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.
I formatively assess students through digital technology like Plickers, Kahoot, and Poll Everywhere. Plickers (Paper clickers) is a free software tool designed like QR codes to collect students’ answers to questions. I create questions on the Plickers website (www.plickers.com) and assign each student a card number. I will read and display the question on the SmartBoard and scan the room to determine students’ answers. The answers are displayed on my device in two colors (incorrect/correct) and in graphical form. This gives me a good visual of where students excel in the curriculum and where they struggle. I also use Kahoot (www.getkahoot.com) as a whole group assessment of students’ understanding. Kahoot allows me to write questions, allows for an allotted amount of time for each question to be answered, and for students to be ranked on time and the correctness of their answer. The students are fully engaged in this activity because it’s over material they’ve all covered, there is music that is aligned with the timer, and they get instant feedback. I also get a report showing their answers to the questions at the end of the game. I use this report, which uses conditional formatting, to show me which answers are correct and which are incorrect. I love how the visual gives me feedback on what students still need to master. I’ve also found Poll Everywhere (polleverywhere.com) to be a great way to formally assess my students. For instance, I asked my students to give me an example of something that is within the hydrosphere. They messaged their answers to our classroom code. It was then displayed on our SmartBoard as a word cloud. I’ve also used Poll Everywhere in conjunction with small group discussion groups with a checklist of skills and standards students need to achieve. For instance, I first used Poll Everywhere to check to see if students understood what objects would be in the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. I wanted to see if they understood the definitions before we moved onto more complex tasks. The word cloud created a list of all the objects in each sphere. I then had students take words from the word cloud and create drawings showing how the four spheres would interact. The students then shared their drawings via Apple TV and the SmartBoard in small groups. I gave verbal feedback in front of the group as well as asked probing questions if I needed to.
I use a variety of tools to help my students authenticate their learning. From blogging to social media and connecting with other classes across the country via Google Hangouts, my students use digital technology to reach learners just like them. To enhance our Genius Hour projects this year, we connnected with classrooms in Toronto. My students shared every aspect of their projects via Edublogs, as well as learned about and critiqued their virtual partners' projects. We also have a class Twitter page where we share our Instagram and Vine posts, as well as Tweets about what is happening in our classroom. To give the world a first-person view of our classroom, we also have a Google Glass blog that students document learning on via video and pictures from Glass.
The leaderboard is a display of both academic and behavioral progress for my students. The results are tabulated separately in the academic and behavioral games. In the academic game, the focus is on the experience points earned by students in academic activities. Experience points in the academic game are only awarded to students once they have mastered an activity. Once they have mastered the activity, points are added to the leaderboard. We review the academic leaderboard and recognize individuals who have made it to the top or who have made significant progress in the class. For the leaderboard in the behavior game, I use Classcraft to display students' points. This display can be sorted by experience points, health points, or action points depending on what is the required view. From my experience, the two leaderboards help steer a cooperative sense of competition among a lot of my students. It also motivates them to continue learning and sharing. Although much of this is external motivation at the beginning of the year, I see a shift towards internal motivation in regards to behavior and academic progress as the year continues. Students are much more willing to learn for learning's sake instead of a prize or written/verbal recognition as they become more accustomed to these behavior and academic qualities. The academic leaderboard displays the rankings of students in all three of my earth science classes. The behavior game on Classcraft is solely based on the students in that particular period.