Shark Tank…with Heart

IMG_0771This week’s Shark Tank at HSE High School was not a literal pool of Great Whites, but a lecture hall filled with peers and several sharks, community members who volunteered their time to listen to students pitch Genius Hour projects-in-development. Teachers Kelsey Habig and Jill McGrath have spent the last several months helping their eleventh-grade English students design and conduct research for individual projects based on each student’s individual interests and passions.

IMG_0791The next step in this learning process has been for students to offer up their plans to an authentic audience for comments and suggestions. School board members, business owners, and others have made up the HSEHS Shark Tank. Unlike ABC’s Shark Tank, though, these Sharks weren’t invited to invest in entrepreneur wannabes. The local Sharks were in the audience to listen–to ask probing questions and to provide helpful feedback: “Have you thought about what might happen if you…?” “What about contacting ___? Their office might have some resources to get you started.” “I love your energy and passion–now what might your action steps be?”

IMG_0803By the time most students reach high school, they are used to being called upon to answer questions in class and to present projects to classmates. To stand on a stage before an audience of peers and adults, however, in order to present individual work based on personal interests and passions–this is very new. Students shared from their hearts, backing up their project designs with data and research. Whether a project sprung out of a need connected to a personal past time, an issue observed in the school community, or a cultural concern with global ramifications, students revealed their ability to analyze and come up with creative solutions to real-world problems. HSE21 Shorts can’t wait to see the follow-through!

Power Rankings and More!

On Day 36, HSE21 Shorts introduced you to FHS English teacher Kyle Goodwin, who encourages his students to investigate their passions through a project known as Genius Hour. HSE21 Shorts just returned to one of Mr. Goodwin’s classes to check in on the students–to see how their individual projects were shaping up. What we found was no less than stunning! Here is just one example of what can happen when students are enabled to learn through the disciplined pursuit of their individual interests and passions:

IMG_2781Matthew loves sports. When Mr. Goodwin let students select a project topic, something sports-related was Matthew’s natural choice. He ultimately decided to build a blog that would aggregate rankings of major sports teams into one site. Within the space of one semester, this blog, PowerRankingsAndMore, has become a go-to place for sports fans. Matthew explored various site-building platforms, created a domain, designed, and launched!

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Visit Matthew’s site:!

Matthew admits that to build and now maintain the site has been lots of work–both during Genius Hour blocks at school and in his own time. But the experience has been rewarding. Matthew now has web design skills, experience in writing for web publication, and an understanding of time management and workflow…not to mention the plethora of up-to-date sports knowledge this amazing sophomore holds! Recently, a local ESPN radio station even featured Matthew’s blog – interviewing him in a live radio spot.

PowerRankingsAndMore is an example of HSE21 tenets in action: personalized, passion- and inquiry-driven learning, in which students master content area standards in ways that are relevant and engaging. Love sports? Visit!

Day 36 – You Are a Genius, Part 2

In You Are a Genius, Part 1, we saw ways in which Genius Hour fosters creativity and student-centered inquiry in our youngest students. (If you missed it, visit HSE21 Shorts Day 35!) Today’s Genius Hour post–presented as a conversation with FHS English teacher Kyle Goodwin–illustrates the depth of student engagement, personalized learning, and 21st century skill development that exist when high school students are allowed to investigate their own curiosities in the context of English class.

HSE21: Start by describing the parameters of Genius Hour in your class.

Mr. Goodwin: Students begin by understanding the building blocks of Genius Hour to be autonomy, mastery, and purpose. From there, they follow five steps:

STEP 1: Choose something you’re passionate about…and pursue it.


As a Genius Hour session begins, Mr. Goodwin reminds his students of their goals for the day.

STEP 2: Pitch Your Project. The Pitch is a “three-slide” or presentation, followed by a Q & A from the class.

STEP 3: Blog Your Process. Students set up a blog and update readers on their progress. The first post should answer, “What are your goals for this project?” and “How will you measure your progress?” From there, other blog posts discuss progress, discoveries, and setbacks. Students should be able to answer, “What have you learned about your topic? What have you learned about yourself? Where do you go from here / what’s the next step?”

STEP 4: Vlog an Insight. Students are asked to create a video blog answering “What / who inspired you in relation to your specific project? How have your readings and resources informed your approach?”

IMG_2314STEP 5: Share Your Learning. Students write, design, and perform a meaningful TED talk. I give students a suggested organizational pattern for their talk (hook, transitions, logical order to your main points, effective conclusion), and suggest content (inspire your audience with your passion for your pursued activity; explain the process and show the products of your project; talk about your purpose or what the audience should learn from your product; include a meaningful take-away). Classes vote on the best couple of presentations, and the winners will be asked to deliver their TED talks in the FHS auditorium on a Saturday in May, where we invite an authentic audience: teachers, friends, parents / families, administrators, experts from the field, etc.

HSE21: Wow. The potential for creative invention seems huge! And what an opportunity to practice 21st century career skills: locating, evaluating and synthesizing information, managing time, reflecting on learning, and presenting to an audience in a variety of formats. Have there been any challenges in establishing Genius Hour for your students?

Mr. Goodwin: The greatest challenge we’ve seen so far with Genius Hour has been students feeling comfortable thinking for themselves and creating. I don’t say that to bash our students, by any means, but in the past, the overwhelming majority of their educational careers has been spent through a series of acts of compliance. They listen to teachers teach, they receive an assignment, and they complete the assignment. It’s like a gigantic factory. Genius Hour lets them be in control of their own learning.

IMG_0071HSE21: Absolutely! Through Genius Hour, learning becomes active instead of passive. What has been the greatest benefit of Genius Hour for your students thus far?

Mr. Goodwin: The greatest benefit to students has certainly been an opportunity for students to think for themselves. The students have already surpassed my expectations, and we’re only six weeks in! Their creativity has been “unlocked” in some sense, and every week I’m surprised with what some of my students are capable of. It’s been a challenge for me, as a teacher, to let go a little bit, but when I see what students are doing, creating, and walking away with, I know it’s for the best. My role has changed from “sage on the stage” to “instructional coach” on Genius Hour days, and it’s been a wonderful experience, to say the least.

In a later post, HSE21 Shorts will explore some of the individual Genius Hour projects that Mr. Goodwin’s students have undertaken this year. We’ll also check on students’ progress throughout the year. Stay tuned!

Day 35 – You Are a Genius, Part 1

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There is a genius in all of us, right? The teachers at Thorpe Creek Elementary think so too!  Many TCE classrooms from kindergarten to fourth grade dedicate instructional time to Genius Hour each week. Students inquire, explore, and expand their wonderings and passions. They are given time to wonder and ask questions about their world, research and explore, and then students share their findings with the class and community! And it looks different in every classroom!


Mrs. Eby modeled her own inquiry for her kindergarten class when she shared how she discovered that her broken air conditioner had actually been struck by lightning!  She shared how she asked questions, where she went to seek the answers, and how she shared her findings.  Her students then started asking their own questions.  Some first graders in Mrs. Potter’s class asked questions like, “Why do bees sting you?” and “Why do we have an attic in our house if we never use it.”

Mrs. Gibson’s fourth graders are finding that some of their wonderings are turning into projects!  One group wondered how gluten-free ice cream is made, and now they are making their own and sharing it with the class! Another group of students in her class is learning about robots and attempting to build their own.  Mrs. L. King’s second graders are making informative videos, including one about the dangers of poison ivy!
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What do you wonder about?  How do you find answers to your questions and share the information with others?  We all do this every day!  That’s what HSE21 instruction and Genius Hour is all about…purposely, creatively, and safely navigating our everyday inquiries!

-Submitted by Leslie Hopper, Thorpe Creek Elementary Media Specialist