Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What's Next?

If you spend any time with a preschooler, you know that questions abound.  Those little ones are inquisitive machines! As reported by Warren Berger in A More Beautiful Question, a child will ask about 40,000 questions between ages two and five. But, what's more staggering is that by middle school, those same kids will stop asking questions altogether.

I am convinced that the education system is a major player in this crazy decline of inquiry.  After all, we have a body of information to pass along to these kids, and we don't have time for them to dawdle with their own personal quest for learning.

One of my college professors used to us that she would ask her girls every day after school, "What questions did you ask?"  The answer usually came back, "Mom, the teacher asks the questions, not us."  Is this how things continue to be in education?

I was talking to a 5th grade girl yesterday, and she told me about something they heard on the radio on the way to school.  "Children love to learn more than adults."  Her 2nd grade sister piped up, "I love to learn!"  Sadly, my 5th grade friend didn't share that sentiment.  I quickly followed that up with, "No, you love to learn.  You just don't love to learn the things we're teaching."  After a moment of thought she agreed and told me she would love to learn about drawing.


You probably heard that my Innovation Classes have been cancelled for 2015-16 due to lack of students.  (If not, you can read about it here.) I realized this past week that I've been going at this Innovation/Genius Hour stuff from the wrong direction. Sure, it would be nice to kick off a brand new high school class full of bright inquisitive minds, and I'll still attempt to do that in 2016-17.  However, I realized I have a golden opportunity to catch them while they're young.

As mentioned above, school culture is very much a top-down flow of questions and answers. "I ask the questions, and you give me the answers I want to hear."  You can't just change that culture with a snappy course description that might not even be read.  You can try to change that culture by talking to the students, but that didn't work for me either.  However, I am in a unique position to make some of those changes beneath the radar.

I spent yesterday rewriting my overall elementary computer plans for the year. Grades 4-6 will have two or three month-long Genius Hour projects sprinkled into the year.  This will give them a taste of what will come in middle school. So when my 6th graders get their course descriptions in the spring, I'll be there to pounce on the Innovation Class for them.

My not-very-well-cloaked goal is to hook them young, to re-energize their slowly dying inquisitive mindset, and to slowly change the school culture from the elementary up.

We're not done yet!


Incredibly astute readers are probably asking some more questions:

  • You said you were going to hook them young. Why start the Genius Hour in 4th grade? Why not start in kindergarten or preschool? 
  • You are teaching middle school and high school courses. I saw that you're teaching Media Production. Why can't you sneak some Genius Hour into those?
  • What on earth does Genius Hour look like in a specials class?
Thanks for asking.  Let's take them one by one. 
  • Upper elementary is my comfort zone.From my research of Genius Hour in primary grades, the younger you go, the more structure you need in the projects. I'm going to need to get used to Genius Hour with upper elementary before I get into it with the little ones. If I don't have my sanity, I have nothing at all.
  • I'm co-teaching the Media Production classes, and I'm not the lead teacher.  We're still in the process of taking general ideas and writing the course details right now.  I'd like to create some student-choice video projects in there, but nothing has been decided yet. 
  • These projects will be more like Genius Nuggets rather than Genius Hour.  The intended schedule is below. The goal is to whet the appetite and help students see that their passions matter.
  • PreWeek - The week before we actually start, I will give a 5-10 minute talk about the project and send an email to parents about the project.
  • Week 1 - Project selections and begin research.
  • Weeks 2 and 3 - Research, building, creating, and updates with me.
  • Week 4 - Presentations to class.

I'm looking forward to seeing good things come next year, even if they weren't exactly what I originally intended.  

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