Genius Hour and Student Clubs? Hmm…

I had been meaning to introduce book clubs to my class, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. This year I wanted them to be an option for students during independent reading time rather than formal literature circles, and I needed to plan.

On Monday, one of my students — a student I have been wanting to engage more fully in class — asked if she could start a book club. Are you kidding me? That’s awesome! Of course!

The next day, she spent most of her Genius Hour considering logistics and inviting classmates to join. She made a special point of trying to include everyone, especially students who aren’t usually that into reading. It. Was. Amazing.

And then I made a mistake. Another student asked if he could start a club too — a board game club. I said a board game club would be great to pursue after school, but during class we’d stick to Genius Hour and book clubs. Wow. Way to think inside the box. Because when students spontaneously want to share their enthusiasm with other, that’s something I should definitely put a stop to, right? What am I doing, channeling Professor Umbridge? 😐

So I’m rethinking. If I allow a board game club and others (there were whispers about a writing club — how awesome is that?), two issues come to mind right away:

  1. How to keep students accountable for learning
  2. When to give them time for meetings

Both problems can be solved if student clubs meet during Genius Hour and work toward completing Genius Hour projects. A club could do a joint project, or club meetings could be a time when students working on separate projects could support one another. For example, board game club members could meet and talk about the games they’re creating individually. The focus would be on learning something, making something, and teaching or benefitting others, keeping clubs aligned to our Genius Hour goals.

What do you think? If you’re a Genius Hour teacher, has this come up in your classroom? Would you be willing to try it? What parameters would you set?

Thanks for your input if you have it, and DFTBA!

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Exploration and Xerox PARC

Beginning next week, the students in the House of Awesome will begin a learning adventure called Exploration (known in many classrooms as Genius Hour). Here’s how it works: Every Tuesday afternoon, students will be in charge of their own learning. They will choose a topic that interests them, submit a proposal, plan and conduct their own research, create something to show what they learned, and present their results to the class. While they may explore any topic that interests them, they will be learning fifth grade standards in English language arts, math, science, social studies, and/or visual and performing arts. In addition, they will develop skills in decision making, goal setting, and time management.

This will be a departure from the usual teacher-led classroom routine and a departure from what most of us expect from school. Is it worth spending so much time on free choice learning and creating? What could possibly come out of it that students can’t get from the traditional model of teaching and learning?

Let me tell you a story: the true story of Xerox PARC, established in 1970 in Palo Alto, California. A group of brilliant scientists and engineers were brought together to do basic research. Their prime directive was to invent the office of the future, nothing more specific than that. They were given free reign to dream up and try whatever they were interested in. By some estimates, more than 2,500 of their ideas are still in use today. Here are just a few examples*:

  • Ethernet (technology that formed the backbone of the Internet). I could stop there and that would be world-changing enough. But wait, there’s more!
  • Laser printers
  • The personal computer — the idea that each person in an office would have their own computer rather than just a terminal
  • The concept of a computer that was so easy, even a child could use it. Now my students are creating their own code using such machines.
  • Object-oriented programming
  • The virtual desktop and virtual folders that we all use on today’s computers
  • The concept of a suite of office software with a virtual clipboard
  • Popup windows and menus. Anyone (anyone old like me) who remembers the DOS prompt knows what a leap forward that was!
  • Desktop publishing (Yes, kids, that used to not be a thing. I’m serious.)
  • Postscript, the first technology that allowed a document to look the same regardless of the printer being used
  • WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) technology. Remember text-based editing software, e.g. Word Perfect from the 80s? That was all about to change.
  • The Alto computer: one of the first personal computers, comparable to the Macintosh but released a full eleven years earlier!
  • The concept of the laptop computer
  • Technology for video capture and manipulation that would eventually form the basis of Pixar
  • And my personal favorite: Software on the Alto allowed the user to change between fonts, including — get this — Elvish runes. I love nerds!

Suffice it to say that smart people allowed to pursue their own interests can accomplish amazing things. I look forward to another year of guiding students through the Exploration process. Allons-y! 

*Source: Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age by Michael A. Hiltzik