Thank Goodness for State Testing

Why on earth would I be happy for state testing?  State testing means I have access to a computer cart full of laptops for my entire class.   At the same time no less!  This meant I could throw away what I thought I was going to do today and do Genius Hour.

So I finally finished meeting with my last few students about their Genius Hour projects today.  The topics they’ve chosen to pursue are interesting. I have one researching why Pokemon cards are so popular among their peers. He’s planning to create a survey as part of the project and use Edmodo or Survey Monkey so he can utilize technology. He’s so excited about it!  I have another researching what it takes to become a Major League Baseball catcher. As they think of how to present their research there are the more common ones like Power Points and Prezis, of course. Then I have others who are wanting to create a web site, a public service announcement video, an interactive timeline, a picture book, and even a tutorial for parents about Pokemon. I’m so proud of my kids!   

Now, don’t think for a minute it was all rainbows and unicorns. I was hopping all around the room getting kids started, showing them how to save web sites, informing them that they did indeed have to read the material and that they may actually read the entire piece of information and discover it’s not what they needed.  All the while I’m praying they won’t accidentally stumble upon anything inappropriate. I think the best moment was when a student informed me that she typed her question into Google and it didn’t give her an answer. Gotta love them!

As crazy as it felt on our first full day of Genius Hour, I was so proud of my class. They were helping each other out with technical issues and were, for the most part, patient with me.  What really made this amazing is that after a morning full of state testing and all the glitches we had with that, they were willing to sit in front of a computer in the afternoon and do research. There were even groans when I said time was up for today. Many asked if they could work on their projects during Daily Five or whenever they finished their work early. Of course, I still have a few students who’ll need a little more support and maybe a structured list of items to accomplish in a given session, but we’ll get there. 

I would have loved for my principal or school improvement specialist to walk in and see them at work. You know what? My principal did just that.  Of course, we had just finished and my kids were watching a Magic School Bus video on sound.  Timing is everything.  But hey, at least it was an educational video and they were one hundred percent engaged!  



Make Mistakes, Get Messy

So, about two or three weeks ago I introduced my class to Genius Hour. I’d been putting it off because I wanted everything planned out and just right.  I made the Prezi from some great resources  from a great blog, Runde’s Room. The students were excited, they’d generated their lists of ideas, we’d even posted them on what was soon to be the Genius Board. Ok, I was ready…or so I thought.

So what happened? It never did get planned out perfectly.   I got distracted by all the other projects, ideas, and commitments I had going on. I dropped the ball, pure and simple. I thought time was running out, so why bother. I’ll tell you why, the kids. Even if just one kid is excited by the idea, that’s good enough for me.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. This is going to get messy. We may not even finish before the end of the year in May. I don’t even know if I’m even doing Genius Hour the right way. But you know what? I don’t care! I’m embracing the unofficial theme of our building this year. We’ve been encouraged to try new things, even if it doesn’t work at first. Like Ms. Frizzle says, “Make mistakes. Get messy.” Well, let me tell you Ms. Frizzle would be proud. You see, I’ve already made plenty of mistakes and it’s about to get messy.  I realized I should have spent more time teaching my students how to develop a good question that could be researched, starting earlier so they’d have time to create the projects they are so excited about. I have students who want to learn how to animate, create their own board game, write a picture book so little kids can learn how to become a defensive end (I’ll need to read it myself as I pretended to know what one is) and the students wanting to create their own websites to get people interested in saving wildlife and marine animals.

What do I do? I really can’t give up now (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that idea hadn’t crossed my mind several times.). I’ve decided to just breathe and do the best I can for what’s left of the school year. I’m keeping notes of what I need to improve upon for next year. For starters we’ll begin much, much earlier. I’ll develop a lesson on writing an essential question (maybe even read Runde’s blog more closely (she’s done a lot of great work on this). Of course, more clear cut directions and expectations. I want them to have a notebook or binder to keep their materials in, as well as their reflections on the process. I think a timeline would help keep them on track and motivated. This kind of project, and the responsibility that comes along with it, is so new for most of my students. Really, it’s new for me as well. Instead of assisting my students with one project, I’ll be advising on so many more. It’s all going to be worth it, especially as I think back on the excitement of one of my most reluctant writers.

So, next week will be scary. Over 20 different projects going on at one time, some kind of mandatory standardized testing, an assembly, and probably only one computer plus my iPhone available for research. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, and that’s ok.

Practice What You Preach

Simple advice really. Practice what you preach. That’s exactly what I’m doing by starting a blog. You see, I teach fourth grade and we’ve begun Genius Hour. This is time set aside each week for students to pursue a passion of theirs. They research and create a product that demonstrates their learning and then present to their classmates, maybe even globally. So, in order to encourage my students to pursue an interest, to not be afraid to fail, I’m putting myself out there and will begin a blog where I share my thoughts about education and to share the cool things my students do. I’ll first have to just figure out how to set up my blog, as well as make it both appealing and valuable.  I’ve lots to learn! Please join me on this new adventure.