy enough" or "too hard." 

We sat down, I told them that I wanted them to sit quietly on the floor for a few minutes. "While you're here," I told them, "I want you to think about the things that totally make you come alive, (don't shout it out!), the things get you so charged that you shut out the world when you thinking about/seeing/learning about them.*" I waited a minute and it was the quietest moment of the week. "Once you've found something, and thought about your feelings for a while, please go to your seat and write or draw on the first page of your Genius Hour notebook about the thing that excites you." A few kids got up. It wasn't a mad rush like it usually is in a third grade classroom. It was still quiet. Kids slowly migrated to their seats. Occasionally, someone piped up with a, "Can I....?" to which the answer was always, "Yes!"

When we reassembled on the carpet, the sharing was a lot of fun, and showed a range of thinking styles. Some of the kids talked about ideas, some of them talked about things, and some talked about people. I don't even want to begin talking about work yet, but you could see the zygotes of some projects already forming. Three moments really stood out to me. The first was a boy who said that Lego excites him. I've had that before, but when he broke down the reasons why Lego is important to him, it was clear that the statement, "Lego excites me," was a thesis that he'd written an alternative paper on, full to the brim with diagrams and support. The second moment was personal, and me putting it down here is absolutely self serving. My shyest girl, the one who I'm always afraid that I'll break her because my outward personality is so big in class, and hers seems so delicate, wrote a list of things that give her life. The third thing was, "and more than anything, my teacher makes me feel alive and excited, my class, too." That bowled me over for a moment, and reminded me how important the trust she's placed in me is. The final one that stuck with me was a sweet, friendly boy who clearly lacks confidence in his voice. He said he didn't want to read it, he was too embarrassed. I asked if I could look at it. He handed it to me, and I was in love. It was too good, I asked if I could please read it. He squirmed, I said, "K, this is too good, can I please read the first sentence? Can I summarize it?" He finally agreed, and I told the kids that he wanted to help schools and kids that don't have as much as ours does. One of the girls gasped and said, "Oh my gosh!" in a tone that put it perfectly, as if to say how can you be shy about such a nice thing? He still was a bit sheepish, but he's gonna come around. A heart that big needs to be fed and encouraged. It's exactly what we need. 

I can't wait to see what the kids learn as they explore ideas, as they learn. I can't wait to see what projects they do. I'm so excited to not only water their gardens, but to show them how to water their own gardens of love and excitement for learning this year.

I modified this introduction from Angela Maiers' fantastic book, Liberating Genius. You could use this book as a fantastic road map if you've never (or never successfully) done Genius Hour with your students. While I don't need it for that, I'll definitely keep it in the glove box as a guidebook.  

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