Genius Hour

Genius Hour: Part IV

This has been a pretty cool journey, and is by far the most fun we (consistently) have each week. During our science and social studies lessons, questions constantly come up and we add them to the Genius Hour wall of questions. The students also found this website from School in the Cloud with other big questions posted by people from across the globe. An abundance of questions has never been our problem. But putting together meaningful presentations has. Here’s how we solved the problems from Genius Hour Part I, Part II, and Part III.


Problem 1: Students were boring their classmates with their presentations.
Solution: We started videotaping the presentations and posting them to Google Classroom. Not only would any absent students be able to see what they missed, but the actual presenters could watch their own presentations and analyze it to improve for the future.
Proud Teacher Moment: One group did a presentation answering the question, “What is sketch comedy?” They were very much interested in doing a mock news show but their presentation was just a video of them talking to the camera. After watching themselves, they re-did their presentation adding b-roll footage and it was much improved.

Problem 2: We were having a hard time keeping track of who was doing what, and when.
Solution: We created a Genius Hour Record sheet in Google Sheets. This is posted in Google Classroom and students can access them at any time. Each time we meet for Genius Hour, students  are  expected to record what their topic/question is and what they did that day (researching, preparing presentation, etc).


Problem 3: Students were copying and pasting large chunks of information from the web into their presentations.
Solution: We (the GT teacher and I) decided we must approve genius hour questions before students can do the research, and they have to show us their research before they start working on their presentation. We also required research and presentations must be presented with bullets. No complete sentences! This threw the kids off for a few weeks but they are getting better at trimming their information down. This helped for presentations too, because they couldn’t just read from the board.

Problem 4: We (students and teachers) were getting overwhelmed watching 10-20 presentations in one sitting.
Solution: We created a Google Calendar where students can sign up for 5 minute presentation time slots throughout the week. I get an email alerting me a few minutes before and the students write it down in their agenda. These are peppered throughout the day  during transition times, like after lunch.


Anyone else doing Genius Hour? What is working in your classes?



Digital Teaching Resources, Genius Hour, Uncategorized

Genius Hour: Part III

Genius Hour is by far the best part of my week and my students would agree. Every Thursday, they walk down the hallway asking if we will be doing Genius Hour today. (The answer is always “yes”!) Each Genius Hour brings up some struggle to be addressed or genius idea to implement in the future. Here is how our following weeks went.

Week 6: I had just attended a Digital Cohort meeting where we watched a video from Common Sense Media called Digital Bytes. With a sort of choose-your-ending novel feel, the students click on one of the following responses to the question: Which are you feeling like today? The choices are: creator, thinker, doer, and pioneer. My class chose creator for the day.

After a series of other questions, we ended up at this video about Caine’s Cardboard Arcade. Common Sense Media asks a question after you watch the video, so students get a chance to reflect.



While Genius Hour is usually about students working together to research questions of their choice and a short presentation, this week, I sent out a quick email request for any cardboard lying around the school. Within minutes, I had tons of boxes and every kid was creating something original from cardboard. And this Genius “Hour” turned into Genius Day.

Week 7: The SAIL teacher and I were in the middle of another Genius Hour when we walked around and noticed that most of the students were starting with their presentation and then doing the research. We paused and told the students they would need to have us approve their topic and research before they could start on their presentation. Then we realized, the fourth graders didn’t know how to research! They were copying and pasting whole paragraphs from websites to Google Slides and calling it a project. We spent some more time discussing how research should look (bulleted information, not complete sentences) and it took several tries and frustrated students before they started to get the hang of it. This week’s presentations were by far the best yet. Students weren’t reading large paragraphs from their presentation, but were looking at the audience, and paraphrasing.


Finally, instead of doing all of our presentations on one day, we decided to create a sign-up sheet with different slots throughout the week. This way, we can do a few presentations a day to ensure students are prepared, and the audience doesn’t have to sit through so many in one sitting.

Digital Teaching Resources, Genius Hour, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Top 5 Reasons I use Technology in my Classroom

It was my first year teaching at a new school and I was handed 28 iPads around October. Now what? The kids were excited and had used them at home for games and videos. It has taken me four years to get my students to see them as tools for learning, but here are the top five reason why I would never go back to teaching without them.

1. I’m saving trees. I used to spend hours at the copy machine loading ream after ream of paper into the sorter. I still print some things…interactive notebook pages, extra credit holiday packets, and some math sheets, but almost everything else is attached to Google Classroom in the form of a Google Doc or PDF. (We use an app called PDF Expert and even type, draw, highlight on PDF docs).


2. My students know how to collaborate. I use the term “elbow-partner” multiple times a day. My classroom has flexible seating. (My students may sit wherever they like when they come in each morning, as long as it follows certain criteria. I have seats with stationary bikes, standing tables with spooner boards, Hokki stools, and bean bag chairs. Students can’t sit at the same table twice in a week and must have an even number of girls and boys at each table.) My students work with their elbow partner daily, for quizzing each other on math facts, or completing assignments. I know they don’t always want to work with their elbow partner, but they know I won’t let them work independently on certain assignments, so they just get down to work, usually through a collaborative Google Document.

3. I’ve saved time grading assignments. I use Google Forms for quick quizzes or checkpoints that are graded automatically. I get immediate feedback, and so do the students. They can go home and tell their parents their grade and don’t have to wait a full week for the assessments to go home in their weekly folders. I also choose to send response receipts so they students can see the questions, their responses, and the correct answers to learn from their mistakes. I also use Google Sheets for digital rubrics. (CCSD employees can open and copy this rubric here.) I borrowed this idea from another presenter at the Google Summit.


4. The kids sometimes forget they’re learning. We’ve been using the “A Google A Day” feature recently. Google posts a random question that takes multiple searches to find the answer to. My fourth graders love this game and we get to bring in our research standards as well as digital citizenship and internet safety discussions. Genius Hour has also helped with this (see previous post). No longer do we need to go to the library, search the card catalog, or find an encyclopedia. The internet is at our fingertips (or in our pockets… some of my students have newer cell phones than I do!) With this wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, its our duty to teach them how to use it.


5. The future is digital. When I got my first teaching job, my father gave me this picture of his mother’s kindergarten class. If you look at classroom, not much has changed. There is a teacher, a chalkboard, and rows of kids. The global workforce is more and more dependent on technology (walk anywhere and see how people are on iPhones, laptops, etc.) Technology isn’t going away, and if we want students to be successful in higher education and the workplace, they must get used to using technology as a tool or textbook and not just as source of mindless entertainment.



Digital Teaching Resources, Genius Hour, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Genius Hour: Part II

In my previous post, I talked about how we started Genius Hour and some struggles we have faced. Here’s how the following weeks progressed.

Week 4: The procedures were the same (50 minutes research time and a short presentation with your findings) but we were getting bored to tears during the student presentations. During week 2, one group had researched “How many licks it would take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?” and gave away a piece of candy by asking a trivia question. Since then, everyone wanted to give “prizes” and do trivia, and some of the presentations lost their focus. We (the teachers and the students) were also tired of watching the back of classmates’ heads as they read information off their Google Slides presentation that they had copied and pasted from a website. They were stumbling trying to pronounce words they didn’t know and it was getting awkward. So we had a discussion about what good presentations looked like and everyone gave feedback (in the form of a shared Google Doc). CCSD employees can grab it here. The presenters would receive immediate feedback, and wouldn’t have to wait days while I graded a rubric.

It was as simple as:



Week 5: We have been struggling with Growth Mindset lately. Many of my students are so afraid to fail, the don’t attempt a task that they see as difficult or they give up. I did a quick search and found this website about famous failures. I created a Google Doc and listed these famous people on the left and a blank column on the right. When I posted it to Google Classroom, the instructions were as follows:

With a partner, small group, or by yourself, select a name off of the list attached. ((This was a collaborative Google Doc and if a student typed their name in the box, no one else could)). Each person on the list is highly “successful” yet has had a major failure in their career. Research the person, their failure, and be prepared to present to the class how this figure’s failure actually contributed to their later success in life. Be a real risk-taker and pick a name of someone you’ve never actually heard of before!

Here are some student work examples. We saw everything from TED talks to Disney clips, and a student even received an email back from his figure…. Stan Smith (the tennis pro).

Walt Disney (CCSD here)


James Dyson (CCSD here)


Digital Teaching Resources, Genius Hour, Uncategorized

Genius Hour

When our SAIL (Gifted and Talented) teacher came to do a lesson in my class a few years ago, we ended up team teaching and literally finished each other’s sentences. Since then, we’ve been collaborating on a variety of assignments including Exhibition. (She’s an IB wiz). Most recently, she was assigned part-time to another school. On Thursdays, she is only at our school in the morning so we have both been thinking/talking/stashing away ideas about Genius Hour. We decided to use Thursday mornings as our designated Genius Hour time.

Week 1: We started by showing the students a video clip on YouTube.

School in the Cloud

Then we posted ten questions on the wall with sticky notes. Each one had a question on it that could not be easily “googled” and some research would be required. We asked the kids to use 50 minutes for research, then have a short presentation where they could share their learning with the class. Some students opted for posters, others Google Slides, etc. All of the students were completely engaged and excited, asking when we could do Genius Hour again.


Week 2: We asked each student to come up with a question to be researched and to place it on the wall with the questions left over from week one. I already had a “Burning Question Wall” with post-it notes from our class discussions, so when we added to them, we had about 50 questions. The procedures were the same as week one: 50 minutes research and a short presentation.

Week 3: The students were still required to develop a new question or take one from the wall, but this time, they had a reflection sheet to fill out on a Google Doc. This included things like:

1.What new information did you learn during Genius Hour? How did you complete your research?
2. What struggles did you encounter while completing this project?
3. What took a majority of your time today? Was this a success or do you need to rethink your ideas/partner/time management?
4. What new ideas/questions did you think of for next week?

I will be sharing more about Genius Hour on Wednesday’s blog!