MAT Blog

What if we took Google's "Genius Hour" into our classrooms?

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jun 25, 2014 10:19:00 AM

I’ve been aware of the phrase “genius hour” for a while now, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally took some initiative and Googled it.

Funny enough, “genius hour” is actually an experiment that began with Google, which allows engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on any sort of pet project that they want to. The theory behind “genius hour” was this: Allow people to pursue their passions and they will be more productive at work.

The results of this little experiment speak for themselves: Google found that employees were not only more productive during the 80 percent of the time that they were not working on pet projects, 50% of Google’s innovations—things like Gmail and Google News—were created during this period of free time!  

What if we took Google’s idea into our classrooms? What if we set aside one hour every week where students could work on anything they wanted?

It turns out that teachers all over the country are doing this. In my Internet perusal, I came across a number of ways teachers are starting to use “genius hour” in their own classrooms:

  • Joy, a seventh grade teacher, for example, dedicates an entire 80 minute block of time every Monday to “genius hour.” Some students read. Some research. Then, at a designated time, each student presents his or her findings to the rest of the class. Some give oral presentations, others give book talks or post blogs online for their peers to read. Every week, each student creates a goal and then either fills out a self-evaluation or discusses his or her performance during a one-on-one conference with the teacher.
  • Another teacher, Gallit, started by giving his students one hour a week to pursue a project of their choice. After roughly three hours of individualized learning, students are expected to present what they learned to the class. This year, Gallit has tweaked his approach:

Now, students work on their “genius hour” projects every Friday afternoon and present when they are ready. For some students that will be after one session and for some it will be after six—it all depends on what they are learning and how they want to present. To ensure that students stay on task, Gallit regularly meets with students and has them blog about their progress as well.

If you’re interested in implementing a “genius hour” in your own classroom, check out this video by teacher and “genius-hour” advocate, Chris Kesler.

 A Teacher's Guide to Summer Travel

Tags: independent learning, student engagement, extrinsic motivation, genius hour

Six Ways to Build a Foundation for Learning through Research.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Apr 29, 2012 1:01:00 PM

Marygrove MAT offers research-based pointers to get the most from students.Educational research did not hold a lot of meaning for me as an undergraduate student. After spending time in the classroom, I developed a context to frame my understanding. I realized that small changes in my approach could have a significant impact on students’ beliefs and performance. Revisiting motivational theory helped me to establish a foundation for independent learning despite the push to “cover” content. Here are six research-based pointers that K-12 teachers can use now, along with the official terms to impress everyone with your knowledge in the teacher’s lounge!

1. Promote positive beliefs about learning. A child’s underlying beliefs, including the ability to be successful in a task, are directly tied to self-motivation and self-regulation. 

  1. Use “Constructive Failure:”  We must promote recognition of failure as a learning experience.  Children who learn to attribute success or failure to effort as opposed to factors outside their control will exert greater effort in the future.
  1. Foster “Incremental” versus “Entity Theory” of Intelligence:   Discouraging the belief that intelligence is “fixed” biologically and unchangeable can enhance motivation. We must help students to understand that intelligence is “incremental” and can be increased through a student’s own learning behavior. (Burhans & Dweck, as cited in Stipek, 2002)
  1. Encourage “Internal” versus “External Locus of Control:” Students who believe that events in their lives are controlled by forces outside themselves (luck, chance, fate, biased others) are said to have an external locus of control.  We must socialize students to believe that outcomes are generally contingent on their own behavior (internal locus of control). (Dweck, 2000 as cited in Stipek, 2002)
  1. Avoid Comparisons and Competition: Teachers should avoid inadvertent comparisons to classmates. This tends to cause anxiety and frequently undermines effort and motivation. As much as possible, students should be encouraged to compete against themselves by measuring their own progress and setting goals. Oftentimes, what looks like a cooperative activity is really a competitive activity; e.g. when table one competes with table two.
  1. Limit the Use of Rewards:  Studies have shown that overuse of tangible rewards can actually hinder motivation to learn. Rewards can be most effective when motivation is low and/or when a task is unpleasant.  When motivation is already high, rewards have been shown to reduce children’s desire to complete a task. Extrinsic rewards should be removed once a pattern of motivation has been developed.  When tangible incentives are used for the long term, studies have shown that children can lose sight of the learning goal and focus only on earning the reward. (Brophy, 2002)

The American educational theorist Edward Hutchings believed that “the object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” Reinforcing healthy attitudes and beliefs, in combination with the teaching of skills and meaningful content, will have transformative value in how students perceive their own education.

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Margaret Reed earned an MAEd from Michigan State University and taught middle and high school history for ten years. She has been a Marygrove mentor since 2009. As an outgrowth of her work in curriculum development at the secondary level, Margaret is pursuing further graduate studies with the goal of commencing a second career in instructional technology design.


Brophy, J. (2004). Motivating Students to Learn (2nd ed.) Mawah, New Jersey: Laurence Erlbaum and Associates.

Stipek, D. (2002). Motivation to Learn: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.



Tags: independent learning, research strategies, best practice in education

Think-Pair-Share. A reading comprehension strategy that works wonders for reading.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Mar 27, 2012 1:00:00 PM

The strategy of Think-Pair-Share is an effective reading exerciseWhat is it? Think-Pair-Share is an instructional strategy  (Lyman 1981) designed to provide students the time to independently and cooperatively process an idea or concept, make a prediction, or answer a question.  In a nutshell, the teacher poses a question or problem and students think about their answer independently; next, students are paired with another student for discussion. The teacher then collects valuable feedback from individual impressions and student interactions.

The benefits are many: It’s excellent for differentiating student responses, developing oral communication skills, and encouraging individual thinking. Think-Pair-Share for reading encourages students to engage with text, which aids comprehension tremendously at any grade level. We like it because it helps the youngest of students find their “voice” and trains them to defend their interpretation of text. That’s leadership in the making.

Why use it? 
Instead of a basic recitation method for students to respond to the teacher's questions, Think-Pair-Share encourages a high level of student interaction and response. Each student is required to have an answer, discuss the question, and formulate a response. Not just the more eager or capable students in the classroom. Even if the student isn't asked to share with the larger group, he has already processed with a partner, which increases his engagement with the group. 

What’s more, students are given time to discuss their ideas with a partner, which will lead to deeper comprehension. Research indicates that students reach a more complex level of understanding and knowledge when they participate in meaningful peer discussions. Discussion of text helps students make sense of their ideas and even learn to adapt to different perspectives as they integrate their own ideas with others.

How to do it:

  1. As part of a class discussion, pose a question to students. Make sure that they know you are planning to use the Think-Pair-Share strategy so they are prepared to share with another student.
  2. Provide students with at least 10-15 seconds to think about the question and formulate a partner response.
  3. Ask students to pair with another student to discuss their answers and thoughts.
  4. Once the partner discussions are complete, select students to share their thoughts and ideas with the class. (It’s best to draw names at random.)

Helpful hints:

  • Allow enough thinking time. The crux of this strategy is that students are given ample time to think about their own answers before being expected to share with a partner.  Rushing the first step will reduce the effectiveness of partner discussions.
  • Assign partners with care. Especially when first using the strategy it’s probably best to assign partners to students.  This will help to ensure each student is participating in a productive partner discussion. As students become more familiar with the strategy you may allow them to choose partners.
  • Always monitor. The Think-Pair-Share instructional strategy's true benefit is linked to the effectiveness of the students' discussion.  As a teacher it is imperative for you to monitor the partner discussion time to ensure that students remain on task. It also is important for you to head off any misconceptions that could derail their comprehension.

All cooperative learning activities take a little forethought and planning, but once you have your strategy in place, it is quite flexible, and activities may be drawn out over several days or even weeks. There is some advantage to revisiting a reading lesson over time, especially for struggling readers.

At a minimum, have fun with this exercise. We guarantee your students will.

Ever wonder what more you could be doing to boost comprehension in your classroom? Download our best practices guide, and try something new, today.

Download our K-6 Reading Comprehension B





Tags: independent learning, reading comprehension, download, reading strategies, instructional strategies

Learning logs are important literacy tools.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Jan 17, 2012 9:54:00 AM

Learning logs are an important literacy tool for all students as they encourage reflection and improved comprehension.Although there are many different methods that teachers use for students to record current knowledge, learning logs have proven especially beneficial in the areas of reading and writing. They are also a valuable format for integrating the content areas. This instructional strategy helps to support students in all grade levels to become more responsible, and to take ownership of their educational experiences. Learning logs encourage independent learning!

What are learning logs? Learning logs are a record-keeping tool for students to monitor and reflect on their own learning. Typically, students keep these logs in a notebook, binder, or folder so the recording is ongoing and fluid. Some teachers find that using a printed template is beneficial, while others teach students a record-keeping system that is based on responses to specific categories. This teaches students how to organize ideas, as they record entries into their learning logs during or at the end of a class session.  

Why use learning logs? These frequent bursts of writing, focused on the lesson that just occurred, are highly effective in supporting ongoing understanding. The logs are excellent when used in assessing literacy learning because students are creating their own record of ideas and insights. What’s more, these logs are excellent vehicles for discussing the use of literacy strategies with students, parents, and teachersLearning logs also prepare young students to take notes—a study habit that will come in very handy later on.

How do learning logs support teaching literacy strategies? Each class session is an opportunity for both learning and reflection.  When teachers are able to reinforce literacy and content instruction via authentic student writing they are deepening both the students' understanding and application of literacy strategies.  Teachers can also use the logs to reflect on student learning to help make future instructional decisions, such as extending activities or “re-teaching” areas of weakness.

What are implementation options?  The goal is for learning logs to be a concise and factual record of learning as well as an honest reflection of a student’s understanding.  Although this goal can be met in a variety of ways, there are some proven implementation methods for learning logs that support the teaching of literacy strategies very nicely.

A teacher must first decide the format for the learning logs (binders, notebooks, folders). Also, teachers must evaluate their instructional plans to identify the best times for students to record in the log.  

At first, a teacher may want to provide focused question(s) for students to answer in the learning logs. Such as:

  • What did you learn in class today?
  • What strategy did you practice during your independent reading?
  • What did you find interesting in the book you are reading?
  • What questions do you have about what you learned?

When students are comfortable with the process of recording in their learning logs, the expectations can be expanded to include a variety of content areas. Some content examples are:

  • Observations and questions from science experiments
  • Writing predictions before a science experiment, and then recording what actually occurred during the experiment. Students can reflect on why (or why not) their predictions were correct.
  • Math problem-solving entries 
  • A written explanation of how to solve a specific math problem
  • A record of independent use of literacy strategies
  • Writing from the point of view of a historical figure

How can I use learning logs for assessment and evaluation? An effective way to begin using learning logs for assessment and evaluation purposes is to integrate them into a student conference.  Together, the teacher and student can review the learning log to identify areas of new understanding, discuss authentic applications, and challenge the student to extend their new knowledge.

For other ways to encourage independent learning, view our FREE webinar on Goal-Setting and Reading Fluency: “D.I.B.E.L.S., Does It Benefit Early Learners to Set Goals?” with Christina Bainbridge, MAT ’09!

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Tags: independent learning, reading comprehension, reading strategy, Literacy, learning logs

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