Tag: Genius Hour

“YOU” Can Be The Expert!


Lego self-portrait by one of my students.
Lego self-portrait by one of my students.

Our school year began last week, and for both my students and I, this marked the start of many new things. As grade five students they were embarking on a new journey and transition from elementary school to middle school; while as their educator, I too, was experiencing the very same thing.

After looping with my previous students for three years and knowing what their goals and expectations were, I was unsure as to what my new group would need and what I could do to assist them this year.

As our first week unfolded, our focus and direction soon became apparent when our class discussions started to centre around learning, knowledge and expertise in different areas. One of my students said ” Miss Ariss, you are the teacher. You are smarter than us.” To which I replied. ” I may know more things because I have had more life experience, but that doesn’t mean I am smarter than you. You may have more experience than me in many areas, and because of that, you have a lot to teach me.” They pondered this and I wondered if they truly believed that they could be experts in an area that their teacher, who in their eyes, knows everything about everything all the time, was not.

We started an Art project where I asked them to represent themselves as Lego figures. As I walked around and began to assist my students, my eyes turned to one drawing. My student was effortlessly shading, detailing and bringing out his personality in his figure in a way I had never seen before. It only took a few seconds before everyone was huddled around his artwork. I took this as an opportunity to refocus them on the concept we had discussed earlier, that every one one of them can teach all of us something. That every one of them has an area of strength that can be shared with others. We had found our resident artist who has a deep love and passion for artistic interpretation and creativity.

The week progressed and student’s strengths were slowly emerging and not only that, they were starting to see them. Those who were strong in technology were helping those who were struggling to connect and learn while those who were code masters were assisting those who had trouble to unlock their locker locks. The best part to see however was that they weren’t doing the work for others, they were teaching and working with them. They were implementing their strengths.

One afternoon, one of my students said to me ” Miss Ariss, I don’t think I’m an expert at anything.” I replied, ” I know you are, but we just haven’t found out what yet.” I didn’t realize it then, but this stuck with him all day because as the home bell rang I noticed him lingering around the door. I walked over to him and he started to talk to me about the things he would be doing this weekend and then he said he loved to build robots in his room whenever he could. I asked him what kind of robots and what he meant exactly, to which he proceeded to explain to me just how he uses wires, cardboard, light switches, batteries, light bulbs and anything he could find to build and take apart things in his room. As I stood there listening to him and watching his face light up, I was amazed at how passionate he was about this. I stayed silent and listened when all of a sudden he says ” Miss Ariss… I think I’m an expert at making things. Can I make you a robot? ” I looked back at him unable to contain my smiles and just said, ” I can’t wait to have my own robot!”

On Monday he came to school carrying his tools and showed me the most incredible moving car that he had built for me:

My student's homemade part robot-car.
My student’s homemade part robot-car.

He had used a cardboard base, a light switch, batteries and wires to create this amazing robot and he made it for me. His excitement, that what he loved to do was relevant and meaningful, overtook him and he just wanted to share his creation with everyone, especially our AP Jesse McLean who he knew loved electronics. The class was riveted watching him make it run and he was beaming with pride after showing Mr. McLean and having other students ask him to teach them how he built it. He realized that he was making an impact and that his talents and strengths are important.

Most would have been happy to have reached this point, that being an expert means you are finished, but when you are dedicated and passionate about something, your learning never stops. My student went home tonight after watching this Vine video that Mr. McLean took, to refine his machine and try to see if he can alter the wiring to make it do spins.

This is only the start of our journey and I cannot begin to express just how excited I am to help my students to find out what they are experts at or what they would like to work towards becoming an expert at this year. I want to bring out their strengths and help them gain the confidence to grow and truly find their passions. Most importantly I want them to know that they matter, that I will support them and that expertise is something that is constantly evolving as they learn and share with others, that learning and expertise is a process of growth.


Pursuing Passions – Starting Genius Hour

A cake made and decorated by one of my students,
A cake made and decorated by one of my excited students at home.

Have you ever just paused in the middle of your hectic and over-scheduled life for just one single moment to assess if you are pursuing what truly makes you happy? Lets suppose you did just that, would you even know the answer?

Ask a child that very same question and most can tell you what makes them happy without hesitation and not only that, but they actively pursue those things. The questions then become: Are they being provided with adequate time and opportunity to do so, and what about those who may not know?

Over the summer, as I thought about this upcoming school year, I wanted to introduce a free-form of inquiry-based learning. My students have always been the driving force behind the learning in our classroom, but it focused directly on a specific curricular outcome and I wanted to go beyond that this year. I wanted for my students to ask the deep questions and to explore them as they wished. What is it that makes them happy? What are the things that they want to learn about and understand? After-all, school is about learning, experimenting and creation right?

With assistance and inspiration from my Twitter PLN, the work of JoyKirr with Genius Hour, Josh Stumpenhorst with Innovation DayJesse McLean with Innovation Week and AJ Juliani with 20% Time in the classroom, I set out to find what would work best for my group.  If you’ve not heard of these or are still in process of finding out more information, I highly encourage you to read about the incredible possibilities that these educators are providing for their students. There are amazing things happening in Education and it starts with providing students with the opportunity to have control over and own their learning.

On the very first day of school, we gathered together on our carpet and had a discussion about what we love to do and why. I’m lucky enough to have looped grades with my current group of students and since we’ve been together for two going on three years, we have built a deep trust with one another. At first, their answers were focused on school subjects, then they branched out to after-school activities and then realizing that I was still asking, their answers became more in-depth. I asked them if they were provided with time in school to build, create or learn about anything, what would they like to do? You could have heard a pin-drop at that moment. I watched with amazement as they pondered the possibilities and then the excitement took over and the real conversations started happening.

We are now into week three and they have begun their research. Some students are still learning to question what really motivates and drives them, what they are really passionate about. While others have delved right in, moving full-force towards their projects. Students who weren’t eager readers were asking to go to the library at recess to get more books or go online to find out more. They are reading, organizing, collecting, planning, discussing and collaborating. One student was so engaged with her cake decorating book that she baked and decorated the cake in that photo above after-school and brought in for me the next day!

What are they wanting to learn about or create? The answers really blew me away and I’ve known my group for a while. What I had anticipated they would want to do, was nowhere near what they have chosen so far. They have come up with the following completely on their own:

1. Build a running buggy – They have already located a lawnmower engine!

2. Discover the difference between butter and margarine by baking and creating a website to document their findings

3. Learning to sew

4. Exploring how SpongeBob was created and animation

5. How truck engine motors operate

6.  All about horses

7. What does a Marine Biologist do and discover

8. Design and draw a truck and then construct life-size version

My goal is to aid and assist in any way that I can. I am hoping to enlist the help of the local high school and possibly collaborate with the Mechanics and Foods educators and bring our students together to get some of their projects off the ground. I have connections in the automotive industry with my previous career and a Skype session or two with mechanical engineers is on the list as well. I’m going to continue to facilitate as many connections as possible this year to assist them.

We also had the failure conversation, especially for the few who have never thought they could create something. We learned that it’s the process and the journey that matters most and that what they start out with may not be what they end with and that’s ok. We talked about how this is something that extends outside of school; that they can create and learn everyday.

They are beginning to make the important connections and starting to ask the deeper questions. I am amazed already at the direction they are going and tell them everyday:  “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution!” – the wonderful Angela Maiers .