Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Genius Hour - how it's working.

This summer I participated in a MOOC on Genius Hour, what this is, the benefits of 2 Percent Time and how to incorporate it in your classroom.  I learned so much, and the support for trying this ingenious idea was tremendous.  Basically, the premise is this 20 Percent Time worked so well for Google, other corporations tried it with success, and this premise was brought forward to students.  The idea is that students choose what they want to learn every Friday.  They come up with a plan of what they want to do (project based learning, planning skills, task making, etc), go forward with it (lifetime learning skills to find what information they need and verify that the information is valid), and then present their findings to an audience (learning justifying their opinions, presentational skills, etc).  To understand the success of this means of learning see the video below.

There have been many resources that are great, one particular great site is the Genius Hour Wiki by Gallit Zvi (@gallit_z), Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs) and Joy Kirr (@JoyKir).  The second resource that you need to live by is also by Joy Kirr, her livebinder on Genius Hour.  But doing the MOOC was excellent in gathering up a number of ideas and resources from everyone.  One particularily good resource was a video online that was made to show presentations of genius hour.  They do not show the entire presentations, what is more powerful is how many students stated that their projects failed, but they still learned from their projects.  This is the  genius hour videos to students can see that it's the learning process that's more important than the final results.

So what did I do?  I created a sequential course for my students to follow, with all learning resources that I want to use  (thanks to many others that have started the process and share online) -  click here.  The first videos really motivated the students - "Try it for 30 days" - to start their work, but even better, was ideas started pouring in quickly. The proposals for genius hour have started to develop, we're working through that process as I write.  And I thought I would start to share a few their ideas and answering specific questions that need to be discussed in a later blog.  

This will be my journey of learning with my students, to reflect on what my genius hour will be like, what I need to learn, and what I'll be changing when some things don't work. 

As I told my students, it's not failure if you learn from your mistakes.

Writing a paperless newspaper using Blogger and

We use to create a student newspaper once a semester, but the cost of coloured ink was extraordinary, and setting up the newspaper in InDesign was basically done by the teacher supervising, not the students. So when I had a couple of students asking if they could do a newspaper last year I said sure but lets make some changes.

First, I wanted it to be electronic, so there would not be so much paper wasted.  I considered PDF files to load on our school site, but the first year we tried this there were a few problems with space and uploading so I gave up that idea.

We started out with 15 students participating, then went down to four at the end of the term, probably due in part to the need for students to write at least an article every 2 week. The students were not very motivated to write because of no "instant gratification"; when they published I or another teacher (an english teacher as you can well imagine why with the way I have written this blog) needed to make certain that what was written was appropriate for representation of our school, as well as was written with proper english skills.  This slowed down the publishing of the paper, and squashed the instant motivation of seeing your articles in a paper.  Another problem.

In the end we have published only 2 papers that year and the newspaper club retired.

Last year we tried twitter and blogger accounts.I had asked students to set up blogger accounts so I could connect with them using a blog roll to verify their work. This made it easy for commenting on their pages for any changes needed.   Each student had a twitter account and we communicated that way as well.  We had students copying and pasting blog entries to make a paper using InDesign (I taught two students how to use the program), and then we saved it as a PDF for the web site.  As I stated previously there were some problems and a few things learned along the way.  But blogging and twitter worked great when we used for our publishing.  

This year another group of students came asking if they could do a school newspaper and once more I said "OK, but here's what we learned last time..."    So this year we started with blogging right away and using immediately. has many advantages and disadvantages.  

  • free
  • does the publishing for you when you set it up.
  • Can have people following through emails.
  • You can get videos in it.
  • The Editor in Chief (a student) sets up the account and controls it.
  • Sometimes you have trouble with publishing the paper if you have a template that is dynamic.
  • The paper gets published and then you verify it, so you need to quickly check all material and then tweet it out.
This year we use and the publication is automatic.  We're into our third paper (with the free version the paper is published once a week) and so far we've had 4 - 8 articles a paper.  Reporting is exceptional, and I'm quite pleased with the start up.  

We have an editor in chief (a student) who motivates the troops, ask them to cover certain areas of what is happening, encourages others to come up with ideas, and even though we are working through some pumps ( will not grab the rss feed of some of the fancier template blogs), the students are not discourages, and it's beginning to be tweeted out to the world as well as our school.

There are still things to do, still some problems to work out, but really, as in anything new, we're working through them one at a time.

This paper is written by students in our school.  Please check it out and leave a comment if you like.  Spelling mistakes are being taken care of ;)