Am I a Genius? Yes!

Please don’t let the title of this post mislead you.  I am not a Genius in the traditional sense of the word–and many people would argue not in any sense of the word.  A quick Google search turns up the following as a definition of Genius:

“exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability”

Now you can probably count me out when it comes to having “exceptional intellectual” ability–my ACT score would probably agree.  But let’s read the rest of the definition again…”creative power or other natural ability”.  See!  There is hope!  I truly believe every student and every teacher is given an “exceptional natural ability”.  The key is identifying that natural ability and unlocking your potential–we call this passion.  And that is precisely what Genius Hour does, and that is precisely why we can all be geniuses in our own right.

Each year, when introducing Genius Hour to our students, I inevitably get a student that responds with, “But I’m not a Genius!”.  My response is always, “I’m not a Genius either (to which the teacher in the room generally vigorously nods her head), but we both can be!”.

It is this growth mindset component of Genius Hour that I truly love; that no matter your background, race,  or state assessment score, you can be a Genius.

I tell my students that being a Genius doesn’t necessarily mean you know everything there is to know about a subject, but rather that you know a whole lot about a very specific topic.  It’s about having expertise and not merely “being smart”.  In fact, we often use the terms “expert” and “genius” interchangeably when discussing Genius Hour.

In many ways, Genius Hour is like completing a thesis or dissertation (I wouldn’t know, I can’t seem to finish mine!).  You select a broad topic then work to narrow it down.  This is how you get Professor’s who are experts in “Pre-Renaissance Florentine eating habits”…or something like that.  They don’t know everything, but ask them about the origins of the Lampredotto sandwich in Florence and they can tell you anything you want to know! (That’s a cow stomach sandwich in case you’re wondering, and a truly tasty dish!)  Genius Hour operates in much the same fashion.

Can a student know everything there is to know about basketball?  Probably not. “Basketball” encompasses a lot of things–plays, players, strategy, statistics, etc. etc.  But can they become an expert in in-bounds plays?  Or uniform design?  Or the history of their favorite team?  Yes!  They can become a Genius or expert in those things!

As you prepare for the upcoming school year and begin thinking about Genius Hour, remember that fostering a growth mindset with your students is essential in facilitating an effective Genius Hour.

I usually finish my Genius Hour presentation by telling my students, “Perhaps, one day I’ll be coming to YOU for advice or information about a topic”…and they think that’s pretty cool.

Thanks for reading!

Five things you can do RIGHT NOW to Prepare for Genius Hour in the Fall.

July is one of my favorite months of the year.  I love spending time at home with my family, hanging out at the pool, playing golf, etc. etc.  But I also love July because it’s the perfect time to begin preparing for the upcoming school year.

If you’ve read my previous posts on “why” you should be doing Genius Hour, perhaps you’re wondering what to do next.  Too often, great ideas, or the best intentions, never become anything more than just that.  Fortunately, you still have plenty of time this summer to take action to prepare you to rock Genius Hour this upcoming school year!

Below are FIVE things you can do RIGHT NOW to hit the ground running with Genius Hour in your classroom come the Fall.

1. Read, read, read

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone in your Genius Hour journey.  Take some time to read about what other’s are doing with Genius Hour, and by reading this blog, you’re already off to a good start.  If you haven’t already, I would suggest ordering Don Wettrick’s book, Pure Genius” and Andi McNair’s book, “Genius Hour:  Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry”.  Both of these books will serve as a reference and guide as you begin this amazing journey.

2. Check out the Live Binder

Joy Kirr, author of “Shift This”,  has put together the greatest compilation of Genius Hour resources on the web, in her Genius Hour/20% Time Live Binder.  There are resources available to help you plan and execute Genius Hour, along with about anything else Genius Hour related you could want.  Don’t spend your time trying to reinvent the wheel when there are other teachers out there driving around in Lamborghini’s…figurative Lamborghini’s anyway.

3. Create Social Media Accounts

If you haven’t done so already, now is the perfect time to create social media accounts on which you can share student work.  Kids love sharing and showing off their work and projects, and you can help them do this using social media.  Make sure to hit all of the “big ones”–Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc., but also be mindful of some not so obvious platforms such as Kidblog or Seesaw.  And as always be mindful of your building and district policy regarding social media usage!  And if you have a pesky principal who doesn’t find the worth in social media, I apologize…have them Tweet me and we can talk.

4.  Create your Schedule

If you are implementing Genius Hour in your classroom (as opposed to being a building-wide initiative) then you’re going to have to be creative in carving out time within your daily schedule.  Will you do Genius Hour once a week, or every day?  How much time will you devote?  Is 30 minutes too short?  Is an hour too long?  These are some of the questions you’ll need to answer as you begin making your schedule.   If you work time into your class schedule NOW, then you’re far more likely to commit to doing it in the Fall.

5.  Begin Thinking about your OWN Passion

I highly recommend that you participate in creating a Genius Hour project yourself.  Not only will this serve as a model for your students, but you will really enjoy it!  As a teacher, I know your passion is your classroom and your students, but I also know you have other interests that you don’t have time to explore.  I’m giving you permission (I am a principal, although not yours) to explore something that moves and inspires you!

 

If you’ve committed to doing Genius Hour with your students this upcoming school year, I hope you find these five suggestions helpful.  I also want to take a minute to commend you for being creative and stepping outside the box for your students.  We must continue to push the envelope with our classroom practices if we are going to meet students in 2018 and beyond.  School should be a transformative experience for our students, and that can only happen when you utilize transformative practices in the classroom.

Your journey begins today!

 

 

 

Genius Hour – Like You Needed Another Reason!

Over the past few days we’ve explored the Three “Why’s” for implementing Genius Hour in your classroom or building–Passion, Engagement, and Critical Thinking/Problem-Solving skills.  Today, I’m giving you a bonus “why” (as if you need another reason to start Genius Hour!).  The bonus “why” is teaching students 21st century research skills.

The culmination of any Genius Hour cycle is the creation of a project.  I always hesitate to tell students they have to create a “presentation” which instantly conjures up visions of a Google Slideshow or Power Point presentation.  And while many students will create a slideshow presentation, please don’t limit their choices, and please actively encourage them to seek out something different!

The student project can take many forms and may include a physical product, a school assembly, a podcast, a blog, a printed work, etc. etc.  What shape the project takes is ultimately dictated by the topic.  Recently, I had a group of girls do a “stuff drive” for our local clothing shelter.  Their culminating project was simply walking their collection of goods to the Food Pantry and Clothes Closet next to our building and presenting it to the lady who runs the store.  We had another student hold an all-school assembly to demonstrate how K-9 dogs are trained (he partnered with local law enforcement and it was awesome!).  The options really are endless!

Regardless of the culminating project, students will be utilizing 21st century research skills throughout the process.  These skills include using technology and research resources that foster collaboration and communication–and not simply research skills that require reading and regurgitating information.

For example, one aspect of Genius Hour is that students connect with outside experts.  This can be done through a Google Hangout interview or on Skype.  Students could connect with experts through social media via a Twitter Chat.  Teaching students how to communicate effectively and professionally with adults is also a valuable skill that they can acquire through Genius Hour.

When I was a high school senior, I recall writing a research paper on the Great Pyramid at Giza (I was, and am a history nerd).  I had probably 100 note cards, labeled and marked, and filled with tons of information.  Today there are endless ways for students to digitally organize information and research–Google Keep, for example is a great way to organize notes and to share with others.  And students can create digital portfolios using a number of platforms such as Seesaw, Evernote, or Kidblog.

Having these 21st century research and communication skills will help to better prepare our students to succeed in school, in life, and in whatever career they pursue as adults. These skills are just as vital as learning to read or write, and we OWE it to our kids to prepare them to succeed not just in today’s world, but in tomorrow’s as well!

Thanks for reading!

 

Genius Hour – Hook, Line, and Thinker

Over the last few days we have examined the first two “why’s” behind Genius Hour–student passion and student engagement.  Today, we are going to discuss the third key component of “why” you should be doing Genius Hour in your classroom or building; critical thinking and problem-solving.

If you think of passion as the “hook” that captures student attention, cognitive engagement the “line” which to reel them in, then critical thinking and problem-solving skills are really the “sinker” or in this case the “thinker”, which seals the deal and gets the fish on shore!

Since today is Independence Day, and because “once a history teacher, always a history teacher”, I thought we would explore the importance of critical thinking/problem-solving through the lens of a quick and timely history lesson.

It’s July 2, 1863, and the Union line is stretched in the shape of a long fish hook through the rolling hills of a little town named Gettysburg.  At the extreme end of the Union line atop a hill known to the locals as “Little Roundtop” is the 20th Maine Regiment led by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  Chamberlain, a history professor by trade, is told he must hold the line “at all costs” less the Union position be flanked and overrun.

Staring up the hill at the 20th Maine are the men of the 15th Alabama Infantry.  Time and time again the 15th valiantly marches up the hill, and time and time again Chamberlain and his men repulse their advance.  After nearly an hour and a half of battle, the men of the 20th Maine were nearly out of ammunition.  Chamberlain knew his line couldn’t withstand another charge from the Confederates, and he knew surrender or defeat wasn’t an option (cue the Critical Thinking/Problem-Solving!).

Chamberlain had a problem to solve of monumental consequence.  Defeat at Gettysburg would mean that the Confederates would have a clear road to Washington. Knowing there was no other option, Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge down the hill.  The rebels were so surprised by this, that as Chamberlain and his men swept down the hill many of them just laid down their arms and surrendered.  Chamberlain and his men held the union line–saving not only the union army, but the union itself.

Worksheets and packets don’t prepare students to make consequential decisions, to analyze, to interpret, to predict.  But give students a problem to solve that they are passionate about, and they will amaze you with the results.

Kids are bright, creative, imaginative–all traits of problem-solvers.  Yet we rarely give them the chance to actually solve problems.  Genius Hour is the perfect avenue for students to hone these skills!    Looking to solve a problem in your school, community, or classroom–let your students tackle the problem through Genius Hour.

I hope that the three “why’s” we’ve discussed over the last few days have encouraged you to take on Genius Hour within your own classroom or building.

However if you still aren’t convinced, tomorrow I am going to talk about a BONUS “why”!  I hope that I’m able to provide you the ammunition you need to justify your desire to do Genius Hour–because remember, that when it comes to our students, we must hold the line at all costs.  There can be no surrender!

Thanks for reading and HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

 

 

 

 

Genius Hour – Giving Purpose to your Passion

In my first post, I shared with you what I believe to be the key component of Genius Hour–identifying student passions.  Today, I would like to share what I consider the second “why” behind Genius Hour (remember you’re trying to convince those pesky administrators that it’s worthwhile!).

Student passion is really the key to unlocking “why” number two–student engagement.

When we talk about student engagement, we mean cognitive engagement.  What we don’t mean is compliance.   It’s critical that as a teacher, you understand the difference.  Kids may be compliant–sitting quietly, nodding their heads occasionally, while thinking about how to beat the next level on Fortnite (are there even levels on Fortnite???).

What you want are engaged brains.  Students that are thinking about the content, working with the content, and exploring the content.  A word of caution here, “hands-on” doesn’t necessarily mean engaged.  We have all seen group projects or activities where one or two students run the show, while the other group members talk about what’s for lunch.  You want active brains, and that can happen during group work, independent work, and even during a lecture (gasp!).

How does Genius Hour then, engage students cognitively, and how does passion tie into student engagement?

Here’s how…

Genius Hour is about what your students are passionate about–not what the teacher is passionate about, and certainly not what the state dept. of ed. thinks you are passionate about.  It’s all about the students!

Giving them time to work on their passion is NOT enough, however.  I love airplanes (and hope to one day earn my private pilot’s license), however, I don’t want to talk or research about planes all the time.  Allowing kids to work on a project they’re passionate about may be the hook you need, but it may not be enough to keep them engaged throughout the entirety of a class period, let alone an entire Genius Hour cycle.

The trick is to leverage their passion to engage students with a purpose.  Student engagement is our second “why”, but you have to be able to answer the “why” for students.  Asking students “why do you want to learn more about this topic?”, or “what are you going to do (action language) with the new information you learn?”, can be a way to give students a purpose.

Kids, like adults, want to know what they’re working for, or towards.  If and when I get the chance to try and earn a pilot’s license, good luck getting me to think about anything else–because my passion will have been given purpose.

And that’s “why” number two.  Genius Hour allows you to identify student passion and to leverage that into engagement by connecting student passion with a purpose (let’s see your administrator argue with that!).

Tomorrow we’ll look at the final “why” to Genius Hour–critical thinking/problem-solving skills.

Thanks for reading!

Genius Hour – The Key is Passion

As this is my first blog entry, I want to take the time to briefly introduce myself and share just a bit about our Genius Hour journey at Randall Elementary…and then we’ll get to the good stuff, I promise.

My name is Bobby McCutcheon and I am the principal at Randall Elementary in Independence, MO.  This will be my fourth year as principal, and fourth year doing Genius Hour in some fashion.  We have used a grades 3-5 academy model (which I’ll share more about in a later post), and we have most recently used a Genius Hour Club model.

This year, I am exploring how I can incorporate Genius Hour into our specials rotation for all grades K-5 (Sshh!  I haven’t told anyone about this yet). Ultimately, my goal is to incorporate a Genius Mindset into all we do in the building–we are not there yet, but it’s a work in progress.

I am hoping this blog will serve as a way for me to share the awesome and amazing things we’ve done with Genius Hour, and more importantly, I’m hoping it will inspire and encourage you to do the same.

What better way to start then by talking about the three “Why’s” of Genius Hour.  Let’s be honest.  If you are considering doing Genius Hour in your classroom, building, or district (gasp!), then at some point you are going to have to justify “why” you think it’s worthwhile.  In some cases, you may be sacrificing instructional time (I really think enhancing instructional time) and who has extra minutes just going to waste in their class schedule?  No one!

In this post, we are going to tackle the first “Why”; and the most important component of Genius Hour–Passion.  I will then explore the other two reasons why I think Genius Hour is critical in subsequent posts (so stay tuned!)

I look back on my own career as a student fondly.  I had fantastic teachers who were caring, engaging, and served as great role models for me.  Collectively, they are largely why I am an educator today.  However, I never recall anyone asking what I was passionate about.  Sure we talked some about careers, or “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, but don’t be mistaken, these are very different and distinct conversations.  The first which often drifts to “how much money can I make” and “what kind of lifestyle do you want to live?” versus “what excites you?”, or as I heard Joy Kirr recently ask, “What is something you love so much that it would cause you great pain to not be able to do it again?”.  I think about how having this conversation at a young age would have shaped me as a student.  Powerful!

As teachers we are great about asking students about their day, how their weekend went, but do you know your students’ passions?  Just imagine what you could do with that information?  We all recognize the value of gauging a student’s prior knowledge when it comes to reading, writing, and math.  It’s the same concept with passion! Genius Hour helps students identify their passions and unlocks a powerful weapon for teachers to use every day in their classrooms.  It helps to make lessons relevant and content meaningful.  Passion should drive everything we do as teachers and as students!

Here’s a couple of examples for you to consider–imagine that you just labored through another dull Physics lesson without knowing that three of your students are interested in flying and being pilots.  What a missed opportunity to make connections and to make the content relevant for your students! Or imagine you taught a writing lesson to your 4th grade class without realizing that some of your students keep daily, detailed journals, or even write daily on a blog.  How much more powerful could that lesson have been if you had allowed those students to share their work with the class?

Knowing what your students love and what drives their desires is some of the most valuable pieces of information a teacher can possess, and Genius Hour can be the vehicle for helping students identify their passions.

Student passion is the key component of Genius Hour–but it’s not the only rationale behind Genius Hour.  I’ll post the next two reasons in subsequent posts.  So when your principal or superintendent asks what on earth is this Genius Hour thing you want to do–you’ll be ready to answer!