Thursday, 10 November 2016

Perpetual Beta-An Update

As you may know I have begun the journey into alternate seating possibilities and student choice in my grade 3 classroom. I have designed a learning space where students are given voice and choice over where they choose to work. There are 4 desks, 2 tables, 1 Cafe table for 4, a bar height table and 2 chairs, bean bag chairs, throw pillows, 2 tub chairs, several stools, 2 wicker chairs and a carpeted floor area where students can lie down to work.
 One of the things that I have noticed is that students have favourite areas and partners to work with. Many choose the exact same area to work everyday. I am wondering if this is okay or if students need to be guided to experience new work spaces? Do they need to work with a variety of students or the same ones every day?
  I have made suggestions to students that they “try out” new spaces and partners but they always seem to migrate back to the same space and friends. Is this a bad thing? Is it any different than keeping them in the same desk groups all year?
 There are occasions where students are grouped together or partnered up to complete a variety of activities/assignments, so they are learning to work with others and developing their ability to communicate and collaborate with their peers.
 My ultimate goal in creating this space was to better meet the learning needs of my students.

Is the success of this goal being met because students have found a favourite space to work or are they going there out of habit? I am attaining my goal? Should I mess with the success that I am having? I welcome your thoughts.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Perpetual Beta

As an experienced educator(over two decades, eeeek!) it would be easy to fall back on tried and tested “old school” ways of teaching and class arrangement. But that is just not me!
In recent years I have shifted my pedagogy from a teacher centered model to a blended learning, student centered model. I have adopted a more inquiry based approach to instruction, done away with report cards and engaged students and parents through documentation of student learning in digital portfolios. I have embraced the growth and maker mindsets and strongly believe in the importance of global connections and preparing students for their future.
During the past few years I have noticed that many of my students have done their best work while laying on the floor, sitting against a wall or snuggled up in a beanbag chair. I began to explore alternate classroom set ups and took the plunge this September. I had many questions running through my head while planning:
What would students do with all their supplies? Would students choose learning spaces based on their needs or the needs of their friends? How would I manage all of these different seating arrangements? How would the lack of overhead lighting effect learning? Would students be respectful of the space? How would we build a sense of community without formal learning spaces? What would parents think? So many wonders!
While we have only been a learning family for 2 weeks, I do have a few observations to help me answer these questions. In order for students to have a place for supplies, I purchased magazine boxes to hold their duotangs/notebooks and pencil boxes are stored in the 4 desks that have been provided for students who would like to work at a desk. My students have displayed both their love of their new space and have demonstrated that they are able to take care of it. They eagerly tidy up and clean up, they are proud to call Room 205 their classroom! I have had nothing but positive comments from parents! On Meet the Teacher night, one parent told me that parents from his country only dream of classrooms like this for their children because this type of learning environment was reserved for only the elite and wealthy. It was this moment that brought peace to my heart and mind. I had made the right decision.
I still have many questions and not every moment is easy, as many small problems arise over the course of the day but I know that all the hard work and planning were worth it, because I am doing what I know in my heart is best for student learning, even if it means living in perpetual beta!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

A Genius in the Making!

While sitting at home one summer day, I was scanning Twitter and noticed an interesting tweet by a Surrey teacher mentioning Genius Hour. I knew nothing of this, so I tweeted back and asked what Genius Hour was all about. And thus began one of the most powerful and valued friendships of my career, for on the other end of the Twitter conversation was the amazing, Gallit Zvi. The 140 character limit made a deep conversation a challenge so I asked Gallit if she would be willing to meet up for coffee so that I could learn more about this idea. She graciously agreed and we met for what felt like 30 minutes but was actually more like 3 hours! I absorbed all of the information and ideas that she shared with me. Books like DRIVE by Daniel Pink, Out of Our Minds and The Element by Sir Ken Robinson. Gallit shared stories of what Genius Hour in her classroom looked like and how her teaching partner, Hugh McDonald also offered Genius Hour to his students. I learned about Caine’s Arcade and the Cardboard challenge. I was sold!

The previous school year I had begun to explore inquiry based learning in Science and I felt that Genius Hour would be an excellent fit. I shared videos such as Caine’s Arcade and books that might give my students an awareness of the idea of passion and the notion of exploring ideas that you have always wondered about.
Since my students were 8, I thought that I would enable my students by providing them with an opportunity to explore a topic they knew about: themselves. So our first Genius Hour projects were about what the students loved, what they were passionate about, and what they valued. Again, since they were 8, most of them had never been asked these questions before. I brought in other staff member to share their passions and interests so that my students would have some points of reference when they were thinking about themselves. Students were given a choice of how they wanted to share their discoveries with the class. Digital and non-digital formats were all acceptable. Students spent the first Genius Hour block, writing and planning in their Passion Portfolio and for the next 3 weeks they designed and created a presentation about themselves. Each student presented their learning to the class and was given peer feedback in the form of questions. And so it began…
Each year since then I have offered my students an opportunity to explore their wonders and passions during Genius Hour. I have scheduled Genius Hour on Wonder Wednesdays because I felt that it just made sense. It also meant that Genius Hour would never be missed due to a holiday! One thing I have learned is that you never, ever cancel Genius Hour because it causes a revolt from students.
I am often asked how I manage Genius Hour with primary students. I always reply, with runners on my feet, an extra cup of coffee and a whole lot of patience and most importantly trust in my students. They learn about accountability, cooperation, communication, problem solving, critical thinking and personal responsibility. Is it always awesome? Nope. Is it always deep? Nope. Are students always responsible? Nope. Is everyone always 100% engaged? Nope. But does that stop me? Nope. It doesn’t stop me because I know that even in failure there is learning. Even in mess there is learning and even in chaos there is learning.
I also learned that Genius Hour needs to be flexible, it is not about a specific way of doing it but rather an idea that lets each group of learners explore in a manner suited to them. Yes, I have had some students end up with nothing to share with the class. Yes, some of the projects have been a flop. Yes, some of the students couldn’t handle the responsibility. Yes, they have all learned something! Did they save the world? No, but not all kids will do that, especially when they are 8.
I firmly believe that students need to reflect on what they have accomplished, examine their struggles and make plans for next time. At the conclusion of each Genius Hour session, students are given 15 minutes to reflect and plan for next time. They record their thinking and share with me, so I can give them feedback.

In the past I have had students do projects using essential questions like: What is the best combination of kitchen ingredients to create an explosion for my model volcano? Which recipe for Playdoh creates the smoothest and longest lasting dough? Other years students have been interested in learning about creating with cardboard and baking brownies.

In my opinion, every teacher needs to make Genius Hour work for their students and themselves. As long as students have an opportunity to investigate, create, discover and learn about their passions or wonders then it is a success.

Genius Hour has become a constant in my classroom, and it is all due to a chance tweet and an amazing woman who was willing to share her passion and time with a stranger. I was even inspired to create The Global Genius Hour Project as place for educators to share their students genius!

Thank-you Gallit for sharing your time and for being an amazing mentor to so many!
Gallit has so much to offer about Genius Hour that she recently published a book with Denise Krebs entitled the Genius Hour Guidebook. Their book contains many tips and tricks for facilitating Genius Hour in any classroom and offers support and ideas for educators that are unsure about where to start.


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