Monday, March 4, 2013

Adding Some "Genius" To My Free Choice Friday

I have a classroom that offers a lot of choices and freedoms.  Chances are, on any given time or day if you were to walk into my classroom, my students are never working on the same task and if they are, they are making their learning visible in different ways.  My students have their own personal work space, however they also are free to sit anywhere in the room and in our Learning Commons next to us.  Sometimes my students need a quiet space to record something, and sometimes they need a space where they can collaborate with their peers.  I encourage oral language in my classroom, and collaboration, I also expect attentive and active listening to whomever is speaking.  My classroom is where I encourage investigation, wonder and inquiry.  

Lately, I have been reading a lot about Genius Hour or 20% Time.  The 20 percent time is a well-known part of Google's philosophy, enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren't necessarily in their job descriptions. Google employee's can use the time to develop something new, and or something that they are truly passionate about. 

I wanted to incorporate this into my classroom.  Currently, I have "Free Choice Friday".  The last 40 minutes of the day on Fridays, I allow my students to work on anything they want.  
This is the perfect time for my students to work independently or with peers to practice things we have been learning and doing in class.  When I looked around my room last Friday, a had a group of students that were recording themselves reading non fiction books and taking pictures of the pages they were reading because they wanted to share these books on their blogs.  I had a few students reading joke books to each other and seeing who could find the funniest joke.  I had other students playing the math apps on the iPads.  I had some students creating a castle with lego blocks and another student creating a survey for his peers on what animal they liked the most.  Yes, some people see this as play and think that there are better ways to use those precious 40 minutes.  However, I see it as the stepping stones to independent learners who are deciding what they want to learn about and loving every second of it.  I am promoting inquiry with providing my students time and choice on what and how they want to learn.

I wanted to add some of the things I had learned about from reading about genius hour and incorporate it into my "Free Choice Friday" activity time.

This morning we started the day by watching this video:
We talked about what awesome things they were going to create today.  We talked about their interests and what they wanted to learn about.
We talked about things they wondered about and immediately they made the connection to the Wonderopolis site that we visit frequently.

We discussed things that they would like to know more about.  After they shared their wonderings with each other, I explained to them that I had created a wall on Padlet (formally Wallwisher).  I wanted an easy way for my students to be able to add to our "Wonder Wall" so I created a QR code that they could scan with the iPad to get to the wall.  

Students then got the iPads out, scanned one of the QR codes that were hung up around the room and started adding their wonders to the wall.  Here is our Wonder Wall so far:

Some of my students have not added to the wall yet, they needed some extra thinking time, and that's okay.   They know that when they are ready they can scan the QR code on the wall and add their wonder.  My students are already talking about Free Choice Friday  this week and what they want to learn about.  Will I allow the students that want to write a blog post or read a book with a friend instead of researching one of their wonders?  Of course I will, because that is what personal choice is all about.


  1. Mrs. Wideen,
    I love this Free Choice Friday with the new added wonderings! Your students are geniuses.

    You said, "Yes, some people see this as play and think that there are better ways to use those precious 40 minutes." I tend to think who cares if it looks like play? Aren't they in first grade? I teach 7th-8th grades, and my class looks pretty playful too. Have you checked out lifelong kindergarten by Mitch Resnick?

    Keep up the great genius work!

  2. FABULOUS blog post - exactly what I needed to kick start our genius hour. We check Wonderopolis quite often too and they have been coming up with their own wonders. I love the idea of the QR codes and the Padlet.

    Thank you!!!