Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tweaking Genius Hour: Creating Flow

Three weeks ago I updated this blog for the first time since January.  I have two very good reasons for the four month delay (I don't have any good reasons for the current three-week gap).  First, my students worked on Genius Hour for three consecutive weeks in May so there weren't any Genius Hour happenings upon which to comment or analyze from January to May.  Second, a teaching schedule doesn't work that well with my writing style.  When I was I was an undergrad at Iowa or a graduate student at Ole Miss, my best writing always happened between midnight and 3 am and was done Hemingway style.  The major reasons for this is that there were no distractions at that time of night, I liked the idea that I was working when other people were sleeping or partying (which made me feel like I was getting something done when others weren't), and I was able to get into a groove and write and rewrite and write and rewrite.  If I wrote until 3 am at Iowa, it was no big deal because I probably didn't have class until late morning (or if I had a 9:30 am class at Schaeffer Hall, I could get up 9:17, leave Hillcrest at 9:22, and arrive right at 9:29.)  At Ole Miss, I only had one morning class ever....And there was plenty of time for naps.  Staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning doesn't work as well for a teacher so sometimes it makes it tougher for me to find time to write.


Interestingly, the two reasons for not updating the blog more frequently are both related to psychological work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (It's a Hungarian name. And there will be a spelling quiz at the end of the blog.) who emphasized the importance of "flow." Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."*  This is not a new concept since there have always been instances when people have completely involved in something and lost track of everything else.  Csikszentmihalyi originally studied flow because he wanted to understand why artists got lost in their work, but he found that it had practical applications to other areas of life.

Other psychologists have taken up his work, and one of them, Owen Schaffer, developed seven prerequisites to promote flow.
"1.     Knowing what to do
2.     Knowing how to do it
3.     Knowing how well you are doing
4.     Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
5.     High perceived challenges
6.     High perceived skills
7.     Freedom from distractions"[22]
(Yes, I got this from Wikipedia.)


This semester, I decided to change the structure of my Genius Hour.  The past two semesters in which students did Genius Hour, they usually did it every Friday during the course of the semester.  This semester, they researched or shared everyday for three consecutive weeks.  I found this immensely beneficial for several reasons

Benefit #1 (content-related): They have an established base of knowledge which helps in selection of topics since they will have hopefully had their interest sparked by something during the course of the semester that they would like to explore in depth.

Benefit #2 (logistic-related): May is a crazy month at school with lots of extra-curricular activities going on, students missing class, and me missing class for tennis meets.  Since there is a lot of self-pacing in Genius Hour, students can more easily make up the time they missed on their own.  And it is the easiest sub plans ever...

Benefit #3 (structure-related/flow-related): When students did Genius Hour once a week, it sometimes took a couple weeks for them to remember "what to do" and "how to do it."  If they didn't know those two, they certainly didn't "know how well [they] are doing" or "where to go."  Thus, there was sometimes more confusion than there should have been.  This semester, however, because students had Genius Hour everyday, they didn't forget as much "what to do," "how to do it," and "where to go" because they were doing it everyday.  Students seemed to work much better, more efficiently, and get into a flow.

I wish there was a picture or story to share to illustrate how students were more able to get into a flow and how much more effective Genius Hour is when student have three consecutive weeks to work rather than fifteen or so sporadic days.  Unfortunately, I don't have solid evidence so you'll just have to take my word for it...


EPILOGUE: Being Distracted While Being Entertained
Author's Note: I was originally going to use the following content as part of the original but I went in a different direction.  Because I find these anecdotes so illuminating about the state of society, I decided to include them.

Last fall I was at a Gary Allan concert at the Clay County Fair.  For the last song (before the encore), he sang his signature song, "Watching Airplanes," which I had been waiting for all concert.  My parents and I were seated next to the aisle.  During the middle of the song, in the row in front of us, people from the center of the row wanted to leave which caused everyone else in that aisle to become distracted during the middle of the song.  I noted that I was fortunate they weren't in my row, but I didn't think too much about it because I'd waited the whole concert to enjoy this song and I wasn't about to let some idiots ruin it.

After the concert, my parents and walked back to our cars and we talked about the concert and how great it was (it was phenomenal!).  Then I brought up the mid-song leavers and I started to get mad and annoyed even though they were long gone.  I commented to my parents that if they had been in my row that I would have told them to "Sit back down. I've waited for this song the whole concert and you're not going to ruin it."  There also would have been some expletives in what I would have told them.

This incident reminded me of another concert "incident" a few years earlier.  Craig Morgan was playing at Preservation Plaza at Arnold's Park and we were listening from the boat.  He has about 6-8 well known songs, so a lot of the songs he played early in the concert weren't songs that were recognizable from the radio.  During the course of the string of unknown songs, one of my friends complained that the concert was boring or that it sucked or made some sort of immature complaint.  Later in the concert, when Morgan started playing his hit songs, what was my friend doing?  Talking on his phone... so I said something to him along the lines of "You were complaining about the songs earlier and now that he's playing good songs you're on your %@#%& phone!" There was a moment of uncomfortable silence and then everyone resumed enjoying the concert because they knew I was right.


Spell the last name of the psychologist mentioned in this piece.

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