Sunday, March 22, 2015

Genius Hour

I first heard about Genius Hour a few years ago at a conference in Boston and thought it sounded so interesting. I loved the idea of asking students what they were interested in and what they wanted to learn about.

My first thought was why only one hour a week? Why not all day everyday? Not practical you say? Probably not, but still, it sounds way better than rotating classes every 52 minutes and sitting and listening to teachers talk about individual subjects that seem unrelated and unapplicable to the real world. 

I decided to apply the the idea of genius hour with design thinking and challenge based learning. That's a lot of educational buzz words there, but it actually worked better than I expected. 

1. The first week of school, I ask my kids what they want to learn and do in my class.

2. I organize their requests into connected themes.

3. I ask them how we can improve society and what world problems exist today that they would like to propose and work towards a solution for.

4. I build my syllabus based on their ideas and figure out a way to tie my objectives into their ideas. 

Sounds simple right?
Yes and no...

Yes because they want to learn a lot of really interesting things, some of which I had to really learn along with them.  They have really interesting questions and ideas when there are no restraints. 

And no, because they of course didn't want to learn about some of the topics the state of Texas says they need to how their kidneys work.  Not one single student asked me to provide a lesson experience involving kidney filtration. Shocking, right? Not one person wants to know how they make urine?!

This is when it got fun...frustrating and challenging, but also fun.  How can I stick with my plan of letting them guide the learning and study what interests them, yet cover all the objectives as required by my state? Oh and find a way for them to give back to society?

For me, the answer is to think differently and creatively about lesson design and to ask lots of questions from my Twitter PLN.  I am in year two of implementing this in my classroom and this year looks totally different than last year, which I love. 

For the kidney one wanted to know about kidney function, but many wanted to learn about babies and pregnancy.  So we developed a case study where the students posed as new parents and learned the reproductive systems, fetal development, pregnancy diet and nutrition, etc.  Once their baby was "born" , they found out it had a kidney disorder that they had to figure out as if they were new parents in that situation. Finally, their culminating project to show me what they learned, they created a book (as a class) on a topic of their choice. Groups focused on how to have a healthy pregnancy, how to survive the first year as a new parent, and misconceptions regarding pregnancy. Each class selected a topic and each student decided what they could contribute based on what they were interested in or good at. 

This year several asked about a news story in our area regarding a student who overdosed on water at a college party.  Thanks to ideas shared by Tricia Shelton and Amanda Meyer, we are going to study water intoxication to learn about the kidneys.  I am looking forward to trying their lesson idea!

Too big of an idea for you to tackle the entire year? Maybe try just one unit asking them what they want to know about it.  We just started talking about vaccines and I asked a follow up "What do you really want to know?"  Students posted ideas to this Padlet wall and we are discussing some of their specific questions as we go through the unit.

Next year I plan to start the year the same way...what do you want to learn and do in my class this year ?  I am looking forward to working with a team next year and possibly creating cross curricular lessons and experiences as well. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Teaching the World

This is where it started...a simple question.  How can we help improve our world? 

Kids all over the world want to learn, yet some have no access to schools, technology, or teachers.  We are in a privileged society, with more technology than we often know what to do with.  How can we connect kids that want to learn with free educational resources and provide them with teachers and technology?

A team working together is the answer to that question.  Here are two of our inspirations and collaborating partners.

Oceans Project - A non-profit organization devoted to fundraising to put technology in schools in developing nations and raising awareness about the importance of science education in schools.

Kaya - A non-profit organization finding schools in developing areas and providing them with teachers.

So how can students at Coppell High School help?
We are creating educational materials for the iPads in those schools, or for anyone else who wants to download our work. We are collaborating with schools in New Zealand, Kentucky, and Minnesota to make the best possible products.  Students are working together to create resources to teach the world.

The Project:
A collaboration, involving around 200 students from four different locations, creating an interactive textbook using iBooks Author, inspired by the work of E. O. Wilson's Life on Earth, will inspire our young student audience to read, be healthy, and interact with peers around the world. Special thanks to Tricia, Geoff, and Amanda for connecting your classrooms with us and helping create this product!

The iBook will not only be published to the iBook Store, but will be linked in the iTunes U course that my students created last year, Health Without Borders.  This course currently has an audience of around 45,000 subscribers around the world.

Thank you Coppell Education Foundation for providing us with this awesome new iMac station to create our iBook on.