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In response to an email I received from alert reader Tamara Gonzalez at the Baldwin School of Puerto Rico, I’ve been reflecting on the Genius Hour projects my students have completed over the past decade. Today’s post outlines how I structured Genius Hour to maximize student learning, facilitate meaningful feedback during the creative process, and minimize the stress of overseeing several dozen individual projects simultaneously.
My first attempt at a Genius Hour-like project was for the AP Physics and grade 9 general science classes I taught at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) in DRC. I’ve also run a Genius Hour for my MYP science students in grades 8, 9, and 10 here in Tanzania. In all of these classes, I’ve had the luxury of teaching in 85- or 90-minute blocks meeting on average 3 times per week. In general, students have had at least one full 9-week term to complete the project so that students complete four Genius Hour projects over the course of a school year. A couple of times my team and I elected to give students more time, so that they completed 2 or 3 projects during the year.
I ran 2 Genius Hours with the AP physics class: a projectile motion project in the 1st semester and a Rube Goldberg project during the 2nd semester. The objective of the projectile motion project was to design and build a trebuchet, catapult, or ballista capable of hitting a 1-m² target with a 1-kg projectile from a distance of 50m. I introduced each project at the start of the term with interim due dates every 2 weeks and a final due date in the last week of term. Students had “normal” lessons (notes, problem solving, lab practicals, quizzes and tests) in blocks 1 through 4, with every 5th block dedicated entirely to work on the Genius Hour project, when I’d conference individually with each student. The Rube Goldberg project had a similar structure, but the objective was to have 5 distinct steps from units other than those covered in the projectile motion project. In addition to the dedicated block every other week, students had access to my classroom every day after school so that they could work on their designs as needed. Students were also encouraged to work on their projects at home and film their work as evidence of progress.
For the MYP classes, I’ve made extensive use of Google Classroom and Drive to monitor students’ progress. I wrote and shared the Genius Hour task instruction sheet with view-only privileges. Then I created a color-coded organizational document, which I shared with the “make a copy for each student” option in Classroom. The organizational document is an easy-to-follow repository of information at all phases of the project, from brainstorm to publication, where the student completes formative tasks and records progress toward his or her final goal. Work is not lost or misplaced, and because it is a shared document, I can monitor each student’s progress and verify whether they’ve met interim deadlines.
I collaborated with our librarian so that my students were always in the library during that 5th block dedicated to Genius Hour. The first few library sessions incorporated her lessons on research, plagiarism, and citation skills, with students using my organizational document to keep notes and record progress toward their final product. During the GH-dedicated block, I opened every student’s organizational document and used it to guide a 3-minute individual conference about his or her project, during which I added comments to the document so that they’d have a written record of my feedback. This arrangement meant that every student received both verbal and written individualized feedback from me at least 4 or 5 times before the final product was submitted, and because of the commenting feature of Google Docs, they could ask questions at 1am if that’s when they were working on it.
Overall the quality and depth of student work was far superior to anything I’ve gotten via other projects or assignments, enough that Genius Hour has become a central feature of my teaching. The first time my team submitted student work for MYP moderation, our scores were moderated down because the projects weren’t all standard essays or research papers – we submitted videos and podcasts as well as traditional papers – but I view that more as a reflection on the IBO’s rigidity around moderation samples rather than on the quality of student learning. In subsequent years we figured out that it was best to only submit the essay/research paper products, and the moderation marks were fine.
That’s a bit of a rambling analysis, but it touches on most of the major questions I’ve had while discussing Genius Hour with other educators.
While doing some site maintenance today, I realized that I never actually published several of my class notes presentations, which doesn’t really mesh with my Knowledge is Power philosophy: “I believe that the free flow of information leads to informed decisions, which create an open and equitable society.” Therefore, I’m publishing every class presentation I’ve ever created. Whenever I discover one that hasn’t been shared, I’ll add it to the appropriate class and unit pages, as well as writing a brief post about the presentation here.
Today’s slides are from an 8th-grade astronomy unit that I developed a few years ago, focused on the MYP science concepts of relationships, movement, interactions, and patterns, I hope you find it useful.
I just stumbled across this Slideshare presentation by Stephen Taylor, and I think it’s a fantastic resource. He’s done all the research and written succinct explanations, so I won’t try to improve upon his work. There’s something in here for students and teachers of almost every discipline.
Thank you Mr Taylor!
Today is the last day of the term for my children and for many of my teaching colleagues and friends around the world. In honor of all the hard work this year, I simply wish to share with you two videos. The first is, in my opinion, one of the all-time-classic Christmas songs. The second is brand-new, and I think I listened to it 4 or 5 times in a row last night.
Have a great break everyone!
Today I’m sharing a collection of chemistry bookmarks, which I hope students and teachers of science may find useful. Some of them are specific to a particular unit of study, while others are more general in nature. There are definitely some duplicates here from my previous posts, so I apologize for the extraneous material, but it’s still good stuff. Today’s post focuses on general chemistry. You can find additional bookmarks in my earlier post, “Chemistry resources for students: part 1.”
- Khan Academy’s chemistry portal: A great and extensive resource for teachers wishing to flip their class as well as students wishing to expand their understanding.
- pTable.com: The best periodic table ever.
- General chemistry for students: A teacher’s website from Vancouver, BC (I think).
- Printable handouts for IB Chemistry: Mr Pham’s teacher page for IB Chem resources.
- Chemistry problem sets: Practice the mathematics of chemistry in a variety of topics.
- Off The Shelf Chemistry: A collection of lab experiments that can be done with basic ingredients found in your local supermarket or hardware store. Thanks Mr Farber!
- Mole ratios and stoichiometry: A basic but solid tutorial with sample problems.
- Chemistry videos from MIT: These 2-minute videos show how chemistry is used in the real world.
- Common lab equipment and procedures: A nice primer for middle school students.
- Practical chemistry resources: Nuffield Foundation’s collection of lab experiments and field investigations related to general chemistry topics.
- Flash animations for learning chemistry: Basic but very clear interactive animations.
- Atoms First eBook: iBook and eBook chapters on general chemistry.
- IB Chemistry revision notes: The title is fairly self-explanatory.
- Colourful Solutions: A collection of detailed chemistry animations and tutorials available on a paid subscription basis.
- 50 chemistry demonstrations: An old-school site, but worth a visit.
- Chemistry LibreTexts: UC-Davis’s extensive resource collection for advanced high school or university students.
- ChemTutor: A thorough and well-organized site that I’ve used for years to supplement general chemistry units.
- Chemistry for Kids: A nice resource for primary or early middle school students.
- ChemActive: A site aligned with the IB Chemistry syllabus. It appears to still focus on the old (pre-2016) syllabus, but the resources are still useful.
- TED-Ed and Periodic Videos: A collection of chemistry videos from the creative geniuses at TED-Ed.
That’s all for now, folks.
It’s time for more science bookmarks! This morning I’ll be sharing a collection of bookmarks, which I think students and teachers of science may find useful. Some of them are specific to a particular unit of study, while others are more general in nature. There are definitely some duplicates here from my previous posts, but I don’t think there’s much harm in that. I’ve categorized all these resources by subject: astronomy, biology, chemistry, ecology, and physics. Today’s post focuses on general biology. You can find additional bookmarks in my earlier post, “Biology resources for students: part 1.”
- Biology for Life: Already in the previous post, but worth sharing again.
- Bioknowledgy: Probably the biology resource I use most. Awesome.
- IBO Biology Teacher Support Material: Great resource for teacher of IB Biology. Access is password protected and associated with IB World Schools.
- UC-Davis BioWiki: A broad overview of university-level biology information.
- Mitosis and Cytokinesis: Animation from McGraw-Hill.
- Bioman biology game: Includes online games as well as links to native apps.
- Carbon cycle: A nice, simple animation from the University of Alberta, Canada.
- John Kyrk’s biology animations: Simply amazing animations for a range of topics in biology. Incredible attention to detail.
- Learn.Genetics: A well-organized genealogy and genetics site from Utah.
- Meiosis video: Paul Andersen and Bozeman Science. ‘Nuff said.
- Mitosis world: A collection of links about…mitosis!
- The Plant Cell Journal: A scientific publication from the American Society of Plant Biologists.
- Animations and tutorials from Mr Hardin’s class: I don’t know this teacher, but he’s collated a lot of useful tutorials and animations for biology.
- Transpiration animation: Simple click-through animation appropriate for primary and middle school.
- Understanding Evolution: UC-Berkeley’s exhaustive collection of evolution resources.
- Sex determination: An animated TED-Ed video.
- Evolution labs from NOVA: Great interactive resource for learning about the interaction of genetics and natural selection.
- The Biology Project: The University of Arizona’s extensive collection of biology resources. Geared for high school and university students.
- i-Biology: Another website I regularly consult for IB Bio and MYP biology units.
- A World of Biology: Ms Frost’s IB Biology-aligned class weebly.
- Lab protocols for the new IB Biology: A useful guide for IB Bio students and teachers.
- Punnett Square Calculator: An interactive, color-coded guide to monohybrid crosses, dihybrid crosses, and more complex crosses. Great for a flipped lesson or two.
- InThinking IB Biology site: An actively collated collection of activities and resources for teachers and students in IB Biology classes.
- 3-D Interactive Biological Molecules: Exactly what the title says. Good for IB Bio.
I hope these aren’t too repetitive. I just want to pass them along so that my students and colleagues have access to some of the many wonderful biology resources I’ve found over the years.
In addition to the professional presence I have on Twitter (@bradleymkremer) and here on my science blog/website, I have a personal profile on Facebook, which I think doesn’t make me unusual in any way. I usually make a fairly concerted effort to keep my personal and professional lives separate. I’m not Facebook friends with any current students (I’ll accept friend requests upon their graduation from university, though), I never tweet about politics or personal events, and I almost never post science articles or thoughts on my Facebook wall.
However, those personal and professional worlds do overlap sometimes. I have current and former work colleagues who have become friends. My personal interest in science frequently spills over into my professional involvement with science education.
Where is this leading us, you may ask?
Today I am sharing a collection of science news and updates from my Facebook feed. These are a few resources I’ve saved over the past few weeks and months because they’re either of personal interest or they’re directly relevant to units I teach – or both! Sometimes, life gets in the way, with things like visits from your mother, presidential elections, and an almost-one-year-old baby at home. So, without further ado, here are the science news items I’ve been following lately:
Elon Musk and Tesla reveal solar rooftops – Bloomberg News. Musk is one of my heroes because I think he’s a visionary who is unafraid to use his considerable funds to push the envelope of scientific innovation for the betterment of humanity and our planet. (Full disclosure: I own stock in Tesla.)
The “Zero Waste” grocery store – A Berlin shop which has developed a sustainable shopping model with the goal of reducing solid domestic waste. IB ESS topic 8.2: Resource use in society and 8.3: Solid domestic waste.
Zero emissions train unveiled in Germany – Not yet in service, but a step in the right direction to meet growing transportation needs. The train uses hydrogen fuel cells in place of diesel engines, and since it’s a public service, economies of scale may help advance more widespread adaptation of the fuel cell technology.
Climate change is having an impact on infrastructure – A story from Wired detailing how rising temperatures, thawing permafrost, and increased precipitation are having an effect on communities built permafrost. A case study for IB ESS topic 7 and IB Biology topic 4.
Captive breeding case studies from National Geographic – Students evaluate the effectiveness of various captive breeding programs designed to conserve biodiversity in this species-based approach to conservation. A solid link to IB ESS topic 3.
Are the water wars coming? – A look at dwindling freshwater resources in the face of growing human population pressure around the world. A good discussion for IB ESS topic 4.2: Access to fresh water.
How what we eat has changed (and will change again) – A short video from the BBC Future project examining the interplay between human population growth, food production, and ecosystem impacts. Relevant for IB Biology option C: Ecology and conservation, as well as IB ESS topic 5.2: Terrestrial food production systems and food choices.
Looking for good news about climate change? This is about all there is – The Washington Post outlines a scrap of good news regarding the rate of planetary warming in the context of the 2016 US presidential election. Useful for IB Biology topic 4.3: Carbon cycling, topic 4.4: Climate change, and IB ESS topic 7: Climate change and energy production.
That’s all I have time for tonight. I’ll post another set of news links soon-ish. And of course, I’ll have more on Twitter.