Thursday, September 1, 2016

Find the Force (Genius Hour #1)

Today marked the introduction of Genius Hour projects (called Force Projects in my class, to go with the Star Wars theme) to my 7th & 8th graders!  Well, in my mind that is today was about - they weren't quite sure where we were going with this when class started.  I thought long and hard about how I wanted to introduce this concept to them, and ended up settling on a more exploratory approach, rather than giving them the guidelines of exactly what we were doing right away.  It ended up working out just fine, and was one small step on the road to cultivating creative, innovative thinking!

My Goals for the Class:

  • Start thinking outside of the box for what school/learning is
  • Start exploring & brainstorming ideas for different Force Projects
  • Use the class comment feature on Google Classroom to stage a class discussion (this is the first time I have ever tried this)

What We Did:
I showed my students a quick Google Slides presentation, with a couple of videos embedded, to introduce the idea of learning about something we are passionate about, for the sake of learning, and not just for a grade.  I then asked students four questions to get their feedback (inspired by @brianrozinsky's "What If?" blog post), and asked them to respond with a class comment in Google Classroom.  Finally, I asked them to read and respond to each others' comments as well as explore some projects that @AmyLynnRever's class did last year to get ideas and expand their thinking.

On the Topic of Grading:
My students' reflections on grading were interesting - three main themes came out of this discussion:
1. The majority of students said that they would not be as motivated to work hard in class if they were not being graded.
2. Several students also said that, if there were no grades, they would not know if they were improving or not.  This led into a whole discussion of feedback - can we give/receive feedback in ways other than grading?  Can you give yourself feedback (self-assessment)?
3. Students also related that if there were no grades, they would be less stressed out and less fearful of doing poorly.
The common conclusion seemed to be: If there were no grades, class would be easier and more students would choose to take orchestra, but we would sound worse and not learn as much.

Using Google Classroom for Class Discussions:
The other really interesting thing for me was to see the dynamic of having a class discussion on Google Classroom.  135 comments certainly empowered some of my quieter students to speak up and contribute more, which was awesome!  It was easy for the conversation to spiral and get off-topic, however, especially when it began moving faster than I could keep up with it!  All in all, though, it seemed to be a medium that the students were very comfortable interacting on.  It also spilled over into face-to-face conversations that students were having with each other.  I was expecting to hear some "social" talk as I circled the room, but nearly all of the students were talking with each other about the questions I had posted and their classmates' replies.  Students talking about their learning = WIN!  I wouldn't use Classroom for discussions all of the time, but it was great to try a new way of communicating as a class, and I am glad to have it in my toolbox!

Genius Hour Reflections:
This was very challenging for my students.  Having an open-ended assignment, open-ended questions, and no clear parameters (yet!) made some of them uncomfortable.  It amazed me that when asked, "If you could learn about anything, what would it be?" a lot of them had no answer.  They called me over and said, "I don't know, what are we learning next in class?"  Once we acknowledged that, though, and I assured them that I knew this felt different, but I wanted them to try anyway, their dreaming and imagination started to kick in!  For most of them, anyway - it's a work in progress.  I have to remember that they have spent years in school learning how to learn a certain way, and "play the game" of school.  While this isn't all bad, unlearning this game and adjusting to a more exploratory, inquiry-based style of learning won't happen overnight!  It will take patient teaching and coaching from me, just like any other skill I am trying to teach.

My favorite moment of the day was when a group of girls started talking about making their own YouTube channel.  When I encouraged them, the response was, "Wait, you mean we can actually DO that?!?!?"

What Now?
As I told my students, I have no expectation that they will have a topic and project figured out right now.  I am trying to start slow, and front-load them with a lot of ideas and information, as well as give them plenty of time to formulate a topic that they really want to learn about, before we officially start.  I am excited to continue challenging my students to think outside the box, explore, and become better learners this year!

The Journey Continues...
Find the Force #2 (Genius Hour #2)
Find the Force #3 (Genius Hour #3)


  1. I felt "WOW!" after reading this. I hope to understand more about your Force Projects (I don't understand what you and your class are going to explore!).

    1. Have you heard of Genius Hour? It's very student-directed, and that's what I'm basing my projects off of. I'm not entirely sure what we are going to explore either - it depends on what the kids come up with!

  2. Easier class? Less learning? Worse sounding musical group? I'm intrigued to follow how those hypotheses play out... Thanks for sharing the first steps, Aubrey. May an abundance of forces be with you!

  3. Good for you! Make sure the students understand that this is a leap of faith for you too! I have found that it helped to build a more compassionate community of learners. They were more wiling to open up to me with their struggles which helped the process quite a bit.

  4. I think I may borrow some of your approach when I do this again later this year. Taking the beginning slower to let students really figure out what they want to dedicate time to rather than just picking something to have a topic chosen will be a big help.

    The struggle of freedom seems to be a common thread among people doing Genius Hour. Students are unsure what to do with themselves after spending so much time figuring out the right answer. I'm looking forward to seeing what your students decide to try since they'll have more time to explore before settling in. Keep it up and keep sharing! I'm looking forward to learning from your experiences.

  5. Loved reading about how you are using GAFE in the music classroom. Our district is only in the beginning stages of it!