Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Innovation Projects in Upper Elementary: Debriefing Myself After the Winter Projects

As an elementary computer teacher, I see my students for about 50 minutes a week. While I love the idea of Genius Hour in my classes, I find it hard to implement a "traditional" Genius Hour model with my students, so I developed a "Genius Nugget" concept. This is the second time this year we have dedicated roughly four weeks of classes to student innovations.  Read below as I interview myself about the process.

You already did these projects in the fall.  Did you make any changes in the project for the winter?

Yes, I made a few changes based on the outcomes of the fall projects. I recognized that most of our projects before were fact-based and not truly innovations. So for this round, they had to learn a new skill or build something new. Likewise, I realized that far too many students created a PowerPoint and didn't try to stretch themselves with their presentations.  That made me ban all PowerPoints, forcing a lot of videos. We also so a number of Haiku Decks, Educreations videos, and a couple web sites.  

I also made some organizational changes, but I don't really want to talk about those.

What were those changes? It's OK to share. 

Well, with 61 students doing these projects at one time, I wanted one central place to collect, assess, and return student work.  Microsoft has a great tool called Teacher Dashboard that does this.  I love Teacher Dashboard for most assignments. As long as the assignment doesn't need to come back to the teacher a second time, TD works like a charm.  However, I quickly came to realize that this is a horrible tool for Genius Hour.  I essentially wanted students to use the same document to communicate with me each week. I thought TD would help us cycle back and forth between student and me, over and over.  Nope. It was a hopeless mess and wasted countless hours on my part.  In the end, I was collecting work in any possible means, negating my original goal of having a super organized workflow.

In the end, this was a great way to remind my students that failure is a part of innovating. You learn from your mistakes and move on, improving all the time. 

I am already planning on using OneNote Class Notebook in the spring.  

Let me add that the folks at Microsoft are wonderful.  I had two separate people listen to my problems and tried to help me salvage the mess.  I was really impressed with how much they were willing to help me out.  Microsoft has come a long way in listening to teacher needs.

What were some of your more interesting project ideas?

I must say that "learn a new skill" was not an easy concept for some students to understand.  One boy wanted to talk about how many touchdowns a particular NFL player scored, then bopped to another similar idea, and so on. I found myself saying, "What new skill will you learn?" quite often. It was hard for some students to nail down a good idea.

What I didn't want was to create a lot of work for parents.  However, I had one family that learned to ski.  Another (6th grade) girl decided she wanted to learn how to drive.  After her driving lesson, she switched gears and went with using a green screen. We had a few cooking demonstrations.  We had students teaching themselves French,  Japanese, and German. Overall, it was a great experience for most of them.

How did parents react to this project? 

Surprisingly, I got absolutely ZERO negative reaction to the projects this time around. Due to our technical difficulties, I had a lot of parent interaction, and everything was very positive. This is a unique project idea, and I think students and parents alike appreciate the ability to pursue something of interest to the student.  It's a lot of work, but it's work the student enjoys doing... and we trick them into learning too.

And, tell me what teacher wouldn't want an email like this?
And thank you!  He really enjoyed it and worked on it passionately because he had fun doing it.  As he practiced his presentation last night he said he was really glad he got to do projects like this.  I know it is a lot of work for you, thank you for making the investment.
What did you learn through this process?

I learned quite a bit, actually.

Obviously, I've already mentioned my Teacher Dashboard issues and learning that that OneNote Class Notebook is a better tool for this job.

I learned (or maybe re-learned) I need to be more proactive when looking over the shoulder of studying students. Some kids can work independently and come up with an amazing product. Others need more guidance, and I can't rely on them to come to me for help. I had a student who restarted his project two times before his parents had to intervene with just days left before the due date. It's easy to get swept up in the work that goes with 60+ projects, but it does me no good if I can't sit down next to a student to give him a hand.

Another issue a lot of families had was getting a video off of their phone or iPad and to me.  Those files are too big to email, so we had to brainstorm some alternatives. When I'm done with this interview, I'm going to make a list of ways to transfer video from phone to teacher. I'll make this part of the standard "paperwork" I give to students at the start of a project.

I also learned how hard students can work. Once the project got rolling, I was amazed at how well the students settled in.  There were no disciplinary problems, because students were into the project. I realized once again, that Genius Hour is such a great way for students to grow academically while also chasing down passions they have in their lives.

Are there any projects you would like to share with the readers?

I have quite a few of them I'd love to share. At this point, I still need to hear another 20 or so presentations, but here are the best of them so far.

This 6th grade student wanted to learn about archaeology as a potential career path and taught himself how to create a Prezi in the process. 

This fourth grader explored iMovie by making a silent movie.

This fourth grade girl documented her journey learning competitive cheer this year by creating a video. 

This fourth grader learned about stop motion on his iPad and used iMovie to add music. While the bulk of his video is a good anti-bullying video, I thoroughly enjoyed his dancing stickmen at the end. 

This is the cutest French lesson you ever get, by a lively fourth grader.

Learn about great moments and great players in baseball history from this web site. 

Who are the greatest athletes of all time? This fifth grader will tell you all about it on his web site.

Here is a fifth grader who created a cardboard track in his living room and showed us how he tested in with his R/C car.  Enjoy!

These three fifth grade girls worked together to learn how to make chocolate. Then, they each recorded their own videos in their  own kitchens. Welcome to Food Network, ladies.

Wow! That is some great learning your kids did. Thank you for showing off their work!

Hey, you're welcome.  I'm hoping to get another group of presentations ready to show off about this time next week. There are still some good things coming. 

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