What Matters to You?
Guest Blogger: Christina Brennan, Librarian and Teacher
Student-Driven Inquiry through Genius Hour Research
Our story begins here, in our library. Our library is a place where we read, create, and connect. My students and I love to share our learning with others. Technology allows us make those connections with authors, teachers, librarians, and most importantly, students across the country
.Last year was my first year as a teacher-librarian. I learned, and continue to learn, so much from the other teacher-librarians in my PLN that I started to ask the question: How might my students share their learning with others? The result: during the course of the 2013-2014 school year, we were lucky enough to connect with students and teachers at 16 schools in 12 states. We shared stories with one another, wrote poetry together, went on virtual field trips, celebrated World Read Aloud Day, shared project presentations, and most importantly learned to appreciate the similarities and differences that we noticed across these school communities.
One of our projects involving 4th and 5th grade students was Genius Hour. Modeled after Google’s 20% time, students were asked to research a topic of their choice. We began by brainstorming things that we were passionate about. Anything was fair game. Students were then challenged to turn their passion into a research question. We posted all of their research questions on the wall for other students to refer to throughout the year. Questions ranged from ‘how does Google get answers so quickly?’ to ‘who made cookies?’ My students were engaged in the research process as we went through it together. Along the way, we had the opportunity to connect with students from our high school who had just finished a similar 20% time project in their 10th grade English class. It was such a great experience for my 5th grade students to hear from high school students tips and tricks for doing research, as well as the topics that were important to them, as high school students. I learned so much about my students and their voices as a result of this project. Were their research skills assessed along the way? Absolutely. But I think the most important piece was that we learned about each other.
Were there bumps along the way? Absolutely. Are there things that will look different this year, during our second time around? Most definitely. Was the process of sending students in 150+ directions messy and chaotic at times? Of course. But at the end of the day, it’s a project that I’m looking forward to fine-tuning this year. What matters to students should matter in school. It may not always fit in nicely with content area curricula and standards, but it is a necessity. By working through our Genius Hour research, I hope that students began to realize that their interests and what they are learning outside of school matter. As we start a new school year, I would encourage students and teachers alike to remember that their voices matter. In the interest of helping our students become life-long learners, every voice needs to be heard, and a valued part of the conversation.