Room for Improvement

ImageLast month I led my class through our first attempt at Genius Hour and like anything new, there were some ups and some downs. Fortunately the ups far outweighed the downs, but the downs taught me more about my students than I expected to learn. Let’s take a look at the list…

The Ups:

  • Students were genuinely excited about learning in my math class, it finally happened! Ok, it does happen some other times too…But seriously, they really loved the idea of learning, making, or inventing something new. Horray!
  • Creativity & imagination – in my class I have to be honest, I value creativity as much as any skill at the moment but my class does not usually foster it…It wanted to see students attempt to move outside their comfort zone and allow their minds to run in a non-linear non-algorithmic fashion, and for some they took this freedom and ran with it.
  • SOME of questions students came up with were amazing and thought provoking. Can two HS students with no programming experience develop an App? (Spoiler alert, they can!!!) Is the butterfly effect real? (yes and no!) When do athletes reach their prime? (26ish if I recall correctly, I am over the hill at 29…) What is the best whiteboard pen? (Not the brand in which I just bought 200 of…) This last project was so well done the students were invited to our staff meeting to share their findings!

The downs:

  • Presentation skills – The class I attempted to use genius hour with is extremely talented mathematically. It is littered with the who’s who of the Principal’s list of our HS. Students are in leadership, they are in extra-curricular activities…the list goes on. I assumed they would give presentations that would be out of this world. Well…Some were fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but I was surprised how many made a powerpoint with a hundred plus words a slide and simply read it to the class. I was equally surprised how some bright, confident and personable students seemed to freeze in-front of their classmates. I have this listed as a ‘down,’ but it is was also an amazing moment when we reflected on how things went as a class because students noticed it too! It’s a 21st century skill we are going to continue to work on because it is so important.
  • Good Questions – This was much harder than I thought to develop. Students had a difficult job coming up with questions that weren’t Googleable. They wanted research projects: ‘Cool facts about Pi.’ I wanted something else, but clearly had a hard time articulating that point. For students in the 11th grade we have to move beyond just research but rather use research to support our investigations.
  • Openendedness – Students were not used to doing projects where there isn’t a clear outcome or goal. I kept hearing, ‘What exactly are you looking for?’ ‘Is this good enough?’ Have a I done enough work?’ ‘Will this get me an A?’ ‘Just tell me what you want…’
  • Rubrics – I used a rubric that I got from one of my twitter colleagues and it was a fantastic rubric, although for my next genius hour project I won’t use one. I found students focused on it too much and it became limiting. If a 4 was ‘A’ quality work I didn’t see my students go beyond that. How do you develop a rubric for creativity and innovation? Sure we probably could all agree on some things, but my path to innovation may look like a guy sitting on the couch watching the game where all of a sudden he has an ‘aha’ moment, whereas someone else may have a methodical plan from day one. As a class for our next attempt we will establish a simple rubric. Pass / Fail!
  • Just another project – We debriefed in a big circle with 30 students a week or so after the project and some students were honest which I greatly appreciated and said ‘they felt that this was just another project.’ Clearly they did not get into the project, their was no passion and no intrinsic motivation. I have to do a better job pulling this out of these students.

So those are my thoughts. My students should be commended for their effort and their willingness to be challenged and grow, but there is room for improvement. This next time around (Thursday) we’ll begin our second project. Students will be given roughly three weeks and 2 full classes to prepare their projects. We’ll spend significant time coming up with good questions using a Pro D activity I often use with adults at conferences called ‘What Sucks?’ This time we’ll do things a little differently…students will simply think about things that suck! As an example: The bus schedule in the area my students go to school is infrequent. How can this be changed given the number of passengers and city budget? We don’t have a cafeteria at our school…How can this be remedied? Who knows, maybe my math class will be on the list of what sucks!?!? Perhaps students can come up with a hack to make it better! In addition, each day over the next couple of weeks I want to model what good (and bad) presentations look like to help use hone in on that skill. Those are the two skills I want to improve the most in my students this time around, coming up with good questions and improving those presentations.

Stay tuned!


About flippingmath

Math Teacher, Flipper, Blue Jays Fan
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2 Responses to Room for Improvement

  1. Graham, thanks for this great reflective post! I’m so glad to hear about the rubric – there are some great rubrics out there, but I won’t use them. I might have students come up with their own (for those who “need” a grade), but it will be individualized, because I don’t like grading my students’ passions. Maybe that’s why some students thought of it as “just another project?” Either way, I’m so glad you’re ready to tweak – that makes me feel better. I think I tweak from week to week!!! Keep trying, and keep sharing so we can all learn even more. Thank you so much!

    • flippingmath says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Joy! I agree, rubrics seem like all the rage in education right now but for geniushour type projects they just don’t seem to help. Onward and upward!

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