I remember road trips with my family to see relatives in the Midwest. My dad and mom, four sisters and I traveled from North Carolina to Illinois. It was a long ride in a 1967 Chevrolet station wagon! We were all anxious to get to my aunt’s farm.
My mom planned activities for our journey. She always gave us items she knew would be of our interests. Books, games, and a list of places to find out about along the way. In retrospect I recall as much about the ride itself as the vacation. The rich conversations and lessons learned as we went down the road were experiences I have held onto during my lifetime.
This week our Genius Hour time was very much like “the ride” with destinations of learning along the way. In my last post I mentioned that my class was making a plan to include our school’s technology and media specialists during our project research time. We composed an email to them as a class. Both specialists responded with enthusiasm! And just that simple act of empowerment in asking for and finding help really energized my first graders! We were on our way with sharing our interests and learning from others in our school community.
Both specialists were interested to know the topics the children had chosen for their projects. And one asked a question that changed our direction a bit: “Will you be working in project groups?” I don’t think my first graders, who had become very invested in their “own” projects, had considered this idea . . . and neither really had their teacher! Sometimes when you are focused on making every “correct” turn you miss the learning opportunities on your journey. This juncture then became our opportunity to network and collaborate!
As a class my students and I played a game of “categories” with our topics. The children knew that they had shared interests because we had been working on curating resources on Pinterest. Now they began thinking in terms of any connections they could make between each others’ interests. We found that we had a group of people with research questions connected to fish, dogs, and cats. Those were pretty clear. Then we noticed that we had classmates interested in sports or sports figures. And then there were some who were the only ones with a certain topic. We decided those “ones” could also be a group that could help each other with the research process.
Making groups together seemed to give the children a sense of ownership in the logistics of our Genius Hour. But . . . how would the groups work together? What guidance should I give them?
I started with the usual advice teachers give to young children: “Remember to share your resources and tools.” I then stopped myself and added: “Share your ideas and your genius too!” My class and I had a very engaging discussion of what it meant to share your genius including checking-in with your group members to make sure that they were feeling successful in their search and offering help. I intentionally decided to make a couple of stopping points during the research to practice those check-ins. Soon the children began to help each other without prompting.
We began with resources from the media center this week. I watched as the research groups started to network and have conversations about their findings. The ride down this road was just as exciting for them as when I was a six-year-old heading to the Midwest!
Groups went to shop for their books and got to choose a place to work in the room. I gave them a “map” in the form of a finding facts recording sheet in order to give them a start. As they began to learn interesting facts, they decided if those facts answered their research question. Some decided to change their direction because they found another discovery about their topic that interested them. Some found good stopping places and helped friends find information. Other roads and other paths gave learning opportunities to my students as they truly enjoyed their research journey.
As I reflect on our project research this week, I am reminded of the Professional Learning Networks of grown-ups. I have certainly built my network of colleagues through using Twitter to find help from educators who share an interest in Genius Hour. By way of this network I have also made connections and learned more about many literacy education topics through other related hashtag searches and blog posts of educators.
Why limit the idea of networking to grown-ups? Letting students find connections and network possibilities with classmates gives them opportunities to collaborate, share, and grow as learners. Having friends along with you makes for the best road trips!
Next stop . . . finding other first graders around the country who share our interests!