Sunday, November 22, 2015

Student Researchers

Dear Readers,

I have been asked about my implementation of an extremely modified "Genius Hour". I decided to make it my blog topic this week! I hope you enjoy!

Getting Started

My journey started over the summer when I read Pure Genius by Don Wettrick. 

It opened my mind to the idea of giving students freedom to research their interests and what is important to them. I spent the summer engaging in chats and gathering as much information as possible about this innovative concept! A huge thank you to @JoyKirr and @JayBilly2 for their amazing help and resources. Their encouragement and support really inspired me to jump in and try it.

Student Interest Surveys

My first step was to distribute student interest surveys. In Colleen Cruz's book, The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, she has a section regarding pop culture interest surveys. I included questions pertaining to social media, music, movies, etc. in addition to the "traditional" questions usually asked about school, reading and writing. It allowed me to see the whole child, not just academically, but socially as well. Thank you Colleen for the idea!

Gathering Materials

My next step was gathering informational texts and resources on a variety of topics based on the student interest surveys I had distributed. I went to the local library and checked out books on any topic imaginable from sports to gaming to Star Wars to science to history. 

First Class

Joy Kirr gave me the idea to start with a read aloud. She recommended the following book. It was a fantastic, quick, 5 minute share that "jump started" students' thinking. 

I then gave the students an entire class period (40 minutes) to browse the materials and jot down notes. (They have notebooks and folders dedicated to this learning time.) The level of student engagement was incredible. They spent the entire 40 minutes engrossed in reading and writing. It was a memorable class. The power of choice.

Second Class

As we moved into the next class, I wanted the students to start gathering and sharing ideas. I still allowed them to browse resources, but this time we started formulating questions on chart paper. 

Afterwards, I did some reflecting as a teacher as I read over their questions. A few generalizations I realized were some of them were:
  • personal opinions and could not be researched
  • extremely broad
  • could be answered with a yes or no
  • could be revised and modified to be research based questions  

Just a few areas of interest were: Star Wars, oceans, astronomy, turf fields, NFL team selection process, foster care system, etc.

Third Class

The students watched a video and then submitted a proposal to me. (This is taken from the document I created, it is very modified, the original document had guiding questions and "hints".)
  • “The Time You Have in Jellybeans”. (Link:   
  • After watching the video, I want you to brainstorm some topics that you love and others that really bother you. You may complete this in the chart below. You need 3 ideas in each column.
  • Write down the question you would like to research! The sky's the limit.
Where are we now?

Due to modified schedules, vacation days, etc. we have had to take a mini-break from our research time. However, I am planning on re-implementing it in December.

Benefits of Implementing this Time

I am excited to revisit the questions students had submitted to me. The process has allowed me to build relationships and rapport with my students that otherwise may not have happened. It has allowed me to get to know them in a different way than purely academic. 

It has also provided me the opportunity to gather evidence of students' comfort level and background knowledge in formulating research questions that are meaningful to them and their lives. If we are creating risk-takers, problem-solvers, innovators and future world collaborators, they need to have the skills and strategies necessary to question, research, present and challenge ideas, problems and solutions. 

The best part? It does not feel like something "extra". It seamlessly complemented our first unit and will continue to for the remainder of the year.

I look forward to continuing the journey with them!