Yes! Genius Hour Can Work In A High School Classroom.

Genius Hour 2My passion for Genius Hour started last summer. I learned of it earlier, but it wasn’t until I came across resources created and curated by A.J. Juliani, Joy Kirr and Gallit Zvi that I became truly inspired.

However, despite my inspiration, I was concerned. Many of the resources that I uncovered focused on its use in elementary schools. Could Genius Hour work in a high school classroom? I wanted to bring 20% Time, Passion Projects and Genius Hour to my classroom, but what would that look like?

What is Genius Hour?

If you’re not familiar with Genius Hour, it is a project inspired by Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s Montessori School Experience. Every Google employee spends 20% of their time working on projects that are of interest to them. By 2009, 50% of all Google products, including Gmail, emerged during this 20% time. Similarly, these types of projects have worked wonders for students in the classroom. If you are interested in learning more about the steps that I used in this project, please check out my Genius Hour presentation created for an EdTech conference. Also, here is the link to the Genius Hour Website assignment that I created (including rubrics). In this blog, I focus on how Genius Hour can be achieved in a high school classroom, and what I learned from the experience. 

Bringing Genius Hour to the High School Classroom

Do not expect a standing ovation when you introduce the idea

When I first introduced Genius Hour the reaction was mixed. Some students rushed to talk to me about it immediately after class – brimming with ideas. Others were very nervous about the freedom. Still others were concerned about writing blogs and/or creating vlogs for a public audience.

However, what struck me most was that many of my students stated this was the first time they had been asked what they wanted to learn in school. These were students in Grade 12 (17-18 years old). Some were excited and some were scared. Yet, I truly believed that this project could empower my students and give them ownership over their own learning. I told them this and promised to help them every step of the way, and this alleviated a lot of concerns.

Rethink the Role of Student and Teacher in your Classroom

My students engaged in a lot of projects that I knew little about. At times, this made me uneasy. I truly became the guide on the side. I was not the ‘expert’ in the class. The students were the ‘experts’ and they were teaching me, while I assisted them in their inquiry process. I had to learn to give up control. This project wasn’t about me, it was about them.

Focus on Process not Product

I spent a lot of time on process as opposed to product. This included – creating essential questions, an elevator pitch and blogs/vlogs. I concentrated on research and inquiry skills as well as tips for oral and written communication. I did not spend time on product. All of their products were different, and there was no way I could teach 30 different product styles – nor should I. One of my students built a car (after researching the evolution of cars and technology over time), another built a model of the Blue Mosque, still another created a website supporting women in the Arts and another created a documentary on the history of Witchcraft, whereas another did a murder mystery. I focused on teaching them ‘how to think, not what to think’, and the results were incredible.

Think of this project as a road trip not a destination

If you’ve ever been on a great road trip, you know the best parts are usually the detours. This is the same thing with Genius Hour. My students created an essential question and presented their elevator pitch to the class, but their projects often changed along the way. They were very nervous about this, “Ms, is it okay that I want to change my focus?” My answer was always, “Yes.” This was a passion driven project and it evolved along with their learning. Allowing them this freedom required me to take a step back, and I am so glad that I did.

This Is NOT the Solution to all of your teaching problems

I experienced increased engagement, more critical thinking, student centred learning and closer relationships with my students.  However, this project did not run perfectly. Joy Kirr wrote once on twitter that with Genius Hour you can expect about 80/20 results. I would say in my class that I generally experienced this. Most of my students fell in love with their projects – even if they were hesitant in the beginning. Others struggled with the freedom. They really wanted to ‘get the right answer’ or ‘meet my expectations.’ In the future, I hope to more effectively address these fears in my classroom. Like the students, I am learning and hopefully improving as I go.

You might actually ENJOY MARKING & BE EXCITED to go to class

Like most teachers, a stack of essays to mark is not my idea of a fun weekend. However, with Genius Hour, I was honestly excited to read what my students were creating. I looked forward to their blogs/vlogs and enjoyed commenting on each one. Every student’s project was different, personal and engaging. I became a student in my own classroom. I was excited to go to class. I looked forward to discussing their work with them. My questions were genuine – I truly wanted to know what they discovered.

Overall, Genius Hour was an incredible experience for me. I am continually brainstorming ways to use it in my other classes. This experience taught me that as high school teachers we need to stop putting limits on what we think is appropriate for the high school classroom. Our goal is to empower our students, and we should use every tool in our toolbox to achieve this purpose. If we want our students to take risks in our classroom – we need to model this ourselves. 

Suggested resources for further reading: 

Launch

The Genius Hour Guidebook

Shift This

Practical Strategies to engage students and increase critical thinking through play

FranklinTechnology Auctions

Have you ever been to an auction?  I haven’t, but I have watched pretend ones on TV and that was enough to make me believe that I could run one in my classroom. When my students walk into my class to learn about different technologies, I am dressed in a full suit with a bow tie – my version of an Auctioneer costume – ready to auction off technologies. I have two types of Technology Auctions that I run.

The Secret Auction

The students are not told what types of technology they will be bidding on, or how many items there are but only that they are allowed to purchase three and each item has a secret point system attached to it that will be revealed at the end. When I reveal the points at the end, the students can either accept my results or try to prove me wrong. I have never had a group accept my results yet. Instead, the teams start researching everything they can find on the technology to prove me wrong whereas the winning team is out to prove me right. Its madness, and so much fun! During the auction, I am speaking at a ridiculously fast pace as I believe an auctioneer would be jumping all over the place managing the bids and then afterwards, the students are recording all of the new information in spreadsheets or on the whiteboard.

Technology in World War One Auction.

The Prepared Auction

I tell the students that we will be having an auction in class tomorrow. I break them up into their groups, give them the rules of the auction and a list of the items that they could possibly bid on. I then give them the class to research the items, identify their strengths and weaknesses and come up with a list of items that they want to get – ranking them from most important to least important. The next day, the madness of the auction begins and after the technology has been distributed students have to explain why their purchases are superior to another teams.

Both are fun, both are effective, both are loud and noisy, and both require a teacher willing to make a fool of herself. Either way, they leave after having a lot of fun and learning a lot more about the evolution of technology and its impact on whatever time period in history we are looking at.

QR Code Treasure Hunts

This is an idea that I adopted from Russel Tarr’s book A History Teaching Toolbox. Place QR codes all around the school with questions/clues that you want the students to answer.  Make sure that each group has access to a Smartphone with a QR code reader, and then send them off around the school on the treasure hunt. As they solve each question, they should get a clue that leads them closer to finding the ‘treasure’.  You can have them submit their answer in a Google form and then have the ‘clue’ revealed in the answer spot. QR Code Generator

Socratic Soccer or Capture the Flag Socratic Soccer

I adapted this idea from B’s Book Love.  One way of doing this is that you take a marker and you draw questions on the soccer ball that you want the student to answer. When the student has the ball kicked to them or thrown to them, they have to pick a question on the ball to answer. Another way of doing this is my own version of Capture the Flag Socratic Soccer. Take your students outside to the field with a soccer ball, create two teams or if it is a large class create four and have two separate games going. Have four or five posts that each team has to get before they can get to the final post and capture the team’s flag. At each post, the team has to answer a question, solve a puzzle, etc. If they are successful they continue. If they lose the ball is stolen from them, and it is the other team’s turn. When they are not at a particular point, the game carries on like a regular game of soccer, students can steal the ball from each other, etc. However, when at a point, they have to stop the game and listen to the answer. The other team also wants to hear the question and answer, because if the team gets it wrong than they may have a chance at it in the future.  It is chaos, but is a lot of fun.  This is a great review game or introductory activity.

Simulations/Mock Trials

I have had incredible luck in my teaching career with simulations and role plays. A few that I do include: A Congress of Vienna (adapted from Yale University), The Trial of Louis XVI, Town hall during the Great Depression, Model United Nations and many different Mock Trials.    These simulations require students to take on different roles, engage in research, critical thinking and argue in character for their position. My students love it, and take their roles very seriously. They end up doing far more research than I would have ever asked them to do, and I often end up learning way more on the topic from them. I also wear a judge’s room and have a gavel that I use when the debates get too lively. My Grade 10 History and West and the World Website have links to the assignments. I will be changing these sites over to new Google Sites, but right now all of the simulations are there.

Bring in the Arts

I am not an artist. However, I draw for my students all the time. I draw planes that kind of look like sick penguins. Also, when I teach about dances from the past, I like to bust a move in front of the class. They laugh, they remember, they appreciate that I am willing to be silly in front of them – it works. However, some of our students are incredibly talented. I am talking unbelievably, take my breathe away, leave me in awe talented, and they love to show it off. Give the students whiteboard markers or window markers and let them create a mind map on the windows, ask them to make a song on a particular topic, give them play doh or lego and see what they build. Have them work in pairs or groups, make the only criteria be that it has to be collaborative and teach the class something about what we are learning, and then let them run free! They’ll have fun, so will you and they get to showcase their talents while teaching others.

Balloon Debates

This is taken directly from Rusel Tarr’s A History Teaching Toolbox. I haven’t adapted it or changed it in the slightest – this is all his brilliance. Basically, a balloon debate begins with the premise that a hot air balloon in which we are all in is losing height rapidly, and will soon crash. Each student is given a character that they have to research for and come up with arguments for why their character should stay in the balloon. The students will go up in groups of four and only present the positives of their character. At the end of all four presentations, the students will vote on one person to keep in the hot air balloon. After all of the groups of four have presented, the class has a set of finalists. Now, those people who were with the finalist but were eliminated become their teammate and seek to find out negatives on the remaining character. When the finalists present in front of the class, the finalist and their team point out reasons why other characters should be eliminated from the balloon. In the end, only one person is left standing in the balloon.  

Games

There is a great website called Gaming the Past that links to online games that you can explore for you use in your classroom. You can also consider incorporating games that the students may already by playing such as Civilizations and/or Minecraft. Just make sure that you try out all of the games before, make sure they are class appropriate,  have clear learning goals in mind and design something to accompany the game whether it be questions or a quest that you want the students to solve at the end of the game.

Escape Rooms/Breakout Edu/Digital Breakouts

Escape rooms have become extremely popular. Basically, people are locked into a room and they have to work together collaboratively to get out.  I haven’t tried this yet in my classroom, but this is definitely on my list for fall. This article How to Create an Escape Room Your Students Will Love  outlines the steps this teacher took to create an Escape Room for her students. You can also checkout Breakout Edu which sends you a kit and games that your class can engage in to break open a box. Probably what I am most excited about, is Digital-Breakout EDU they provide games and templates that you can use to create your own online Breakout game. I like the idea of this because you can create a digital game for groups of four to work on through Google forms and other online tools. This is great because it is free, easily accessible and easily changeable when things go wrong or you want to change things for next year.  I looked online, but I haven’t found any for Canadian History, so I am hoping to use this template to create one for the Cold War and Igor Gouzenko’s discovery of a spy ring in Canada.

Have your students create a game

Instead of creating a review game for your classes, make this a student assignment. Break the students into groups of four and have them design a game for other students. Give the students a class to play the games and provide each other with feedback. Then keep a copy of some of the games to use in your classes. 

 

 

What Gamification Can Reveal About Learning

If you read my other blog posts, you may notice that I write about the importance of play a lot. I have to be honest, I didn’t always recognize or value how important play was for learning. Then I had kids.

I am the mother of two young boys, both under four.  When they hit about two, they started to engage in unstructured play. I watched them negotiate the rules of play, solve puzzles or create – as they did today- a boat with blankets, pillows, one of my shirts, a chair, some canned goods and a rope.

As an educator, I was struck by all the learning I was witnessing and knew that I didn’t always see this in my classroom. Or if I am being honest, I rarely saw this same type of engagement in my classrooms. As such, I became very interested in the power of play and its impact on learning.

Gamification employs characteristics typically affiliated with video games and uses them to engage people in different learning activities. 

Five things happen in play that educators often seek, but struggle to achieve, in their own classrooms: motivation, collaboration, higher order thinking skills, improved problem solving skills and perspective taking.

Motivation

Games tap into both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.  Most games involve a community of players that work together to achieve a particular goal. This type of collaboration facilitates a student’s sense of belonging and safety. In game play, students are faced with complex tasks that are divided into smaller, more manageable challenges and as they achieve success at different complex levels they develop feelings of esteem that motivates them to take on more challenging learning tasks.  Finally, gaming is fun. The 61 billion dollars recorded in digital gaming sales illustrates that people enjoy playing games.  This is because games make otherwise tedious exercises engaging and enjoyable.

Collaboration

Collaborative learning occurs when students work together interdependently to achieve a common goal.  Digital game players are heavily reliant on one another as they need each other’s strengths and expertise to achieve a certain level or meet a particular goal. Minecraft is extremely popular with more than 100 million users. It has often been referred to as virtual lego – you work with others to build amazing things.  The creators of Minecraft have also released Minecraftedu. A version of Minecraft specifically designed to be used by classroom teachers. Minecraftedu allows teachers to create and manage classes inside Minecraft for a variety of different subject areas. Teachers are given access to templates created by teachers for teachers  specifically designed to facilitate collaboration, design and decision-making skills.

Higher Order Thinking Skills

Gamification is linked to improved critical thinking skills. A study conducted by Steinkuehler (2011) looked at the reading abilities of teenage boys and found that they were able to read above reading level during game play while scoring two years below grade level on traditional standardized tests. These findings point not to an issue with literacy, but to an issue with student engagement and the impact that disengagement can have on a student’s academic achievement. Similarly, the Computer Science Department at North Carolina State University created a digital game called Crystal Island to look at gaming and learning. This game requires students to work together to stop a disease from spreading by using investigation skills, making reasoned hypotheses and applying deductive reasoning skills.  The study revealed that students who played Crystal Island increased their scientific content knowledge far more than those who learned the same material traditionally. The study also found that low achievers were more comfortable and persistent in using trial and error to achieve their aims then they were in traditional assessments.

Improved Problem Solving Skills

Regular digital game play has been linked to increased brain matter, excellent multitasking skills, fluid intelligence required for problem solving and the ability to work together collaboratively.  Video games have also been shown to improve spatial awareness and/or map reading. In some games, students achieve flow. This is a psychological state where the individual is completely immersed in the task at hand and this focus contributes to improved performance.

Perspective Taking

In the Peacemaker game students make real life decisions as either Israel or Palestine to respond to real world events. Cuhadar and Kampf (2014) conducted a cross-national experiment looking at the use of Peacemaker among Turkish, American, Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian University students. All groups were required to play the game from both Israel’s and Palestine’s perspective. 147 students participated in the study. The study was used to assess how games like Peacemaker can influence perspective taking. Both American and Turkish students entered the game with a particular bias. In general American students were pro-Israel and Turkish students were pro-Palestine. This noticeably shifted after their participation in Peacemaker, as both American and Turkish students recognized the legitimacy of arguments raised by both Israel and Palestine after playing Peacemaker. Conversely, Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian participants did not change their perspective after game-play. The study also revealed that all participants gained deeper knowledge of the conflict. Although, this simulation was not transformative for all participants it does provide positive insights into how these types of simulations can be used to educate and help students engage in peaceful conflict resolution. Similarly, having third parties gain a more impartial attitude, by breaking down misinformation is important. Overall, these types of simulations engage students in investigation, problem solving and decision making skills.

Final Thoughts

Gamification motivates students, encourages critical thinking, resilience and collaboration.  As Chatfield (2010) argues, gamers build worlds that tick the evolutionary boxes that our brains need to engage in learning.  The principles that guide gaming and have led to the popularity of games, like Minecraft, can help to improve our teaching practices. We can look at these principles to create simulations and play-based activities in our classrooms that engage and support student learning.

Interested in starting Gamification in your classroom check out these great tools/blogs below:

9 Awesome Gamification Examples in the Classroom

12 Examples of Gamification in the Classroom

Class Craft

Beyond Badges: Why Gamify?

Gamification Co blog

Also check out this video that looks at the brain science behind gaming:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyamsZXXF2w

References

Callaghan, N. (2016). Investigating the role of minecraft in educational learning environments. Educational Media International, 53(4), 244-260. doi:10.1080/09523987.2016.1254877

Chatfield, T. (2010, November 01) Retrieved March, 2017, from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyamsZXXF2w

Cuhadar, E., & Kampf, R. (2014). Learning about conflict and negotiations through computer simulations: The case of PeaceMaker1. International Studies Perspectives, 15(4), 509-524. doi:10.1111/insp.12076

Creativeme.co. (2015). Minecraft edu: About Minecraft Edu. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.creativeme.co/index.php/minecraft-edu?id=231

Dakers, J. (2005). Technology Education as Solo Activity or Socially Constructed Learning. International Journal of Technology and Design Education Int J Technol Des Educ, 15(1), 73-89.

DiChristopher, T. (2016, January 27). Digital gaming sales hit record $61B: Report. Retrieved April 03, 2017, from http://www.cnbc.com/2016/01/26/digital-gaming-sales-hit-record-61-billion-in-2015-report.html

Ferriman, J. (2014). Why you should not use gamification? Retrieved March 2017, from https://www.learndash.com/why-you-should-not-use-gamification/

Gilakjani, A. P., Leong, L. M., & Ismail, H. N. (2013). Teachers’ Use of Technology and Constructivism. IJMECS International Journal of Modern Education and Computer Science, 5(4), 49-63.

Junco, R. (2014, April 28). Beyond ‘Screen Time:’ What Minecraft Teaches Kids. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/04/beyond-screen-time-what-a-good-game-like-minecraft-teaches-kids/361261/

Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., Salen, K. (2009). Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunities and Openness. The Education Arcade. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

http://education.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/MovingLearningGamesForward_EdArcade.pdf

Lastowka, G. (2011). Minecraft as Web 2.0: Amateur creativity & digital games. Retrieved March 2017, from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1939241

Lynch, M. (2016) Can Gamification Help Struggling Students? Retrieved April 03, 2017, from http://www.thetechedvocate.org/can-gamification-help-struggling-students/?utm_source=ReviveOldPost&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=ReviveOldPost

Richter, G., Raban, D. R., & Rafaeli, S. (2014). Studying Gamification: The Effect of Rewards and Incentives on Motivation. Gamification in Education and Business,21-46. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-10208-5_2

Romero, Margarida., Usart, Mireia., Ott, Michela., and Earp, Jeffrey, “Learning Through Playing For or Against Each Other? Promoting Collaborative Learning in Digital Game Based Learning” (2012). ECIS 2012 Proceedings. Paper 93. http://aisel.aisnet.org/ecis2012/93

 

Zaino, J. (2013, July 22). The Pros and Cons of Gamification in the Classroom. Retrieved April 05, 2017, from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2013/07/pros-and-cons-gamification-classroom

 

Zichermann, G. (2011). How games make kids smarter. Retrieved March, 2017, from https://www.ted.com/talks/gabe_zichermann_how_games_make_kids_smarter