Teach it Tuesday: Genius Hour

Well this has been a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few months now… But it’s appropriate to put it up today as we just started our second round of Genius Hour this morning! It’s going to be our project as students finish up their work for the year they can move onto Genius Hour projects.


Do you like my lightbulb? Ha!

So for starters, in case you haven’t heard of Genius Hour it is based off the Google policy of 20% time, where their employees get to work on their own projects for 20% of their work time. It is also very in line with the philosophy in the book “The Spark” in which children need time to work with their own passions in order to do the things they aren’t as passionate about.

The Introduction

This is a crucial part of your first Genius Hour with any age group! I was working with one of the other grade 7 teachers at my school for this and we planned the introduction together and ran it for both classes at the same time. We used the Kid President video to introduce the topic of passions and then also showed the video from the Genius Hour site to further explain it. After, we each shared an example of a project that we would be working on – Mine was to create an effective half marathon training program that fit with my lifestyle. We also shared a list of project ideas other kids have done but I’m not sure if I would do this again as I ended up having a whole group of students who did the same project and as much as it was a cool idea, I think it would have been better to see what they came up with on their own.

Most of the resources that we used came from Runde’s Room – If you have not seen this blog yet then you must go take a look!

The Research

This is the piece that everyone handles differently… I know a lot of people who go heavy on the research component for the kids Genius Hour projects. I am a bit more relaxed about this with my group. Everyone had to do some research but I also encouraged them to use their time to create something or practice a skill. We spent about 4-5 weeks on the research component as we ran into Spring Break. It was a good amount of time though because I don’t think the kids would have stayed focused that much longer and they are so excited to do another Genius Hour so I know it was a good experience overall.

The Presentation

I kept the presentations very informal for my class which worked well for our group. Each student talked for about a minute and then there were lots of questions. I think it would be cool for the kids to get to try each others skills, etc. next time – But we will see if we have any time!

Have you ever tried Genius Hour or Passion Projects with your class?


To Reward or Not?

Classroom rewards are often a point of contention… What is best for kids? And for the things you do want to reward what do you give as a prize? It has taken me a little while in my teaching practice to figure out what exactly I believe in here – when is it okay to give rewards and when does it undermine the values I am trying to instill?

Personally, I do not believe in rewarding behaviour on a regular basis. I think that being ready for class is an expectation. As is being a good classmate or helping clean up the class. My students do not expect to be rewarded for these behaviours, it is the expectation that this is how they act.

Having said that there are times when I do offer rewards in class. When we forget to clean up at the end of the day and I need incentive for a few to stay after and help with the cleanup. Occasionally during math (right after recess) I offer a reward for those that are ready to go and started on the warm-up without being asked, because even in May we still struggle with this transition. Prizes for classroom games we play every so often. And, although I haven’t done it this year, I believe that offering rewards to speak French in class is useful because speaking in another language is scary, students need practice, and often there isn’t a ton of intrinsic motivation for this one.

So then the second question – What do you give as rewards? This has always been a tough one because, especially in middle school, what can you give that students will actually like? I do not believe in giving any kind of food reward like candy but often find that it is the only thing students really seem to want as a prize so I cave and buy it anyways. This year, besides the odd holiday treat, I have not given out any candy or food prizes. I found the next best thing…


Scholastic Mustache Pencils! And no, this post is not sponsored, I honestly just love these pencils so much! The kids get excited about them, they are relatively inexpensive (especially if you have Scholastic bonus coupons!), they aren’t made of sugar, and kids are less likely to lose them.

I also have a bunch of other fun pencils and colourful erasers as prizes, as well as glowsticks from the dollar store. I think if I offered a choice of candy or these then candy would still win but since they only get the choice of which pencil colour they still get pretty excited.

Added teacher bonus – the more pencils you give out the less kids say “I don’t have a pencil”! But yes, I still here it a few times a day.

I think students can get excited about whatever you give out if you do it in a fun way too! I had a really tough grade 8 class last year who were definitely in that “too cool” for anything phase, but we did Friday stickers after class cleanup and I just played it off as a big joke – in a mock preschool teacher voice saying “Okay class you did such a wonderful job cleaning up that I have a sticker for you!” Then they would roll their eyes at me… but 75% of the class would be lined up for their sticker at the end of the day!

So all in all, for me classroom rewards are meant for fun and to show students that you care but they do not reward for expected behaviours.

What do you use for classroom rewards?


Fascinating Learning

Hi everyone! I do exist! I honestly sat at my open computer for five whole minutes before I started typing this post – staring at my screen wondering if this piece was even worth documenting. Here we go.

Things are going well over here in maternity leave land.  Our baby girl is now 6.5 months old, we’ve been to Europe and back with her, and there is never a dull moment in any day.

I haven’t been posting here on Tale of Two Teachers very much because being “out of the field” (ie. realm of education) leaves me little to say or share on that topic.  I’ve only recently starting thinking about teaching again…why does maternity leave fly by so, so quickly?  I’m getting excited to be back in the classroom part-time, but I still have a handful of months before I become a working mama.  Interestingly, the opportunity to apply for jobs is just around the corner and I think it’s weird to be applying for contracts that I won’t even work in right away (my maternity leave ends in November). Moving on.

The thing about having a baby is that they change literally every. single. day.  This fascinates me to no end.  There is almost no space or time to celebrate a newly learned skill or discovery because the next day will find you marveling at something else.  Two days ago Charlee didn’t know she could roll off the rug to the bamboo floor, of course she had the rolling skills available to her, but she didn’t know how to access them, or what kind of fun was available beyond the rug.  Yesterday morning Charlee made her big escape to the hardwood floor…and today she figured out how to use her hands to push herself (like a seal, if you need a visual) to spin around on her tummy.

I'm so happy I captured the escapee in mid-roll!

I’m so happy I captured the escapee in mid-roll!

During all this exploration I just lounge on the floor with my coffee because it’s 8am and I’m still waking up (maternity leave, you guys). I usually don’t “help” Charlee out when she’s in full on discovery mode like she was this morning.  Of course if she’s going to bump her head or eat the cat’s toy I stop her, but for the most part it is all her…without me.  I love it.  The teacher in me just sits back and watches the tiny human figure out the world through trial and error, inquiry and sensory based learning.  It’s during these morning play times where I reflect the most on my teaching practice.  This morning’s particular thoughts involved the concept of enabling constraints.  Today Charlee didn’t have any toys on the floor with her – it was just her and the brightly coloured quilt.  In case you need a quick refresher on what exactly enabling constraints means, it has to do with limiting (or constraining) choice in order to open up the learning possibilities.  Not a lot of choice when it came to play things this morning, but opportunity for deep learning and exploration anyhow (because we can roll around on the floor! Yeah!)

The best part of all the learning Charlee has been doing is how she celebrates her successes.  I can praise my girl to the moon and back because she swallowed a mouthful of mashed peas, and while that is a big deal (you mamas know!), it’s the coolest when Charlee knows and feels the value of her newly learned skill and celebrates on her own with giggles, smiles, and an attempt to try again…and again…and again.  Some of you might think babies don’t know what they’re doing most of the time; therefore, making celebrations of their own learning impossible.  I (politely) disagree. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now.

Ohhh the things this teacher-mama is learning about learning while on maternity leave! My future students have no idea what’s coming their way when I jump back into teacher land!

And just because she is cute, I'll include a photo of Charlee learning how to plant carrots.

And just because she is cute, I’ll include a photo of Charlee learning how to plant carrots.


Meaningful Connections: iPads and Buddies

A few weeks ago, my friend Lindsay (her guest post is here) and I got our classes together for a buddy afternoon. We started talking about getting our classes together as soon as I got my job, since our schools are within walking distance. Before Spring Break we started planning what we would do together and since we both have been incorporating technology through iPads into our classrooms we decided to have our students use iMovie together to create a video.

I had a small group of my students create an example video on “How to be a middle school student” that we showed at the beginning of our afternoon together. Then, with a buddy they had to make a four shot iMovie under the “How to…” model. We gave them about 45 minutes to create their videos outside and then we came back inside and watched them.

Some video topics:

  • How to make a daisy chain
  • How to play tag
  • How to score a goal (soccer)

What went well?

IMG_3516I absolutely loved watching my students work with the younger students to create their videos. It is always so interesting to watch them in a leadership role and to see who takes charge or not. Leaving the instructions broad allowed for a lot of creativity and it became a good conversation starter between the students – “What do you like to do?” etc. Some of the videos turned out really well and the different experiences both classes have had with iMovie really allowed for some teachable moments to happen between the grades.

What would I change?

Initially we had paired them in groups of two, many students joined together to make a bigger group. I think I would just pair them in groups of 4-5 students from the beginning because it really seemed to help them with the ideas and the filming as well. Another thing I would change is the example video that we showed didn’t really end up being a great example and I think it led students off in a bit of a different direction. Now that we have some good examples to show I think this part will work better next time.

Where to next?

After our buddy day, Lindsay let me know that her students were now doing “How to” videos for their Social Studies projects and I thought I would incorporate that as well. My class ended up making “How to be an Ancient Greek” videos for their final projects on our Ancient Greece unit. They turned out really well and it was interesting to see how they turned their research into videos in a similar format to what they had worked on with their buddies.

In the long run the iPad is just a tool and what we need to do is make meaningful, engaging experiences for our students with this tool. The communication skills and leadership that were needed with the buddies was a great experience for all of my students! And the skills to make the “How to” video helped them to summarize their knowledge in a content area later on.

Do you have buddy classes at your school?

How do you use technology to enhance your lessons?