Sunday, April 13, 2014

Building Our Wonder Workshop!

Inspiration to Begin
Recently, I wrote about some of my questions around the topic of Genius Hour. I've been drawing inspiration from Paul Solarz, Joy Kirr, the Twitter Genius Hour hashtag and chat, and my crazy cool Coffee & Collaboration colleagues to get started with Genius Hour in our 4th grade classroom.  Paul's blog, along with Joy's Genius Hour Live Binder, have become my go-to sources of information.

Where are we in the process?
I decided to try to start small and give it a whirl in our last quarter of the year, so what we are currently doing is really a trial run. Right now, it's looking like a smash-up of open inquiry and the Genius Hour concept. We started by creating lists of what we wonder about and forming those wonders into questions. Students then picked one question they were each "crazy excited" to learn about (I wish I could give credit to the person who shared that phrasing on Twitter!!)

We watched videos of completed projects by students in Mr. Solarz's class to open our eyes to the possibilities of what that time could look like. We also perused some of the questions his kids had asked to see if ours were on the right track to asking really deep questions. My students filled out a quick Google form to submit their idea for their first question. With a little bit of fine-tuning, I approved questions for all 26 of my kids. We also read the picture book "What Do You Do With an Idea?" by Komi Yamada to reinforce the idea that we all have different interests and styles of learning. We shared stories from our own lives about how ideas sometimes permeate our brains and just won't go away. These are the kinds of ideas that work best for an extended project!

Our First Genius Hour
Friday was our big day! I actually allowed a bit more than an hour so we had time to go over some reliable, kid-friendly research sites and review expectations before they were off and running. I confessed to them that I had purposely not given this time in our classroom a name and that I was torn about what to call it. We'd talked about Genius Hour, but I keep going back to my idea of a Wonder Workshop. Being the creative bunch that they are, one of my boys offered, "Why don't we just call it Happy Hour?" As much as I love that idea (and I giggled over it... a lot,) I explained that it might not be the best choice as many people know Happy Hour in a different context. The majority of my kids wanted to go with Wonder Workshop, and so it is!

I did offer the KWHLAQ form as an organizational tool (which I learned about from Paul.) Kids have access to the internet via their Kuno tablets, an opportunity to visit open check-out at our school library, and access to our growing classroom library for resources so far. My only other directions were to try to keep focused!

They're already learning that some of the questions they asked were either too easy or way too broad. They're putting to use their researching skills. We'll be talking a lot about how to take notes to keep track of our thinking. (Many were tempted to just use the very limited space on the KWHLAQ form... or to copy word-for-word from a source.) We'll be talking more about using our time wisely and remaining focused. We also need to talk about options for sharing our learning as some students might begin to wrap up their learning in a week or two.

It was inspiring to hear the excited buzz all across our classroom. Students were intrigued by what their colleagues were studying and finding. What an exciting journey for all of us to share! I love this time of year for trying out new things and spicing up the end of our year together. I'm already looking forward to this week's session!


  1. Laura,
    I enjoyed reading about your class steps into Wonder Workshop. I've been reading a lot about genius hour, but I have wondered if it is needed in a workshop classroom where students have choice across the day. I'm learning from reading the thinking of my friends, that perhaps there are even invisible lines in a workshop and genius-like hours free students of these. I found it interesting the way students had to think more deeply about their questions and the way the responded to each other's work. I look forward to hearing more about your adventures.


    1. Thanks, Cathy! I think one big difference is the amount of time devoted to explore those deeper questions over the period of a few weeks. While we do have a lot of choice and time in our classrooms already, this kind of takes it to a new level. We're still on the beginning stages and learning as we go! :)