Genius Hour is an ongoing project in which my students identify and explore their scientific interests and passions. Developed every Friday for an entire semester during class, the project provides an opportunity for students to cultivate their research and critical thinking skills while engaging in a topic that is of interest to them. As part of the Genius Hour project, my students connect with "virtual partners" from outside our state in a collaborative effort to authenticate their projects even more. Genius Hour culminates in a demonstration of students' research findings in a format of the students' choosing. This year, I have included the use of Flipboard, an application that allows students to search for a variety of web-based resources and to curate these resources in a visually compelling and user-friendly way.
Partner Labs are investigatons that require more than one student in the group. These labs require my students to work together to come up with a solution to a problem or to conduct an experiment. Some of my favorite activities to do with my students are The Virtual Thinking Project (PBL), and the Solar Oven and Cooler design projects. These projects require students to work collaboratively together, often in the lab, to engineer solutions to problems or to perform experiments.
Grade Contracts are a strategy I use to assess my students' progress towards mastery of defined sets of content and skill objectives and to provide feedback on their development at the end of each level in my blended learning class. Students review the mastery requirements for each level and decide whether they will pursue an "A," "B," "C," or "D" contract; in so doing, they understand and commit to what they must know and be able to do in order to earn the letter grade of the contracts they have chosen. Grade Contracts eliminate the superficiality of number grades on individual assignments and focus my students' attention on authentic demonstrations of mastery over time. This strategy also empowers my students to challenge themselves and to monitor and take responsibility for their own learning, which is an essential mindset shift in my largely self-paced class.
In order to track students' progress, along with goal sheets, I make one sweep of the classroom at the beginning of class to check to make sure students know what they are working during the class period. Sometimes I write it on an online spreadsheet. Other times, I track it using a paper spreadsheet and clipboard to make sure they have started working on what they need to be working on. This gives me a chance to talk to all of my students and help motivate those students who are slowly getting to work. I particularly like rounds because it helps me gauge students' emotions for the day. This gives me an idea of how far I can push them academically during the period.