Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tweaking Genius Hour: The Benefit of Providing a Template

First semester is over and my students have completed another batch of Genius Hour projects.  Overall, they were excellent.

In my last post, I discussed how providing students parameters in selecting a topic was very beneficial.  Another way I tweaked Genius Hour was to provide students a template of six simple and broad requirements for World History and seven for Geography, plus a particular approach for structuring the presentation.

Though soundly based on research, my decision to implement Genius Hour last year was somewhat epiphanic in that I decided to do it and implement in less than a week.  Thus, I sometimes made things up as I went along. And I because I'd never had students do Genius Hour, I did not know how to properly give students the guidance they needed.  There were trials and error as I went along, but I learned a lot as I went along. When students presented their projects last May, I took notes on problems or issues I saw.  Here is the list of my observations:

Before implementing Genius Hour this semester, I reviewed my chicken scratches of notes from the previous semester.  Based on these observations, I devised a format and requirements that would guide students with their research.  In World History, each presentation required:

1. A quotation
2. A video clip
3. A picture
4. An event or story
5. A question to provoke thought
6. A big idea

Moreover, for each of the items above, I required students to provide an explanation of why they selected the quotation or video clip or whatever.  Finding one of the above items isn't very difficult but providing a justification for why they selected a particular picture or event was much challenging.  It was the process of EXPLAINING their selection in which students really thought about their topic.  For example, if a student's project was about Julius Caesar's conquests of Gaul and Britain, an appropriate picture would be a picture of Caesar in military dress instead of a picture of Caesar in a toga or being stabbed to death.

One of the problems with providing this structure is that it limits students' creativity in the presentation.  I'm not concerned with creativity, however.  I'm interested in historical explanation, and by providing this structure, the historical explanations that students provided was much better than the previous year.  In fact, based on the success of providing students a template, I'm adding three items to the template: a map, background information, and the significance of the person, event, or topic.

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