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And we are back…

More from our inquiry about space…

Students arrived back today after a week off on March Break.  Over the break, aside from recouping from a long winter stretch through January and February, the Grade 6 students from Ms. Harper’s class were tasked with two responsibilities;

1. to blog about what they have learned and focus their inquiry time on, and,

2. to come up with a few questions they would want to ask our guest #DIYspace “expert” about launching a weather balloon.

We are back and the blog entries have been made by “The Crew” which for many was their first.  For the audience out there that might read some of the entries, please share your advice about writing blogs to the students as they will have several more entries about their work leading up to the launch.

On Wednesday the 25th our “Crew” will chat with PhD student Laura Dawkins of the University of Exeter who earlier this month launched a weather balloon into the atmosphere.  ( The students arrived back each with a few questions they wil ask of Laura and hope will allow them to gather information that will support the design and build phase of our project

Stayed tuned for more following our Hangout with Laura.

Coming soon…. (June, a blog post I couldn’t just step away from)

June has been one of those months, when is it not for a teacher? Year-end trips, events, report cards and of course the inevitable look ahead to the summer.  June is certainly not a month to sit back a relax now that the kids in your class have fully-grasped the expectations that you have drilled into them all year.  The fact is it is a month to keep them interested and motivated with their learning, what better time for collaborative inquiry-based learning.  Students love working with their peers and enjoy the opportunity to explore topics freely.  This June has been all about inquiry, collaboration and sharing.  My students just wrapped up an inquiry project on the impacts of a global issue related to the use and/or extraction of natural resources and now are working together as an entire class on a geographic inquiry about a country or region they wanted to know more about.  While it seems chaotic to have 24 Grade 7’s working on one project, it is amazing to see the division of responsibilities, the planning and the following through that is occurring as time ticks.  I have definitely set out my expectations, first to work together to accomplish a goal, two being that they will sharing the findings of their inquiry with my other two classes and a far greater audience using Twitter and other social media like their blogs.  As well, to have them gain a better geographical understanding of a place, make global connections with experts (Hopefully 😉 ) and to enjoy learning.  And to top off the learning, I have surprised my students by stepping in and participating in the inquiry.  What can I say, I love geography and certainly enjoy digging up new information about places I know little about.

On a professional level June has been all about sharing as, Shivonne and I have led a push on Peel’s very own Project184 blog, a place where the Peel District School Board family can share their learning experiences with others within the board and beyond.  Three weeks into the pilot of the #peel21st184 blog we have seen nearly 20 Peel educators share their responses to the question, “What did you learn today?”   The response has been overwhelming, many have expressed their excitement about the project and lots look forward to the 2014-15 edition of the #peel21st184 blog project.  While thinking ahead to next year is probably the last thing of most are doing, we already have put out the Call for Writers ( and are looking for contributors whether it be students, teachers, office managers, or superintendents.  The goal is to have as many PDSB’ers share their experiences, to inspire others.

Genius Hour Breakthrough

We have been struggling since Day 1, with the whole idea of following our passions to help drive learning.  It is called “Genius Hour.”  The whole idea of time be given to explore our own areas of interest is an ideology focused on ensuring the success of the participants.   I teach 11 and 12 year-olds whose primary interests are connecting with peers online, playing video games, sports and for a few academics.  So when the idea of “Genius TIme” was shared with me, I thought “Why not?” and honestly I could not answer the question.  So the planning began, and though my direction was unknown, I wanted to believe that they, my students would be excited, enthusiastic and willing to explore their interests as a part of the learning program this coming school year.

I presented the project, the of idea of Genius Time to my students by asking them the question, “What do you love to do?”  The reactions were mixed.  I kind of expected this, these kids had been trained for years now to follow a specific set of guidelines in order to demonstrate some sort of knowledge about a given topic.  But here they were being asked to share those things that the love to do but have always been led to believe were ineffective in supporting their growth and development.  I had to convince them that it would be possible to learn from those things we loved and were passionate about.  I shared with them my love of technology, though after a week and a half of school I think they already had a sense of my love for technology and how it could be used in my classroom. But what they likely didn’t know was that my drive to integrate technology in my classroom was the push that led me to explore and learn about new technologies and apps that could be used to support my teaching practices and their learning.

I set them off, to think about those things that they would love to explore and create.  They would come back to me day after day even more confused than the previous day.  It was clear that they were thinking about the focus of the Genius projects but for many connecting their passion to learning was a bridge they were struggling to conceive.  Many discussions and conferences would follow.  That initial week saw only a few of my students find a passion that they would follow and begin to develop as their Genius project.  So many would approach me, saying “I just don’t know”.  I asked them to record their interests in their Genius journals, so that some discussion around potential topics could be had.  I also asked them to blog about their feelings towards the project as a gateway that would keep them thinking about possible project ideas.

Earlier this week I discussed the idea of keeping it simple to start and then developing the idea into something more that could demonstrate learning.  We turned our attention to documenting the process of exploration and learning during Genius Time.  This would be important because an aspect of the project would be to share their learning with a global audience and it would be their documentation that would be shared.  On thursday, I returned to conferencing with those who were still in the dark, struggling to find a project idea.  The conferencing on Thursday was unlike those previously held.  Students presented their interests with a curiosity. One student after another slowly came to a realization that a simple idea, a passion, could be turned into a project full of learning.  An example of the our Genius Breakthrough, was one student, lets call her S. who presented the idea of making bracelets, selling them and donating the proceeds to charity, a simple project idea but one that now has led to learning about marketing, sales, connecting with a charitable organizations, gathering donations and more.  She would realize that there was so much to learn and so much to share with others.

They, almost all are now excited about their prospective project for Genius Time and I cannot wait  to see how things will develop in the coming weeks.  Up next, co-developing the criteria for assessing NOT the project but the PROCESS.

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