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Tag Archives: Educational assessment
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.
Well, the first few weeks of the school year are in the books, and if you’re anything like me, you’re a little overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ you need to know to survive modern schooling. I’m not talking about content knowledge. I mean the ‘how to’ of navigating the virtual side of 21st-century education.
At my school we have 5 different official platforms where students and parents get the resources they need for classes:
- Email: The official means of communication between school and home. It seems simple enough, but I’m finding that many students just haven’t developed the habit of checking their email daily. That means a lot of messages go unread until it’s too late – the deadline has been missed.
- Moodle: A well-established online course management tool, IST has been using Moodle for several years now, and it has quite a bit of versatility once you dig into it. This is where everyone is supposed to go to find homework, class notes, and other resources for every unit, but teachers don’t use it in a consistent manner across the school. Unfortunately, it’s also beginning to look a little dated, and its interface is less intuitive than other options out there.
- ManageBac: You’d think that a purpose-designed digital platform aligned with the International Baccalaureate’s Diploma Program and Middle Years Program would be a no-brainer for an IB World School, but it’s generating more questions than answers at my school. All the components are there – complete curriculum documentation and unit planning, assessment tasks, dropboxes linked to Turnitin.com, CAS and after-school activities, a gradebook function, and personalized calendars. However, teachers, students, and parents all see different sides of the platform, and no one is entirely clear about which parts we’re required to use and which are optional. There needs to be some serious professional development around this platform before we can fully take advantage of it, because right now it’s like a semi-operational Death Star: lots of potential power, but riddled with holes.
- Google Classroom: My personal favorite of the platforms we use, Classroom integrates seamlessly with Gmail and Google Drive to make it easy to share announcements and assignments with students. It can automatically generate individualized copies of assignments (including those elusive student names in the file name!!) and it organizes student work into Google Drive folders accessible to both teachers and students. It incorporates the shared collaborative capability beautifully and makes documented feedback on rough drafts a breeze. Offline editing is also available for unreliable networks like Tanzania’s. Google Classroom also makes a paperless class an achievable goal – if there’s a 1-to-1 program at the school. Which we don’t have yet.
- Ed-Admin: The clunky 1990’s AOL version of school management software, developed (I think) by a company out of South Africa. Our business office loves it, and the rest of the school seems to despise it. While it may be tweaked to meet the demands of individual schools, that requires phone calls and emails to HQ, who will then make the changes for the school. I suspect this platform is on its way out in the next couple of years.
Each one of these platforms brings strengths to the educational possibilities for our students; however, their interoperability is limited, and the resulting jumble of passwords and access points creates chaos for our students, families, and staff alike. In an ideal world, I’d like to see us rely on the Google platforms, since they’re relatively cheap, accessible from everywhere on the planet with an internet connection, and integrate with one another in a way that the other platforms don’t. Perhaps some ManageBac training and a commitment to the Google universe will simplify everything for our families and faculty.
“Chemistry is, well technically, chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change.”
-Walter White, Breaking Bad
My last class today was one of those moments that keeps me teaching. My two grade-level collaborators and I just launched a Genius Hour project for our Grade 10 chemistry unit – How have scientific and technical innovations in chemistry changed our world? – and some of the ideas our students came up with are pretty engaging. Check out this brief list of some of the more memorable proposals from today:
- A discussion of the benefits and limitations of spray-on solar cells
- Are methadone treatments for heroin addicts ethical?
- How has molecular gastronomy impacted the food industry?
- How has the development of cheap plastics impacted the lives of subsistence farmers in east Africa?
- What are the potential environmental consequences of new-generation car batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, and how do they compare to the consequences of internal combustion engines?
- How has our perception and use of LSD changed, from a proposed Cold-War truth serum, to a recreational drug, to a possible treatment for psychological disorders?
- A comparison of social interactions before and after the invention of indoor air conditioning.
I love the idea of kids exploring their own personal interests within the framework of a subject or topic. School should be more like this more often. It’s certainly less boring for the students, but it’s also considerably more engaging for us teachers as well. For one thing, I don’t have to grade 60 of the same tedious essay topic assigned year after year! Instead, students create videos and animations, write songs, and make public speeches à la TED talks.
In previous open-ended projects I’ve done with my classes, I have found that I am better able to judge individual students’ understanding of major concepts in science because we have many more two-way conversations, rather than the typical one-sided lectures common to so many classrooms around the world. Not only am I better able to assess their learning, but students’ learning goes considerably deeper.
For more on the Genius Hour movement in education, check out Chris Kessler’s blog, GeniusHour.com, and the video below.