Sunday, March 16, 2014

3rd Grade Genius!

For the last five or six weeks my third graders have been hard at work discovering their inner genius through our "Genius Hour" research time in the library. 

Links to handouts and resources are in blue throughout.

Genius Beginnings

I first learned about the concept of Genius Hour or 20% time in the Fall, and I worked to figure out a way to tap into it to help generate excitement for research and build research skills.  Essentially, Genius Hour originated with an idea from Google, where employees are allowed 20% release time to pursue their own passions and interests as long as those interests/research could lead to something that could benefit and be used by Google.  

Seriously Genius Resources

Really though, if you want a much better explanation and some excellent resources, you should check out the Genius Hour website by Chris Kesler and follow him on twitter @iamkesler.  Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) keeps an excellent LiveBinder of Genius Hour Resources and you'll find plenty to look at over at the Genius Hour Wiki with information about Genius Hour twitter chats. If you're on Twitter, be sure to check out the hashtag #GeniusHour to keep up with all the latest discussion, resources, and ideas.

My Genius Leap

The opportunity presented itself for me to take the leap into Genius Hour this semester with my 3rd graders when I realized that I could use their passions to teach them research skills, instead of using my old tried and true sloth bear research project (while I love sloth bears, not everyone else does).  Sloth bears went out the door and I opened things up for the kids to explore their own passions.

I decided I wanted the kids to not only explore their own passions, but they would need to develop a researchable question, demonstrate good research skills (with some pointed direction from me and the help of the Big 6 Research model), create a project and present it to the class.  

Introducing Genius Hour

To introduce the idea the idea of Genius Hour to the kids, I created a Genius Hour Prezi that gave them the basics of what they would be doing.

The kids were extremely excited after viewing the prezi and learning about what they would be spending their time in library doing.  I heard "can I do my research at home!?" and "What if I want to take my work home with me? Can I do that?!"  Exactly the reaction I was hoping for!

Helping the Kids Narrow Down Their Genius

I wanted to give students a method to help identify their interests and then narrow down the ones that they really felt like they could spend all day learning about.  I started by having them fill in an Interest Survey then they looked at their interest survey and picked four things they were REALLY interested in and used an Interest Bracket to help narrow down their topic. Students had to write in their interests on lines and have a little interest "show down".  I told them they had to look at interest 1 and 2 and decide which of the two they could spend ALL day learning about or doing.  In this way, they quickly identified their topic of research. 

During this process I modeled for them on the SmartBoard how to fill in their interest survey and how to do the bracket with my own interests.  I made sure to include a variety of things - even "silly" non academic topics to try to help give them permission to put down whatever they wanted.  I also circled the room and held impromptu conferences over ideas with small groups.  If it looked like students were just putting down the "standard" academic topics, like animal research for example, I would say things like "I notice you're wearing a Minecraft shirt, why isn't that on your list?"  Or "Aren't you really interested in soccer? Do you think you should have that somewhere on your list?"  When I would ask these kinds of questions the kids would light up and the most common reaction was "I can really research that?" and I would reply with an enthusiastic "Heck YES!"

To this point, the hardest part for the kids was writing a good research question.  This did take some additional conferencing.  I had a lot of beginning questions that sounded like "What is Minecraft?" I would tell the kids, "You know what Minecraft is; do you think you need some sort of 'and' in that question."  With that strategy I often got things like "What is Minecraft, and how does it help your brain?" Or "How was soccer invented and what skills do you need to be really good?"  

We also found that sometimes we needed to narrow a topic a little more for example "Who are the best NFL players of all time and how did they get that way" became "Who are the best NFL quarterbacks and how did they get that way?"

Not all of the questions are really going to hold up, but we'll work on revising them as we get more research under their belts.  

Some of my favorite questions to come out of this so far have been: "Are ghosts real?"; "How did language start?"; "What will be the top fashion trends this year?"; "What are the basics of economics that people should know?"

I have to keep reminding myself that these are third graders!

Genius Planning

Once students have their research questions down, I modeled for them how to use the Big 6 Research Planner to help organize their thoughts about where they need to go for information and how they will search for their information.

We spent some time talking about databases and search terms in particular, and students all begin their research with KYVL.  I challenge students to come up with six different ways to search for their topics.  We talk about using "and" in their search to create phrases, and we talk about how they can use synonyms and specific aspects of the topic that they are interested in.  So kids might be researching "Fashion and trends" or "Minecraft and brain" or "Pokemon and development".

I modeled for students how they need to try all of their different search term combinations on the different databases as well as search engines like Google.  We also discussed the importance of taking care to use correct spelling and the importance of using text features to preview sites and articles to discover if they're going to be useful.  I model for students how to look for bold words, subtitles, pictures and captions, and they quickly begin to see how they can be a little more efficient.

Genius Researching

Once students begin moving more towards using databases and search engines for their research, I show them a PowToon I made to help them preview the results.

I'm encouraging students to use a variety of resources including books, websites and personal interviews.  As part of the planning process students tried to think of all of the different resources they could use including "experts" they might already know and book sections in the library they might explore.  Some kids realized that other kids are going to be experts and they have plans to develop surveys or interview questions to pose to their peers.

To help keep track of their sources, students use research sheets.  At the top of the research sheets students have to write down source material so that they can eventually create a works cited.  Because we use Word, all of the research sheets correspond to the Resources tab in Word.  Kids use Website organizers, Book organizers, and Section of Book organizers that allow them to keep track of at least four facts.  Often kids will write down their source material, get their four facts, then flip the paper over and keep writing.  

All work is stored in the library in a teacher file.  Each teacher file contains one file folder per table.  Since students sit in assigned seats, this format works well for keeping things organized and in one spot.

Projects to Share Genius

Due to some unexpected interruptions, this Genius go around we'll keep the presentations simple - they'll make posters and presentations, videos or create demonstrations.  In the future I hope to open things up a little more and have students using our .org owned blogs and create presentations using web based applications.   I'm interested to see what students create to share their passions.

I plan to start the process with 5th graders after spring break, and can't wait to see how their topics compare to those picked by kids in 3rd grade.

If you're using Genius Hour, how do you help students conduct their research and manage their sources?



  1. This is exactly what I have been searching for, thank you! I started Genius hour with my third-graders but have been struggling to help them navigate the massive internet and to focus their questions and research. Thank you for so thoughtfully sharing your step by step guidance. I am extremely excited to revise our Genius hour and see where we can take it!

  2. This is excellent and thank you for your resources!

  3. Thank you for sharing such wonderful ideas and resources. Your ideas will help make my Genius Hour even better. I used AdobeSpark with my third graders last year to create websites and videos to summarize their reading and learning. They absolutely loved it.

  4. Thank you VERY much for sharing this information. I can't wait to get started with my 3rd graders.

  5. Wonderopolis has awesome articles and ideas for kids who are stuck! I'm also using the iPad app Epic! for my students to research. Thanks for this post-the survey and bracket were so helpful for the kickoff.

  6. How would you pair this down if you only have 7 weeks?