What does Genius Hour actually look like?

Yesterday I put the wraps on year 29.  I haven’t even begun to process that yet.  I am sure I will blog about that later.  How did I end my last day?  (The students actually end on Monday, but I had to finish early due to an elementary math 9 – 4 2 week course that starts on Monday)  I ended with one of my students favorite activity, Genius Hour.  I know I wrote this post about what Genius Hour is a while back.  In this post, I will show you what it looks like in grade three.

There is definitely prep work that goes into Genius Hour.  Students have to first decide what they are going to do.  I found that in grade three, this was difficult.  They really needed help deciding.  Before Genius Hour, students need to create a plan for what they would do during this time.  This plan includes what they would do/study and how they would do it.  Websites and book titles need to be included.  Students have to bring in all materials needed (except for things I have at school). This plan was due about three days before the actually Genius Hour.  That would give me time to look at it and make sure it was appropriate and web sites are accessible.  These papers were done at home as homework.  I emphasized with the students that if they are responsible enough for Genius Hour, they are responsible enough to fill out the papers and bring them back.  However, students also knew that I would give up any recess that I wasn’t on duty to help them find topics and/or resources.  The expectation is that the students would begin Genius Hour ready to work, not looking for materials and/or websites.

Students also need to have independent skills.  I do not start Genius Hour until later in the fall and independent work skills have been fully established.  The projects/time spent need to be something they can work on their own.  Because there are many different learning going on at once, I cannot sit and just help one group for a long period of time.

Over the years, my Genius Hour has changed.  Each class seems to have their own character on things they like to do.  I also have had Genius Hour Unplugged (no electronics) and Creative Genius Hour (art).

Here are pictures from my last Genius Hour on Friday. I have found that there are no behavior problems at all during Genius Hours.  Students do get excited to see what others are

img_0656doing, but my role is to walk around and help troubleshoot more than anything; help find a different website, get more materials, be an extra set of hands, suggest further learning etc.

This group is the coding group.  I used code.org in the beginning of the year for students who were having a hard


time deciding what to do.  These students loved it.  A few of them have done coding for several genius hours.


On my right, the boy on the floor is working with circuits.  It was a kit he brought from home.  During this time, there was an experiment to put the wires in water and add salt to it.  I am so glad I had salt!  Did you know that salt makes a sound louder?  I didn’t.  The child in the rocking chair is learning about the Hindenberg.  He was taking notes in his Writer’s Notebook.


These boys to my left and another friend were learning about the Yankees.  They taught me about a rookie who is on his way to having the most home runs in season.  They also learned who were the greatest Yankees of all time.


The girls to the right were doing science activities.  One of them was making slime.  The other was adding vinegar and baking soda to a water bottle and then put a balloon on top.  The liquid in the


bottle blew up the balloon.  She then researched why that happened.

On the left, we have a student studying the history of school and one room school houses.  Another student is studying cats.  Both are using their Writer’s Notebooks to take notes.

My final picture is a student who was studying mindfulness and yoga and its affects to help stress.  Pretty awesome, right?  We do mindfulness in our class and I was so excited that she took it to the next level.  She spent part of her Genius Hour practicing mindfulness as well. She then taught us about how mindfulness and yoga can reduce stress.

Genius Hour is one of my favorite parts of school.  Students drive what they are going to learn about and then set about learning.  As you can tell from the photos all students are highly engaged.  They are all challenging themselves to think deeply.  I truly feel that this is authentic learning at its best!



Iwanicki Book Awards

In going with the theme of making the last day of school as good as first, I did this Dave Burgess inspired activity of the Iwanicki Book Awards.  This was several weeks in the making and revealed today. Just a quick recap. Students used Kidblog to write their nominee and convince others of their choice. Then I created a google form which they answered (using google forms for the first time).

During the week, small groups of students had created trivia questions for many of the categories. Another group also made a word search. During the Award’s ceremony, we built up suspense by playing Oscar Music and then announcing each category and the nominees. I would then say, “Here is a word from our sponsor.”  While the students waited, they worked on their trivia.   Students were cheering and yelling and there were even a few disappointed students.  I had to sit back and remember that this was all about books!  Students in my class were yelling about books! How great is that?!  The books listed below affected my students.  It made them passionate readers. They all made my students think just a little differently.

It was a wonderful activity that I hope will become a tradition.  I am glad that I pushed myself just a little harder.  The students reactions were priceless.

PS I would recommend any book on this list for anyone to read. They are all fabulous!


Best Setting
Winner: Echo
Runner Up: The War That Saved My Life


Best Supporting Character:
Winner:  Frankie in Echo
Runner Up:  Rose in Out of My Mind

Best Illustrations
Winner: The Night Gardner
Runner Up:  Journey

Favorite Character in a Graphic Novel
Winner: Snappsy
Runner Up: El Deafo

Favorite Character in a Chapter/Middle Grade Novel
Winner: Tie: Gerta in Night Divided and Charlie in Wish
Runner Up:  Frankie and Mike in Echo

war that saved my lifeBest Picture Book:
Winner: Snappsy
Runner Up: The Night Gardener

Best Graphic Novel
Winner: El Deafo
Runner Up:  The Bad Guys

Best Middle Grade Novel
Winner:  Echo
Runner Up: Tie The Night Divided and The War That Saved My Life

Favorite Read Aloud
Winner: Rump
Runner Up:  Out of My Mind
the night divided


Blackout Poetry

I hoard books.  I have a problem.  I know I do.  Getting rid of books is very difficult for me.  You just never know if you will have a reader who needs THAT book!  So for me, it is always a struggle.  This year, I have been very lucky.  I have  received many brand spanking new books for my classroom library. I finally felt better getting rid of some of the old, worn out books and/or the books that were never read.  I set up an area in my classroom called retired books and my students could just take as many as they wanted.  I got rid of many of my books, but there were still many left.  What should I do?

Going with my theme of trying to make the end of the year as good as the beginning, I decided to give them to the students to do Blackout Poetry.  In blackout poetry, a reader skims any page.  Students are looking for words that stick out for them.  They then try to find words that go with that word to form a poem.  The rest of the words are then blacked out.

I gave a brief explanation from https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/john-depasquale/blackout-poetry/ and showed them a few examples on google. Then set them off!

The pictures below were created in no more than 15 minutes (all the time we had).  If students create more tomorrow, I will post another blog.

In this example, the student highlighted the words and then made a base and part of a diamond to go with his poem.



This child was not completed yet, but you can see how her poem is turning out!


Students loved this activity and actually asked to take it out to it at recess!  Success!

Questions from 3rd grade East Granby, CT

Dear Miss Kelsey,

We have questions for you:

When does school get out in Costa Rica?  We get out 6/21.

July 6! But the last four days of school are called “camp” which I talk about a little bit later on.

How hot is it? What is the climate?

It’s around 85 degrees everyday. It’s hot and humid. We’re in rainy season right now, so it rains almost everyday. Last night there was a huge storm with hard rain, thunder, and lightening! The other season is the dry season and everything gets brown and dead. Fortunately for us, everything is beautiful and green right now!

When does school start?

Early September. But their year is separated into trimesters, and they have a break between each trimester.

Was the solar panel in the classroom?

Yes! The representative from the power company brought a solar panel into our classroom for the kids to see. The one he brought wasn’t one that was going up on our roof, just an example. The kids got to touch it and the representative told us it’s made up of different materials like silicon, glass, and metal.

What do kids like to do in Costa Rica?

Soccer, soccer, soccer! Almost all of the boys in my class play soccer. But they have very similar tastes to kids in the United States. Other activities the kids do include horseback riding lessons, tennis, and scuba diving. They’re very active!!

Also, both of my older host brothers love videogames (MineCraft for example). One of them also has a fidget spinner (they’re a big fad in the school right now).

What do they use the TV in the classroom for?

They use the TV as a SmartBoard. They don’t have a big whiteboard space, just a small easel, so if my teacher is presenting something, she’ll connect her computer and project it on the TV.

How is school different in Costa Rica?  Do they use different learning tools?

School is different but it’s also the same. They have different things like anchor projects, which are projects they work on for the whole year to benefit the community; creative block on Fridays when they get to pick a different form of creative expressions (I’m helping with painting the boat); the end of the year they have something called camp and they play games for the last week of school and pretend to “camp out” at the school; community meeting when PreK-2nd grade meets in the morning to share announcements and projects. Oh! They also don’t have any standardized test (like MAP or SBAC) and their grades (up until high school) are based primarily off of behavior.

But similar to the United States they have classroom management things like a fair jar (to pick people to participate), classroom jobs (line leader, folders), field trips (which are a little different – kindergarten went on a boat and we’re going to an animal sanctuary).

Do you like teaching there?

I absolutely love it here! I got attached to the class very quickly and I think they are an intelligent, funny, and kind group of kids and I am going to miss them dearly when I leave in a little less than 3 weeks. I think this school is so interesting and I love their mission of teaching students to better themselves, their families, their communities, and their world.

Do you have a bug patrol?

We don’t have an assigned bug patrol, it’s more of whoever sees the bug first takes care of it. Usually we leave the bugs alone but sometimes if it’s in the classroom or bothering someone, a teacher will try to relocate it. Unless it’s a scorpion … last week there was a baby scorpion in our community meeting and a teacher smacked it with her shoe because “there are no scorpions in community meeting!”

I personally have a motto that if the bugs leave me alone I’ll leave them alone and that’s been working out great.

Thank you!

No, thank you!!!



Is Listening Cheating?

Last year, I was on the road a lot by myself.  I am not a fan of driving, or sitting for a long period of time without a book, so it was torture, pure torture.  I had listened to a ton of podcasts, but I was finding that I needed something new.  I had heard of this fabulous book called Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (Have you seen it?  It is huge).  I wanted to read it, but didn’t know when I would find the time (too many books, so little time) so  I decided to try an audio book.  I mean, what was the worse that could happen? At first I found it very challenging, very challenging!  My mind would wander and I would miss whole parts of the story.  I had to really work at staying focused.  Suddenly one day, I noticed that I found myself looking forward to car trips. I needed to find out what happened. I knew I was hooked when I would listen on a run.

Fast forward a year. Echo is once again a March Book Madness book.  This is a very complex book for grade three.  I decide to try something new.  Why couldn’t students listen to part of the book in class?  It would help with the names and give them a boost with the concepts.  Then, they would read independently for their reading at home.  I struggled with this.  Would they grow as reader?  Would this be accepted as real reading?   Maybe the book was just too hard and I should not try it.  As I grappled with these questions,  I really felt in my gut that it would be okay.  I would monitor and change if needed.

This is how it worked; students seemed to pair up.  One pair at a time would read Echo.  During independent reading time, they would grab my I-pad, their books and go into the hall to listen.  At night, they would read the same amount independently.  The next day, they would have a discussion and get listening.  I would also meet with them.  I had about three or four different groups that listened to it.

All of my fears were put to rest when a student, so excited about the book, came in and yelled across the classroom, “I can’t believe this just happened…” He started to tell the ending but was booed (in a loving way) out of the room.  His excitement was a beautiful thing to watch.  Echo also goes down as one of my students favorite books from this year.

As a school, we also did One Book, One School.  This year, it was chosen to do the Lemonade War.  I had a couple of students that would not have been able to read that book on their own.  They listened to it.  They had their books and they followed along, completely engage in the book. Because of the audio, these students were able to participate in this amazing program and enjoy a delightful book.

Students who listened to an audio book this year clearly did not work on their word attack or decoding skills.  While they had the books in front of them, they may or may not have been reading along.  However, they were working on comprehension; both literal and inferential.  All students worked on their listening skills and had to focus on the story in a new way that was different from when I read aloud.  In both cases, the audio allowed them to understand books at a higher level than they were reading. The audio helped the students to pronounce names and words they were unfamiliar with.  It helped developed their vocabulary.  Both audios used in class allowed these students to be part of group and help them to feel included.  The students were fully engaged and loved using the audios.  Our main goal is to get children to see the power of reading.  To love it and want to read.  The audios help contribute to this.

In processessing the use of audio books, would I allow my students to listen to a book during independent reading time? Absolutely yes!  Not as an all the time, but definitely as I did this year.  By the way, I have even gotten my husband to listen to books on his hour commute!




Digging Deep; really deep


Summer-vacation-messageIt is the end of the school year.  As of today, I have 7 days left.  Like most teachers in America, I am tired, worn out and overwhelmed. I feel I have given all that I have to give and I am not sure there is anything left.  However, this year I noticed that there is a theme in the blogs I read, the twitter chats I am in and the podcasts I listen to.  The theme is that the end of the year should be as strong as the beginning of the year.  There should be no end of the year count down and we should finish strong. WTH?!  Finish strong?! I am barely hanging on.  Then I process..I begin to let the idea of finishing strong mull over in my brain.  Do I have just a little left inside of me?  Can I squeeze out just a little more?  I dig deep and this is what I have come up with.


On a podcast I listened to (I cannot remember which one) Dave Burgess talked about having Book Awards; kind of like the Academy Awards.  Okay, I can do that.  So I had my students use KidBlog (a blogging app, like this one, but meant for kids).  They all voted in several categories: Best Graphic Novel, Best Character in a Chapter Book, Favorite Read Aloud, Favorite Chapter Book, Best Picture Book, Favorite Character in A Graphic Novel or Picture Book, Favorite Supporting Character, Best Illustrations and Best Setting.  Students had to defend their position.  Then I created a google form for each and the students voted.


Now came the harder part.  How to present?!  What do I do?  How can we make it special? I decided upon a book party.  I searched the internet high and low for some book type scavenger hunts and couldn’t find any to my liking.  So, I gave them to the students.  I have several groups making trivia questions; one group for picture books, one for graphic novels and one for middle grade novels.  I also have a group create a poster to have students dress up as their favorite character or book from the nominees. The pieces are all working…stay tuned to see how it comes together.

Another project that I am working on is a summer book club.  I have never done this before so it will be a learning experience.  The book we are doing is Fenway and Hattie. Student will use Kidblog to write responses on certain days in July.  We have worked very hard to build reading lives and this will help it to continue over the summer in a manageable (I hope) way.


So..these are two ways that I am trying to end the school year as good as I started.  Wish us luck as I try not to count down the days.  Besides, sleep is completely overrated!