Celebrating Our Genius with a 4-State Geniuscon Google Hangout

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Since January, Mrs. Ramseyer’s 2nd graders have been working in the library and in their classroom on Geniuscon projects.  They have explored the question: “If I could change one thing about my school, what would it be?”

We started our project with brainstorming and some inspiration from Peter Reynolds.

Then, we worked on selecting topics and developing questions.

We partnered with Gretchen Thomas’s EDIT2000 students at UGA to work on researching our topics.

We continued working with our UGA partners to finish research and begin Google presentations on our topics.

Now we’ve arrived at the end of the year with only 4 days of school left.  Students are still finishing up their presentations and thinking about their questions.  Mrs. Ramseyer and I are working to schedule meetings with students and adults in the school who can create change based on their topics.  For example, one student wants more enrichment clusters at our school so he will meet with Ms. Maher, the enrichment cluster coordinator.  One student wants devices to go home and another wants more use of the 3D printer, so they will meet with me in the library.


We also wanted students to have a chance to share their genius ideas and projects with a larger audience.  Sherry Gick and Matthew Winner have established an Edmodo group for Geniuscon.  This is from Sherry & Matthew’s blog post:

Join the Edmodo group by logging into www.edmodo.com, clicking on “+” symbol next to GROUPS, selecting JOIN, and typing in the code ru9b7d. This will make you a member of our Edmodo GeniusCon group, which is a private community. The advantage of keeping this community private is that we can also keep the work and identities of our participating students private. However, we have the option of also sharing posts publically, allowing the whole world to see what your students have created. These public posts are viewable through our GeniusCon homepage under the PROJECTS tab.

I posted some possibilities for when our 2nd graders would be able to connect.  Then, I looked at the members of the Edmodo group and sent some messages on Twitter.  Shawna Ford in Weatherford Texas had a group of students ready to listen to our 2nd graders.  We started planning a connection and Sherry and Matthew jumped on board with their students too.

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We decided to hold a Google Hangout On Air so that others could watch our students share their genius live, but we could also archive the event for people who couldn’t attend.  My 2nd graders and Sherry’s 8th graders had topics and projects to share.

Our format looked something like this:

  • Introductions from Georgia, Texas, Indiana, and Maryland
  • Matthew Winner set the stage for what Geniuscon is all about since 2 of the classes in the hangout had not participated in the project yet.
  • I gave an introduction to what my students, and then one of my second graders kicked off the event.  Each of my students shared their topic, what their solutions were, and how they felt about what they found out.
  • My students alternated with Sherry’s students sharing.
  • Then, we closed by letting each school give some closing thoughts.


First, I was amazed by how professional all of the students were in their presentations whether they were in 2nd grade or 8th grade.  I was inspired by the variety of topics and how some of the 2nd graders had some of the same topics as the 8th graders.  It made me wonder about next time and the potential for collaborating between schools on the same topic.  I also loved the different approaches that students took to completing their projects.  Sherry’s students worked in groups while Matthew’s students were tackling one big topic together: bullying.

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It was also fun to know that our students’ voices were being heard by a global audience.  Our librarian friend, Randie Groden, in MA watching live.


We also had some encouragement from our friends at Capstone Press.


Uniting our voices in 4 different states was powerful.  Thinking about the power of students stepping up and sharing their genius in multiple states made me proud to be an educator.

My students closed our time with some reflection on our project.  We talked about what we loved about the project.  I loved that one student brought up the idea that even if our projects didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to, we had the chance to learn about so many kinds of technology like Google forms and Google presentation and working together.  There were many meaningful pieces of this project, and I’m grateful to Sherry Gick and Matthew Winner for encouraging us all to help our students share their genius.




More University of Georgia #GeniusCon Research Partners

Geniuscon Day 2 (1)Last week a group from Gretchen Thomas’s EDIT 2000 class at the University of Georgia partnered with Caitlin Ramseyer’s 2nd grade class to work on research for the students’ GeniusCon projects.  Students are answering the question:  If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?

Students topics range from improving the lunch menu to healthier options to adding additional playground equipment to eliminating homework to starting school later in the day.  Even students who share the same topic are taking different approaches to what they would change and how they would do it.

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Today, a new group of Gretchen’s students came to work with the 2nd graders.  Last time, most 2nd graders went through their lists of questions and answered them with their own thinking.  Today’s focus was to move to researching online and in books as well as developing next steps.

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I loved walking around and seeing some of the online reading that students were doing with their partners.

I also loved seeing how the UGA students interacted with the 2nd graders and how they helped to keep our students focused and thinking.  Of course, the UGA students learned a lot too about how much our students know about using technology.

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Some of those next steps involved created Google form surveys that could be emailed out.  Some students crafted emails to send out to the lunchroom or the principal.  We asked students to wait before sending anything out.  The main reason in doing this was to spend a little more time thinking through the content of the email or the survey.  For example, one student had one question in her Google form asking students if they would like more access to the 3D printer.  She was ready to send it out, but after talking with me, she realized that if students wanted access to the 3D printer, we would have no idea what they wanted to do with it.  Our conversation pushed her to think more about her survey before sending it out.  Similar conversations were taking place all over the library.

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At the end, Caitlin pulled her class together to debrief what they had accomplished.

Catilin’s students will continue working on this project and our UGA partners will return again.


University of Georgia #Geniuscon Research Partners

geniuscon uga (2)Mrs. Ramseyer’s 2nd grade class has been participating in #Geniuscon since January.  Geniuscon is an opportunity for students to show their “genius” by exploring a real-world topic that matters to them.  Students go through an inquiry research process that centers around their interests and questions.  This year, the overall question for Geniuscon is “If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?”

First, students kicked off the project with some brainstorming.

Then, they chose topics and spent time developing questions around those topics.

Next, they continued to develop their questions, fine tune their topics, and make a plan of where to find information or who to ask questions.

While this step was going on, Mrs. Ramseyer and I started having a conversation with Gretchen Thomas, teacher at the University of Georgia.  Gretchen first reached out to me on Twitter for another project at our school, and our conversations led us to Geniuscon.  Her undergraduate students do 20% projects, which is very similar to what our students are doing.  We thought that it would be wonderful for her UGA students to partner with our 2nd graders.  Her UGA students would learn about working with kids as well as how we were journeying through this type of research project, and our students would benefit from having an older learner facilitating the research process.  Gretchen’s class is not all education majors, which actually brings even more interesting perspectives and connections to our project.  Some of her students are football and basketball players at UGA, so the students really liked that too.

Gretchen actually teaches 2 different groups of UGA students who are able to come to our school, so Mrs. Ramseyer worked with her through email to pair up UGA students and Barrow students.  Today, the first group of UGA students arrived.  We briefly met on the carpet to set the focus and then UGA and Barrow students paired and moved throughout the library to work.  Students grabbed a computer from cart and logged into their Google drive.

This is what it looked like:

Using their list of topic questions, they had a conversation with their UGA partner.  We quickly saw that many of our Barrow students just wanted to answer their research questions with their own words.  This is certainly a valid piece of the process, but students weren’t all thinking about where they might go to research beyond themselves.

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Mrs. Ramseyer, Gretchen, and I all walked around and checked in with groups and nudged them to start thinking about where they might go to find more information.  There were some amazing things happening in a short amount of time.  During the debrief at the end, students shared what they accomplished during the work time.

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Here are some examples of what students said:

  • I learned how to make a spreadsheet and started adding things to it
  • I’m making a Google form survey to send to teachers
  • I learned that playground equipment is expensive.  Some of the pieces are thousands of dollars.
  • I sent an email to our principal and assistant principal
  • I looked at our daily schedule to see where we could put another recess

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I wish that I could have sat in every conversation because it was amazing to see the variety of learning going on.  One of the great things is that there will be so many students experts on so many different tools and strategies that it will support further learning in the class this year.  Students who learned Google forms can teach others.  Students who don’t know what a spreadsheet is or how to make it now have someone to ask.

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I also checked in with our principal because I had not told her that she might get some emails.  She had already read the emailed and is planning to give the student a menu and suggest that she analyze the nutritional facts for the items on the menu.  She was very excited about the potential of the project and collaboration with UGA.

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We are so fortunate to have a university right next to our school.  Thank you, Gretchen Thomas, for sharing your UGA students with us.  I hope they learn as much from us as we learn from them.



#GeniusCon: Topic Selection and Question Development

question development (9)We’ve been having so much fun participating in #GeniusCon.  Haven’t heard of #GeniusCon? Visit this archived webinar to learn more and read the post about our first steps.

After students left the library for our kickoff session, they spent time in class reflecting on our chalk talk, writing in their notebooks, and fine tuning their topics.  Today, they came to the library with their topics ready to work on question development.

We started with an overview of what happened since our last session.  I shared tweets from Sherry Gick, Matthew Winner, Peter Reynolds, and more.  I also told them how their work had been featured in the #GeniusCon webinar.  Their eyes lit up knowing that their work was already making a difference!

I framed our session for the day by talking about how questions help us think about what we need to know about our topics in order to focus our research.  We did a practice session asking questions about a topic that I could do for #Geniuscon:  Teaching all of my lessons from home.   At the moment, I’m not really doing this topic, but I wanted to choose something that might raise some eyebrows, and it really did!  Students began asking questions about my topic, but as we progressed they started to ask questions like “how would you feel if you didn’t see us anymore?” and “what if we needed help with something in the library?” and “Wouldn’t you miss being here?”.  This topic did exactly what I wanted because it allowed us to have a conversation about our chosen topics.  I told them that it wasn’t our jobs to tell one another that our topics aren’t possible, that they’re wrong, or that we need to pick a different topic.  Our job is to push one another’s thinking through questions and to support one another even if it means we disagree with topic choice or we feel personally that a topic is “impossible”.

We spent a bit more time brainstorming questions for my topic with partners.  Here are a few questions that they came up with:

  • What lessons should I teach?

  • Do I know anyone that will be interested in learning from home?

  • How will I do it?

  • How many students will I have?

  • How many lessons from home can I teach?

  • What happens if someone needs help checking out and I’m not here?

  • Why would I want to do this?

  • How would people know how to connect with me?

  • What if the Internet doesn’t work?

Next, students logged into their Google Drive and created a document with their topic listed at the top.  Then, they started a bullet list and began adding their own questions.  After all students were set with their doc ready, we began passing the laptops around the circle and asking one another questions.  Students looked at the topic at the top and read the question already generated.  Then, they thought of what questions they would add to the list for the researcher to consider.  I’ll admit that this part was difficult.  Even with our lively opening, students had a hard time generating questions.  Several adults had individual conversations with students to support their question development.  These conversations were critical.  At different times we had me (the media specialist), the classroom teacher, a gifted teacher, a tech integration specialist, and and early intervention teacher supporting students.  Here are a few topics with the questions generated.

Taking Tablets Home:

  • can we for a week?

  • or for month?

  • what happens if you break it?

  • What do students do if they don’t know how to use it?

  • what happen’s if somone needes one at school and you forget it at home?

  • how long?

  • what if people don’t have internet at home?


More Playground Equipment:

  • what equipment should we get?

  • how much equipment?

  • what   kind?

  • what if there’s not enough space?

  • isn’t it expensive?

  • why do you wont to change the playground?

  • will we be kind on it?

  • is the play ground equipment safe?

  • who would pay for it?

At our closing, students got their own computers back, read their questions, and shared their documents with me.  I told them that it was ok if they didn’t understand a question or if they even disagreed with a question.  We closed by once again asking “Why are we asking questions and not jumping into answers?”  We framed the idea of thinking about what we need to research.  Next, we will spend some time developing a research plan.  We’ll brainstorm where we need to look for answers and begin our search for answers.



Kicking Off Our #Geniuscon Project with Peter Reynolds

IMG_1849A few months ago, Matthew Winner and Sherry Gick, superhero librarians, put out a call for schools to join them in a project called #Geniuscon.

In the words of Matthew and Sherry:

“Kids are genius. They don’t perceive limits or boundaries in the ways that hinder most adults. Their solutions to life’s problems can seem convoluted, indirect, and unnecessary, but often the ideas of kids can be the most profound.”

#Geniuscon gives kids the freedom to explore one question:  If you could change one thing about your school, what would you do?

Mrs. Ramseyer’s 2nd grade classroom has teamed up with me in the library to explore this question.  Mrs. Ramseyer and I sat down and mapped out some times, topics, and standards on the media center calendar.  We wanted time for:  brainstorming, question development, research, product development, and sharing.  Our timeline spans from now until May.  We devoted most of our time to research and product development.

I also met with Gretchen Thomas, who teaches at the University of Georgia.  She has several of her students who are interested in partnering with us throughout this project.  Their main role will be to facilitate students during the research process to help them think of all of the possibilities of where to find the answers to their burning questions.  They aren’t there to give answers but rather to build bridges over barriers that students might face.


Today was our official kickoff.  To start, we watched this video:

The kids immediately began yelling “Why don’t you just walk up the stairs?”  It was hilarious.  The whole point of watching the video was to bring up the idea that we often hold the solutions to our problems if we take the time to look inside ourselves rather than immediately yelling for help.  We spent some time talking about the word “genius” and how we all have genius ideas within us.

Next, we read Rose’s Garden by Peter H. Reynolds.  In this story, Rose travels the world collecting seeds.  She finally decides to stop and explore a city where she discovers a patch of land in need of color.  This is where she decides to start making her mark on the world by planting her seeds.  Without giving too much away, her efforts inspire a community with her genius idea.

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I loved how this book fit into our discussion of what it means to be genius.  It moved us straight into our #Geniuscon question.  Mrs. Ramseyer and I had already talked about how we didn’t want to influence how the kids answered the question, but we did want to give them an opportunity to brainstorm before they chose their focus topic.  We put the question on 2 big pieces of paper and split the class in half.  Each student had a marker to participate in a Chalk Talk, a silent conversation.  All students began writing their responses to the questions as well as asked one another questions about their ideas.  All of this was done in writing.  Mrs. Ramseyer, Mrs. Vaughn (EIP teacher), and I all added to the conversation too.

After about 10 minutes, students mingled between the two chalk talks to cross pollinate their ideas.


We moved our 2 chalk talks to the floor and all stood around them.  As we looked at or responses, I asked students to look for ideas that stood out to them or topics that seemed to be coming up.  We identified ideas such as:

  • Additions to our school:  adding more playground equipment, building a garden, expanding our school
  • Changes to rules:  additional books on the max checkout in the library, additional “be’s” to our 5 be’s,
  • Technology:  taking home iPads and netbooks, being able to bring technology from home, using our 3D printer
  • Behavior:  addressing the bullying in our school, being kind
  • And more!

The pages were so filled with ideas that we couldn’t really talk about them all.  After this discussion, we sat down for a big surprise:  a Skype with Peter H. Reynolds!  Peter was in Florida doing some work, and he took time out of his busy day to join us.  After saying a quick hello, students took turns stepping up to the webcam and saying what they wanted to change about our school.  Peter validated each student’s idea and even expanded upon the idea with his own thoughts.  He encouraged students to think about how they could illustrate each of their ideas and turn it into a book, which the students are very interested in doing now.  We will probably make this an additional piece to our project:  possibly even an extension into the art room!

We closed out our time with Peter Reynolds with a friendly goodbye and the encouraging words of “connecting the dots” and “making our mark on the world”.  We can’t think him enough for taking time to visit with us.  He is such an advocate for allowing students to show off their genius and let their creative energy flow.

In class, students will begin to finalize their topics and next week they will return to the library to develop questions to prompt their research.  What an exciting start!

If you want to learn more about #Geniuscon, I encourage you to attend the TL Cafe Webinar on Monday February 3 at 8PM EST.