Genius Hour? Genius!

I am a librarian.  I am also a teacher, but once you cross that educator threshold from the classroom into the library you start to get a little more passionate and driven about research and information literacy.  Add to the mix the proliferation of digital devices that students now have at their disposal, and the need for students to know how to harness the power of information safely, authentically and effectively has never been greater.

Enter:  Genius Hour.  This is a concept inspired by Google’s 20% Time, where employees are allowed 20% of their work time to devote to a “passion project”:  a concept of interest to them that may or may not be directly related to their work at Google.  Theoretically, by allowing space for employee creation to blossom some of that creative energy will spill over into the work done for the company.

Consider employing the same concept in your classroom.  Allow your students a small chunk of class time (one hour a week?) to investigate any subject of interest to them.  In the investigation process students will develop an authentic need to employ high quality reading comprehension and information search strategies.  Your role as a teacher is to facilitate their curiosity, show them effective and safe ways to find relevant information, and encourage them to take good notes and record their sources along the way.  Research integrated into the school day and paired with a student generated “passion” topic?  Genius, indeed!

Chris Kesler, a middle school teacher outside of Houston, has put together a terrific website full of resources for teachers interested in starting a Genius Hour program in their classroom.  He also created an informative Genius Hour video.  Check it out:


Five Reasons Your Students Should Blog


Image courtesy of Pixabay

Although I never had the opportunity to use blogging with my students, I am a big fan of the idea of incorporating blogging into the classroom, even with young students.  The following are my top 5 reasons to include student blogs as part of your classroom routine.

1.  ELA Skill Building

To get better at reading and writing students need to do a lot of reading and writing.  Why not add blogging into that reading and writing repertoire?  It’s a new and different medium for practicing those English/Language Arts skills (spelling, capitalization, clarity of written expression, elaboration in writing, reading critically, considering authors’ purposes, etc).  Students will not doubt enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to occasionally shift from pencil and paper to screen and keyboard.

2.  Authentic Audience + Feedback

The real power of blogging is writing for an authentic (and possibly wide) audience that provides constructive feedback to the student author.  It’s exciting for students to know they have “fans” who are waiting for another installment of their writing.  It creates genuine motivation for students to provide quality writing that their readers can easily consume.  Now spelling, punctuation and clarity of organization matter:  we want our readers to understand our message.  Now elaboration, tone and imagery makes our writing stand out, and hooks our readers to want to come back for more.

3.  Technology Integration

In Texas we have technology application student standards that begin in Kindergarten.  They are standards that are intended to be integrated into the general curriculum where possible rather than taught separately in isolation.  With the increase of technology devices in classrooms, this task is becoming easier.

Blogging is a great way to incorporate the teaching of technology skills.  Students have to know the basics of operating a computer (or a mobile device) plus the blogging application in order create and maintain a blog.  They are utilizing keyboarding skills, spacing, font attributes, inserting images, saving drafts, publishing, and knowing where to point readers in order to access their blog externally.  Through commenting correctly students are practicing global communication and collaboration skills as well as digital citizenship.  Digital citizenship also comes in as they cite sources of information and images.  And, naturally, blogging allows students an avenue to showcase their digital creativity and innovative thinking.

4.  Parent Connections

Blogging is a great way to connect parents to our classrooms, keep them up-to-date on what students are learning and how they are doing, and extend the walls of the classroom beyond the school day.  Parents can read and comment on their students’ blogs (and the blogs of other students if you decide to open that option) giving students encouragement and solidifying that home-school connection.  Parents can keep up with the topics being studied so the “What did you learn in school today?” conversation transforms into “Tell me where you learned all that awesome stuff about the three-toed Amazonian tree sloth!”

5.  Privacy

With tools like Kidblog, teachers can set up a main classroom account and assign student login information.  Students do not have to create individual accounts; this protects their privacy.  Teachers can also assign (or students can chose their own) code names to protect the actual identities of the students in their classroom.  This is particularly helpful for younger students.  Teachers have control over who can access student blogs.  You can limit viewing and commenting to just the students in your class or you can allow collaboration with another class in the same school or district.  Once a teacher feels the class fully understands digital safety and citizenship, the blogs can be opened to wider audiences…the ultimate goal behind classroom blogging.

Mystery Skype

Mystery, intrigue, and…geography?   Why not?

Mystery Skype is a game played via Skype (or any other videoconferencing tool) with a partner class from anywhere in the world.  Students use clues offered by the partner class to to guess each other’s location.  On the surface it is an activity that can help students grow their geography skills, but it can offer students so much more.IMG_20130921_163103

How it works

The teacher pre-schedules with another teacher a day and time to begin the Mystery Skype session.  You can find participating teachers by signing up with the Mystery Skype Community sponsored by Skype in Education.

Work with your class ahead of time to come up with some good general questions to ask your partner class.  You can also come up with good general clues to give out to your partner class about your own location.

During the Skype call, allow students to take turns asking questions, collecting clues, researching possible locations, and providing clues to the partner class.

Classroom Benefits

Aside from the obvious fun factor, Mystery Skype can help build many essential skills for our students.  Some of those include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Hypothesizing based on evidence given
  • Teamwork
  • Listening and speaking
  • Digital citizenship
  • Global communication
  • Geography & map reading


For more information check out the following links:

Skype in the Classroom-How it Works

How to Set Up and Run a Mystery Skype

Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension