Sunday, October 7, 2012

Put a Genius Bar in your classroom

"I'm done. What do I do now?" is an age old question. I am sure teachers all the way back to Ancient Greece probably heard it too.

In Infotech the standard expectation for completed projects or work is to go and explore other links I have posted or to work in an application that interests them and doesn't disrupt; sorry Photobooth. Late last year though I tried something a little different when it came to wrapping up big projects.

At an extra table in the library we set up a Genius Bar. Yep Apple, I am not even disguising it and am blatantly using one of the anchors of your retail stores. Every Apple store has a Genius Bar and offers how-to and fixit advice for all of their products. Now, every major project in Infotech has a Genius Bar where students that are finished with the project can serve as the how-to guides for those still working.

Helping others finish when you are finished is a teaching technique as old as the "What do I do now?" question but there is something electric that happens when you deem students geniuses and give them their own operating space where two or even three kids together can help solve problems. It really creates that same kind of energy you feel when you walk into an Apple Store. Here, kids with questions get up and move to the Genius Bar and find who out of the group can best help them. Usually they pair up and head back to the student's seat to take care of the question. This also seems to change the perception of the advanced student who resents having to always help the strugglers when he or she finishes. Maybe it's just being called a genius but I really think it is the opportunity to work in a collaborative environment as a leader that helps him or her feel less like a crutch.

Here is the basic procedure I use:
• I set up the Genius Bar on the days I am "hoping" we wrap up projects. Some projects seem to need multiple "wrap up days".
• The initial set of geniuses are the students that are finished already when 2/3 to 3/4 of the class is still working. I always have this first set show me their projects to insure projects are really complete and were done with quality.
• When other students finish, they become geniuses too and are available to help. They need to show me their work too.
• It is important to watch for "the point of diminishing return", the point where you have too many geniuses to really be helpful anymore. At this point I make the option of "independent exploration" available but allow multiple geniuses the chance to work together on something.
• Everyone who finishes adds his or her name to the genius list. This includes the last kid finished.
• I thought I would have to worry more about students wanting the geniuses to do their work for them instead of just providing support but after only a brief explanation, everyone has understood what this model can do and what it shouldn't do. This is just one spot where I have been pleasantly surprised through this implementation.

I have had great success now wrapping up video projects in second grade and landform collages in fourth grade with this model. It teaches students how to work collaboratively in a super-charged environment and it provides lots of motivation for that student that would let a project linger on all year if you let them. Implementing a Genius Bar doesn't have to technology specific. Try it for any project at any grade level. I think it would shine in a readers' workshop setting or science lab as well.

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