For the past couple of years, I've been experimenting with self-directed learning in my classroom. We refer to this as “Awesome Ideas” time, and it quickly became my students’ favourite time of the day. This process was a bit challenging for students, as they struggled to come up with innovative ideas, but I knew they were enjoying the learning. I knew they were enjoying the learning, because they would groan when the lunch bell rang, or ask if they could stay in at recess to work on their ideas.
They work on a wide variety of ideas…
Information on wildlife:
Writing a play that all students have a role in:
Learning and Sharing about Chemistry:
I started by explaining to my students what Genius Hour is. If this term is new to you, here is a short video from Chris Kesler “What is Genius Hour? - Introduction to Genius Hour in the Classroom” that explains the concept:
More information on Chris’s website: http://www.geniushour.com/
As a class, we discussed how people tend to come up with great ideas when it is something they are interested in. Students seemed to appreciate that when provided with choice, they are naturally more engaged in the process.
Students began the process working how they always have in class. They worked with their friends in class, or by themselves if they preferred. Slowly I began to ask questions, “Have you seen what Matthew is working on?” and commented that they were doing a similar topic. Curiosity took over, and they began to connect with new people, and work with a greater number of classmates. Now that we are nearer the end of the year, students are typically working on about three projects at once, with various groups of students, collaborating on a variety of topics.
I spent about a month teaching my students how to use various tools effectively in the classroom. These would be the tools they would primarily present their ideas with. Students became proficient at building websites with Google Sites, slideshows with Google Slides, interactive graphic posters with Google Draw, interactive games, or animations with Scratch, and they used Minecraft to create 3D tours, or 2D static screenshots to explain their thinking, or build on their ideas.
As new tools came along, we would try them out in the classroom. Learning and sharing some of these tools became part of self-directed learning as students became proficient with the new tool, they shared it with the class. This gave students a sense of ownership of their learning that they hadn’t had in the past. They felt that their opinions and ideas mattered, and they knew that I trusted them to share their new learning with the class. As they built upon this model of learning and sharing, they became teachers in the class as well.
How has this helped students to be better learners?
As teachers, they started to look at how they would make their lesson clear and easy for others to understand. They looked at their presentation and picked out the key points they were trying to share. They used Kahoot to build an interactive quiz for the students to try after the presentation, to make sure everyone grasped the big ideas. In this way, they became metacognitive thinkers, looking at how they and their classmates were learning, and trying to improve their ability to impart knowledge they wanted to share.
Students have become more confident sharing in front of the class, as it is embedded into the self-directed learning time. Students gradually stopped simply reading their slides to the class, and began to face the audience, and share the big idea on each slide. They improved their oral communication skills and learned how to stand in front of an audience, and how to speak clearly, projecting their voices.
Playing the Kahoots really engaged the students in the classroom to pay close attention to the presentation, as they wanted to be successful during the quiz. I started to see students taking jot notes during presentations, as they organized the information they were learning to succeed in the mostly fun, but slightly competitive Kahoot.
What is nice about the Kahoot quiz, is that every student puts in a nickname, and then they can reveal who they are if they are doing well, or stay anonymous if they have an off day. This takes the pressure off for some learners in the classroom.
Slideshow that was presented in class:
Kahoot students played afterwards:
Give it a try!
Every group that wants to present (and they ALL want to present!) has to meet with me to edit their work, and receive feedback as they are finishing their first run at their presentation. These have been the most successful editing and feedback sessions as students are still involved in the development process, and are heavily motivated to fix errors, and use the feedback to polish their presentation. I have been able to focus on many grammar, spelling and writing mini-lessons this year during this process.
There has been a wide variety of projects. It was difficult at first for everyone to get started, but they shared their ideas on an Awesome Ideas board in the class, and this was often a jumping off point for students who were trying to come up with an idea.
I am still working through the best way to bring students around to the idea of helping others more. They are very excited to work on topics they are interested in, but have difficulty seeing the potential to help others. I think next year I am going to specifically use some TED talks that will help them to develop more empathy for others in their community and the bigger world as well.
Example I have used with success in class:
I am very interested in Design Thinking, and how this could be integrated to further this goal in the self-directed learning time.
I watched Time Brown’s Ted Talk on Design Thinking:
I took some notes on the video, and I am thinking how to best integrate the ideas into our Genius Hour.
Then I read “An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE” by The Design School at Stanford: https://goo.gl/LDafHr
Design Thinking changes the way students look at Genius Hour
They follow these steps:
Observe - if they understand the process of observing what is needed, then they can begin to engage with the people they are trying to help.
Listen - they need to ask the right questions, and really consider the answers if they want to help people
Define - figure out exactly what the “need” is
Create - here they design and build a prototype, and test it
Refine - they iterate, having the people they are trying to help give them feedback, until the design works.
This is currently happening in my classroom. My students came up with ideas on “How to Make School Even Better”. Here are their ideas:
We are currently applying the Design Thinking process to their idea to:
“-create a soccer space for the Kindergarten students”
They have been playing with, and talking to the Kindergarten students. They saw the need for a different space where they can play.
They empathized with the Kindergarten students, noting that the Junior and Primary students have a soccer pitch, but the Kindergarten students, who love soccer, have no such space.
They are now moving to the creation phase,-they have been given permission to design and paint out a soccer pitch on the school yard. Once the design has been iterated into a “good fit” for the end users (Kindergarteners), the project will be completed.
The amount of math necessary to pull this off is staggering. They will have to estimate and measure how far the kindergarten students are running up and down the field currently to gage the size. Then they will need to measure the perimeter, and area, ensure their corners are proper 90° angles, and have to try to calculate the amount of paint they will need to paint the lines on the field.
Not only are they eager to do this, they are willing to spend recess time getting the design set up. I am both excited, and curious to see how the final product will work. No matter what happens, I am proud of the students for their empathy for the young students in our school.
This is a messy, new way of learning. It is developing, and changes depending on the students in the classroom. I do know that there is value in this type of learning. I know it builds community, and empathy in my classroom. And I know that the students come to school engaged and excited to learn everyday!