Friday, July 4, 2014

Genius Hour Wrap-up


So how did Genius Hour finish up?  Better than my regularity in updating the blog.  I know that the key to being successful at blogging (or anything else) is consistency.  Oops.  Regardless, I am now writing this in the Atlanta airport on the Fourth of July as I wait for a flight to Santiago, Chile to see my sister and brother-in-law.

The Genius Hour projects can be classified into three major groups: a couple unmitigated disasters, most that were pretty good, and a dozen or so that were frickin' awesome ("frickin' awesome" is the highest form of praise I can heap on anything that is praise-worthy).

Some of the most important lessons were learned by me.  As I observed and assessed the hundred or so presentations, I not only provided feedback to students but catalogued the common things my students did poorly and how I would make changes to make next semester's genius hours better.  Among the ways I could organize Genius Hour to make it better for students is my list is at school.  And besides I need to save some material for future blog posts.  So in the mean time, I would like to highlight two projects, both extremely well done, and on the same topic--music--that reached completely differed conclusions.

One project explored four different popular genres of music in United States: rock, country, rap, and blues. For each genre, the student first presented the common stereotypes associated with the genre and then presented how the stereotype was not accurate.  For her section on country music, she played a twangy song and showed pictures of musicians and fans in cowboy hats, boots, buckles, etc.  Then she showed some country music artists and fans (including me) and played some music that wasn't so stereotypically country.  My brief description does not do justice to the brilliance of this project in all regards: its concept, research, presentation (her classmates and I were riveted), and most importantly, theoretical implications of her findings (whether she intended this or not).  The implications of this project is, obviously, that stereotypes, when scrutinized do not always portray an accurate picture--an especially important idea for high school freshmen and sophomores to understand.

Ironically, another great presentation reached a completely opposite conclusion, but it was great because of the concept.  The project explored whether or not Taylor Swift's stereotype as someone who sings mostly break-up songs was true.  The student listened to all sixty-four songs on her four studio albums and categorized her songs based on four categories.  She found that of the sixty-four songs, about half were break-up songs, which seemed to her (and me) that Taylor Swift, indeed, sings about break-ups.  A LOT.

One of the reasons I highlighted these two projects is that they were both from the same class period even though the students had no idea what the implication of their projects would mean.  As the Taylor Swift project was being presented (a day or two after the music genre project), I was jumping out of skin because I knew its implications could promote an interesting (and informal and unplanned (always the best kind)) class discussion when juxtaposed with the presentation on music genre stereotypes.  Are stereotypes inaccurate?  Are they based on truth?  It was a good discussion that went in many directions.  And like the best questions, there was no correct answer as long as opinions were well-considered and supported with evidence.

Though the spontaneous, teachable moments are always the best, a teacher cannot count of them.  Therefore, one of the changes I will be making next year is to create more time for students to discuss each others' projects.  I will also be doing different forms of genius hour and look forward to sharing (more regularly!) how it goes.

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