Genius Hour – Tackling Research

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 8.34.50 PM

The Genius Hour Pilot Group                         Julie, Sharidy, Natalie, Peytra and Meagan

As Genius Hour continues, teachers are heading into the research aspect of the project. My original Genius Hour group decided to reach out and enlist the help of our library assistant, Kristina, to teach their students how to research.  On separate days, each teacher brought their GH group to the library where Kristina brought the art of research alive.

Nicole, a fellow TOA/Coach, introduced GH to one of her elementary schools.  She approached the research task differently.

In this blog, you’ll hear from both Kristina and Nicole.  Kristina will explain her middle school research presentation and then Nicole will describe her Padlet page.


Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 8.22.27 PM            Kristina – Middle Level Research

When Sharidy, one of the teachers involved in Jenn’s Genius Hour Project, approached me about doing a little lesson in the library about research I knew it had to be good. I wanted to develop something that would:

  1. Not put the kids to sleep.
  2. Relieve anxiety about the daunting task of “research” and actually stir some excitement in their pubescent souls.
  3. Give kids clear steps to minimize overwhelm-ent (At this point, I am taking liberties to make words up).
  4. Suggest good sources of information and briefly touch on website reliability.
  5. Make students laugh a minimum of 2 times.

I decided to do a Prezi. I really like the dynamic format, and thought it may be something a little different for the kids too. Here’s a link to my presentation:

We began by asking ourselves why research is an important skill. I wanted it to be clear that the things we were talking about would be relevant not just for this project, but in tangible ways throughout their lifetimes.

A good friend and former colleague of mine, retired teacher librarian Joan McCall, used to talk about the research process in terms of pizza. The idea was that you can’t down a pizza all at once. You have to eat it slice by slice.

I decided to use this same analogy, and when I was searching for pizza images to add to my Prezi, fate brought me to a picture of someone I knew had to be the star of this show:


The idea is that pizza cat must eat his pizza slice by slice. Similarly, in order to be done successfully, the research process must also be taken slice by slice. We then talked about “Research, By the Slice.”

I listed six critical steps (inspired by Bob Berkowitz and Mike Eisenberg’s Big 6 Model) that students would need to follow in order to conduct a successful research project. Feel free to check out my Prezi to see those steps outlined!


Particular attention was paid to explaining to students how once they had their topics, it was important to break those topics down into “research-able” parts (this was discussed during the “Slice 2: Make a Strategy” step). The teachers were finding that students were having a hard time with this, and were just wanting to type their entire question into Google and be done with it. Here we talked about how to “dismantle” their research questions in order to find solid information.

After the six steps were explored, we dove into a discussion about good sources of information. Our school subscribes to the Digital Content Portal (a curated collection of digital databases including World Book Online, Ebsco, CA Streaming and more), and I briefly demonstrated how each of those could be used, and talked about the benefits of using these trustworthy databases instead of parachuting blindly into the swirling vortex that is Google.

I also showed them our school’s subscription to Gale eBooks, and offered this as another valuable place to look for reliable information, written at a level that was perfect for them to understand.

Truth be told though, depending on his or her topic, sometimes a kid’s just got to google stuff. We next talked about using the Google Advanced Search feature to limit results. I used an example that I had recently witnessed in the library during a student’s search for images of General Lee for an 8th grade Social Studies Project. If you are my vintage, you will already begin to predict that when the kid did his google image search for “General Lee,” much to his dismay, he did not find images of a Confederate army leader. No. He got only pictures of the careening vehicle (with its culturally insensitive paint-job) belonging to Dukes of Hazzard brothers Beau and Luke Duke.

We then did the same search using the features of Google Advanced Search, and lo and behold, found our grey-haired, bearded, stone-eyed general without a hitch. Thanks, Google Advanced Search!

By this time I was a little worried that the kids’ brains would either be about ready to a) descend into comatose state or b) explode, so I knew I needed to wrap things up quickly. Our last conversation had to do with website reliability, and I gave them a couple of quick tips for assessing websites, and we called it a day.

I was so honored to get to be a part of this inspiring project, and felt so gratified knowing that the kids could explore this project without the stress of a major end-product expectation. Introducing research in this way, where we know the process is the main focus, just feels right in so many ways. I am sincerely excited to see what the kids dream up with the support of this dreamy team of teachers.


Nicole – Elementary Padlet Page


As a 1st year Instructional Coach I am constantly looking at what others are doing in classrooms and trying to adapt it for my Teachers.  I started following Jenn’s blog and was completely intrigued when I read about Genius Hour.  By simply reposting on Facebook, I had Marcia’s  (a 4th grade teacher) interest immediately.  We got together to discuss the concept and came up with our plan on how to roll it out to her class.  Much of what we are using has come directly from Jenn’s posts such as the Kid President videos and Kevin Brookhouser’s TED talk We have also found a lot of samples and implementation pieces such as a parent letter through the Live Binders by Joy Kirr website.

We started with the “I Wonders” and how the students were going to be given the opportunity to teach us something.  After this it was time to broaden their Internet horizons!

Knowing that this was going to need a little more structure with the 4th graders, I decided to use to guide their exploration on the web.  With this virtual bulletin board I was able to create links to websites I had discovered using the Great Websites for Kids page.


Nicole’s Padlet Page

Here I chose websites focusing on everything from aspects of classical music to coding, with a wide variety for every interest in between.  Having laptops for every student, their engagement levels were incredible, I knew we had them hooked!


Our next session, focused on seeing other students from all different grade levels discussing their projects.  We shared with them that this is how they will be teaching us something. Some students were already talking about what they wanted to research! We gave them another opportunity to explore with that had been updated with different websites for the week.


Students interacting with Nicole’s Padlet Page

This week we will ask students to decide on their projects and start working on their proposals. In anticipation of some students not being able to develop a clear idea of what they would like to work on we plan on using questioning strategies to spark their own creativity as well as having available.

As Kid President would say, “It’s time to go out there and be AWESOME!”

Other Posts in the Genius Hour Series


About jgvadnais

Instructional Technology Coach. Desmos Fellow. Google Level 1 Certified. SoCal transplant. New Englander at heart. Lover of yoga, dogs, green smoothies and coffee creamer
This entry was posted in 20%time, 20time, genius hour, livebinders, padlet, research and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Genius Hour – Tackling Research

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