Tag Archives: technology

Reflections on Genius Hour for Science

Good morning.
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.

Overview

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.

Structure

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.

Collaboration

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.

Evaluation

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.
Happy learning!

Science Apps for Your Smartphone

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!

Astronomy resources for students

Good morning!

Today I’m doing a little site maintenance, incorporating as many digital resources as possible into the various science pages on my website. The resources include simulations, videos, and activities created by other teachers and educational institutions. Instead of linking this blog post to a bunch of bookmarks I’ve saved over the years, I’ll just suggest that you check out my astronomy page under the “Sciences” tab on my homepage.

Among the many dozens of resources I’ve added, I think you’ll find something educational, engaging, and entertaining for a wide range of audiences.

Happy learning!

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The Twitterverse is Not Perverse

I'm not sure where this was originally published, but here's where I found it: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BvVVZQlIMAAB5ZG.jpg

I’m not sure where this was originally published, but here’s where I found it: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BvVVZQlIMAAB5ZG.jpg

I’m relatively new to Twitter. I joined about a year and a half ago when I finally upgraded from my old-school Nokia to an iPhone 4. It seemed like an easy way to keep track of all the random topics I follow on various parts of the web, but I quit using Twitter pretty quickly because I found that there was a lot of useless junk coming my way, too. Essentially, the junk overwhelmed the worthwhile links.

But then I enrolled in an Educational Technology Leadership course over the summer holiday, and I ‘found the happy’ with Twitter. Actually, I more than found the happy. I learned a whole new way of interacting with Twitter so that I get exactly what I need from what I now think is a great form of social media.

The trick was to stop following so many others and start using TweetDeck to create lists that filter tweets by their #hashtags. I carefully chose hashtags which routinely appear in Tweets about subjects I follow. I don’t control what shows up, so my news isn’t as biased as it would be if I only read the New York Times or only consulted the Wall Street Journal. The Twitter algorithms create a steady stream of information from a wide variety of sources and sorted by topic, which means I can now keep up with those subjects I’m most interested in: science news, education news, updates on technology in education, world news, and music. Here’s a screenshot of my information intake for a typical morning:

My TweetDeck homepage on Mozilla Firefox.

My TweetDeck homepage on Mozilla Firefox.

If you’d like to learn how to do this to enhance your learning at school, just stop by during one of my science help sessions, and I’ll help you get set up!