Genius Hour and Student Voice.


When thinking about a learner focussed classroom, the activity called Genius Hour is frequently mentioned. Genius Hour encapsulates a way to begin individualizing our student’s learning, and to do so in a project type of environment.

What is Genius Hour?

As we know, there are many ways to be innovative in solving problems in the world. Many companies have realized that as their employees have been given responsibilities for their positions their total skills, abilities, and interests are not always part of their job. The same is true for our students in which we have a set of lessons and activities that we ask them to do and yet there always seems to be those students who appear to have interests that they are passionate about that can’t seem to be incorporated into the day to day work. To solve this problem, companies such as Google, created what they called the 20% time policy. This policy allowed employees to devote 20% of their work day to projects that the employee would most benefit Google. Shifting this concept over to education the idea becomes one in which the student is allowed to work on something they are passionate about that would most benefit their own learning. As A.J. Juliana points out:

“Genius Hour is a time given to students in classrooms around the world to work on inquiry-driven and passion-based projects that are built on intrinsic motivation.”

During the projects students explore their creativity, develop habits for learning, and gain experiences that connect directly to fostering growth mindsets. The best projects also incorporate ways to improve or help the lives of others in the world.

You will see Genius Hour referred to as the 20% project time, passion project, mastery hour, wonder workshop, and innovation hour.

What are some key classroom management needs?

There are many resources to read and glean information as you’ll see below on the Padlet. The key to having a successful Genius Hour in the classroom is to:

  1. Begin by connecting students to their passion, or what they want to learn about.
  2. Have a clear essential question that requires students to research, process, and filter information to gain an understanding in their topic.
  3. Set clear milestones or goals along the way. Students should understand the sequence of steps to follow.
  4. Have a shared classroom tool for students to reflect on what they are learning during each step of their journey and what they will do next.
  5. Give students time at the end to create a presentation of what they learned and what they did.

Here’s a Padlet with resources to get started and learn more about Genius Hour.

Made with Padlet


Here’s a Genius Hour Hyperdoc presentation for students to get them started and keep track of their project..

Paul Solarz, author of Learn like a Pirate has several posts, here and here on getting started with Genius Hour.

CUSD 5th grade teacher Alyssa Gularte has had her students doing Genius Hour for several years. Here are some examples from her students’ 2016 and 2017 blogs.

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Sharing Successes with Units of Study

At the end of each Units of Study unit, we like to share the successes and examples of student writing.  Here are 3 ways you might consider having your students share what they accomplished during the unit.  These are not meant to be perfect pieces of writing, but rather showing what the student is proud of.

  1. Create an animated version of the story.  With Toontastic 3D (Free) students can create multiple scenes and characters from their story.  They can animate each object as they narrate the story.  This is a great way to use the iPad to bring life to your story.  The final product is a video that an be shared easily.
  2. Sketchnoting – this is also called Visual Notetaking.  If you have ever seen a video where the animated hand “sketches” out the ideas of the speaker – that is sketch noting.

    With Units of Study, you can group your students in groups of 3 or 4.  Have 1 student read their story out loud to the their group. The other members then can use Sketchbook EDU to draw the story they listening to.  At the end the group members can share their drawing back to the author via AirDrop.  The author now has a visual of what their story “looks” like.  Before diving in, you’ll want to work with your students on practicing sketchnoting so they have some ideas and tools on how to do this effectively.  Use a story you are studying, perhaps in science or social studies and ask your students to draw what they are hearing.  Go slowly and read it out loud a few times.  Additionally, here are links to some tools that can help scaffold this concept. Here are some resources to teach Sketchnoting:

  3. Create an ebook using Pages to enhance the highlights of the story for the end of the unit celebration.  Alyssa Goularte’s 5th grade class used the magazine template to create an article based on their informational writing unit.  They used Keynote to create timelines, graphs, and graphics that were imported into Pages.  Pages then took the headings of the paragraphs can created headlines in a magazine format.  Listen to one of her students explain the process. Check out these examples: Magellan Columbus


Google Classroom Features


Google Classroom has added several features over the last 6 months that you might appreciate in your classroom workflow:

  • Parent communication
  • Annotation
  • Differentiated assignments

Parents can now receive weekly emails about their child’s assignments and keep up to date with your class.  They only have access to their child’s work and assignments.  They do not have the ability to see any discussions or other communication that might involve another student.  In order to sign parents up – the teacher needs to go to the Google Classroom – choose the Students tab and then enter the parent’s email address.  This may not be reasonable to secondary teachers with over 100 students. YouTube Tutorial on adding Parents.

Google Classroom & iPads – if you are using an iPad for Google Classroom, you now have the ability to annotate any document.  As a teacher you can share a PDF, image, Google Doc or other file and students can choose to annotate it instead of editing it. When they are done, it is submitted as a PDF back to the teacher.  This can be a great resource in math, science and other subjects where you need to draw to show your understanding.YouTube Tutorial on Annotation.

Lastly, you can now give assignments to different students.  Not every student might need to do the same work – you can now choose to give students the resources that are appropriate for where they are at.  When creating an assignment or post – you can choose which students will receive it.  YouTube Tutorial on Differentiation

We switched to Gmail!

First Things First

Staff, here is your starter to-do list now that you’re on Gmail so that you can get squared away for the start of the school year!

  • Create a mail signature
  • Enable the “Undo Send” option if you realize you made a mistake right after you hit “Send”
  • Set Desktop Notifications so you know when you get new e-mails
  • Create Labels (the new “folders”)
  • Set the Calendar Share Settings for people who you want to see your calendar
  • Set whether your calendar is visible to everyone in CUSDK8 or not

(See these videos for how-to’s)

Preview E-mails in Chrome Browser

If you are using Chrome for your browser, we recommend installing a Chrome extension called Checker Plus, that will allow you to easily see if you have any email and view it without opening a Gmail tab.

Preview Pane

Do you like having a Preview Pane where you can read the email and see a list of all your other emails on the side?  Enable the “lab” Preview Pane and set it up to look just* like it did on Outlook.

Setting up an iPad

There are a TON of apps, including the native Mail app. However, we have found that the best app is the Outlook Mail App (previously Acompli). You can sign into your Google account and it will allow you to easily view your mail, calendar, Google files, and more — in one app.

Get Help

Help Videos

For web based Gmail, we have created a playlist of videos showing you how to use Gmail and some specific preferences that will make your workflow easier: YouTube Playlist


If you use Chrome, you’ll notice in the top right corner a “Google” circle that when you place the cursor on top says” CUSD Google Help. This will give you short guided tutorials on how to do just about anything you are wishing to to. If you are in Gmail – it will give you Gmail tutorials, if you’re on Google Drive – it will give you Drive tutorials – it is smart like that! This a great quick reference and learning tool to become more comfortable!


Virtual Reality Field Trips Come to Cupertino

Students at Muir Elementary School had a chance to experience a new way for students to
travel to far way places.  Google Expeditions took the students to a variety of biomes around the world so students could understand better what they had learnIMG_20160531_131529455_HDRed in class.  Students went from the Antartica to the desert, to IMG_20160531_133351085looking underwater at turtles, and finally bring it back home by going into the California Academy of Science.  This was all within 30 minutes.

Using a set of material available from the Teacher Resource Center, students can look through a VR viewfinder (link goes to a short video) and listen as their teacher guides them through any of the 150 locations available.  Virtual Reality gives students control over what they want to investigate and allows them to feel like they are in the location.

IMG_20160531_135358708After visiting each biome, students brainstormed what they learned, experienced and what they wanted to learn about how climate change affected the biomes.  At the end the students compared the experience to a typical lesson

Google EDU has been taking the experience around the world to classrooms. back in November students at Montclaire Elementary had a chance to experience this learning, but that was limited to getting time on Google’s schedule.  Now CUSD teachers can request this experience for their class any day.IMG_20160519_170812711_HDR

A Lesson on Heat

Welcome to the next installment of our Guest Blogging Series!  This post comes from Nicole Konicke a teacher at Lawson Middle School.

Who would ever think that heat transfer could be funny? My 6th grade students were able to do just that in their heat transfer comic projects. Their projects were completed as a comic, using Comic Maker or Book Creator.  Technology has provided an outlet for my students to show their creativity.

The inquiry hook to our mini heat transfer unit was a convection lab. During the lab, students used hot water (heat source), a pan, and some food coloring to demonstrate a convection current. We followed up by watching Bill Nye Heat. Then, we began our project.

In this project, students were required to show their understanding of the three types of heat transfer: convection, conduction, and radiation through a day in the life of a molecule or a day in the life of a person as the character went through each type of heat transfer. They were responsible for including the type of heat transfer in action, how the heat transfer works, how the heat is being transferred, and where the heat was being transferred to. Students needed to have dialogue, represented through speech bubbles, between the characters.

We started our project by brainstorming the differences and similarities between the three types of heat transfer. I provided a list of scientific vocabulary that could be used throughout the comic. Then, we had a mini lesson on how to use book creator and comic maker. Students were given the freedom to explore the two apps for the rest of the class period. The final step before beginning the comic included story board completion. Students were to sketch and plan out their scenes prior to completing on the app.

My students did have some issues along the way, but they displayed their collaboration skills through the problem solving process. We all worked together to try to solve the issue and one student was able to come up with a quick solution. She was eager to airplay her iPad and share the solution with the class. The class was engaged throughout the entire project. I am continuously amazed at the work my students produce with their iPads.





Twitter in the Classroom

Welcome to the next installment of our Guest Blogging Series!  This post comes from Christina Tsuei a teacher at Murdock-Portal Elementary.

Now, more than ever, technology allows us to stay connected to the world around us. Twitter is an online social networking tool in which users can post 140 character updates of what is going on in their lives.

In my multiage elementary classroom, my twitter account is primarily available for my classroom parents to get a live update of what is going on in their child’s classroom throughout the day. Too often, students go home and tell their parents they had a “good” day and they learned “nothing” that day. My twitter account gives parents a way to get the inside scoop of their daily educational experience.

Throughout the week, I give students the opportunity to come up with questions that relate to something they have learning in class so that parents can feel connected to their child’s learning experiences and they can ask their child meaningful questions. This provides opportunity to have an open dialogue between home and school. Parents also have the ability to tweet our class back.

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Our twitter instructions are as follows:

  1. Take a Post It note
  2. Write your tweet
  3. Stick it on the display under the correct heading

Heading choices are:

  • “What did you learn today?”
  • “What did you enjoy doing today?”
  • “What did you find challenging today?”
  • “What did you do to be of service to others today?”

Our class twitter account also follows other teachers locally and around the world. My students were able to skype with a class in Palo Alto and dialogue about what they were learning and experiencing. The class has really enjoyed being connected to the world around them through Twitter!

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 9.21.24 AMYou do not need a twitter account to read the tweets. Instead just click on this link: and you’ll be able to see recent tweets. If you are a twitter user, feel free to follow @MsTsuei!

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