Genius Hour: Reflecting on a successful student-driven solution

To cap off my 2017-2018 school year, I attended ISTE in Chicago and delivered a poster session on a Genius Hour adaptation I did with my 9th grade students taking AP Computer Science Principles.  What was remarkable about that event is that I was blessed with two gifts: Microsoft Education program has an application process for events like this and my ISTE registration and travel were covered as a Microsoft Innovative Expert.  The second gift was the feedback and support I received from my students as we tried out this adventure. I was able to bring their words and activities to the conference and my poster session as I shared out with the audience.

Every year, I like to mix up content and find new ways to innovate in my classroom.  I am most invigorated when students apply what we are doing to new, personalized applications; the framing of this learning in a Genius Hour format gives structure and context to the learning. I was at Northeastern last summer at an experiential learning conference (NExT) where I began the foundations of this idea.  Collaborators helped me refine the idea and I prepared activities and resources for the Fall of 2017. I knew I wanted new students to use the tools in my lab, I also wanted to give students a personalized learning setting and encourage them to explore tools and standards while still stretching their experience.   I adapted the concept of Genius Hour to fit within my 9th grade AP Computer Science Principles classroom  so that students could still demonstrate learning and apply standards (or “Big Ideas”) of AP CS Principles to their own Genius Hour projects.    We took an average of an hour each week for 10 weeks, approximately a quarter of the school year, to provide students choices for projects to demonstrate learning.   Below is a breakdown of those activities students could choose.  We used #OneNote #ClassNoteBook to provide guided activities with links and smaller deadlines as well as a space for personal feedback for each learner.

Genius Hour Activities

Activities involved using @microbits, @raspberryiPi, @makeymakeys, or #MinecraftEducationEdition for integrated projects and some open ended community-based projects like an environmental project within an international community. Two international community members provided opportunities for students to work with international problem based learning: Koen Timmers (@zelfstudie) and his global    and Stephen Reid (@ImmersiveMind) also provided a social and emotional learning project. These different activities allowed for students to investigate different tools in our lab and demonstrate skills like collaboration, meeting deadlines and goal setting.  Students could also submit deliverables and reflect on their learning.    I used student final reflections to influence decisions for next year’s content and even turn these successes into opportunities for students to share their learning within our larger technology community.

Students articulated their experiences and I asked quite a few of them to accompany me to NCCE in Seattle in February where we first presented on our Genius Hour.   Student presentations were outstanding; they were reflective and articulate and the audience was engaged as they took the floor.   They argued for why the work was important and showed how student voice and student choice made the learning meaningful.

With this rousing success, I submitted also to @ISTE Chicago for a poster session on the same topic.   Again, I was presenting on how much we all were changed by this experience.  So many of these concepts were applicable when students were submitting digital portfolios to the College Board in May and our collective work became a foundation for Problem Based Learning and projects they would do throughout the year.  They could draw on their work for Genius Hour to create original algorithms with abstractions and articulate solutions using computational thinking.  Along this journey, I received feedback from Dr. Chris Unger who encouraged me to have students reflect on their learning and the processes they used to resolve some issues.  I used these student reflections and their finished projects to really determine that this work was a success.   The culminating event at ISTE was the poster session.  Here I am capturing the live set-up for my poster session:

Ultimately, the gift is knowing that, collaboratively, I worked with my students to try out something new.  We all felt it was successful and the students were appropriately challenged and also trusted to take on their own learning.  The goal of Genius Hour is to allow for people to stretch themselves as they get out of the confines of a typical setting; we achieved much of this as I learned alongside students.  Thanks goes to Microsoft Education team, Dr. Unger and the Northeastern Experiential Learning Project(NExT), and ultimately my principal, Cindy Duenas, and students as we all stretched to make this new thing possible.

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