#Geniushour Project Reflection

This post has been percolating for a little while. I thought that I would write a post so that I could organize my thoughts.

Last term, I undertook a #geniushour project by allowing my students to decide what they wanted to learn more about. This involved planning a final project which would act as an archive of the learning.

Here are some things that I learned through this (sometimes messy) process:

  • It is definitely not about the final project. Having the kids blog about their learning was key! For example, some students took on a green screen film project which, although funny and entertaining, did not turn out how they wanted it to. It was by reading the reflections that I gained insight into the student learning. Reading their blog posts has helped me to understand what my students are learning and what their struggles have been throughout the process.
  • Feedback is essential. I walk around the room and ask questions about the projects that the kids are working on. It is hard for me to give feedback without unintentionally guiding the direction of the project. Students keep asking me, “Is this what you want, Mr. Hatch?” I keep telling them that their project has nothing to do with me…it is about them and their learning. I also encourage students to solicit peer feedback – either in person or by comments on their blogs.
  • Kids are going to get stuck and they are going to fail and get frustrated. This is when it is important to support rather than bail them out. Ask questions…”What do you think you could do now?”, “Is there anything that I could do to help you?”, Is there anyone that you could ask?” It is important to keep the student from giving up. I just keep telling students that failure is learning. Write a blog post about what happened and what you intend to do.
  • Encourage your students to find mentors who can help them. Mentors can be fellow students, staff members, parents or other people in the school community. One of my students was watch a tutorial video on YouTube and ended up sending an email to the developer of the video asking questions – her questions were graciously answered and she was pointed to a place on-line where she could learn more.
  • You have to trust your students and the process. If you have offered the right amount of support, things will come together at the end of the term. If it doesn’t, the student still learned something and they should be encouraged to reflect on that learning.
  • Reflection is essential. For my class, I had them write blog posts so I could track their progress. I found that students were brutally honest in their posts. Here is a sample post that I was reading today from a student who is part of a group working on a role playing video game. I was bubbling with excitement for this student when I read the posts because the reflections previous to this one were about how his group was stuck and was not making very much progress.

Progress, so much progress. I don’t think we have ever been as efficient as we were today. Today, we finished off fixing up the controls and the physics. We had full control over our character and we could move him around a 3D plane. It was so trivial and yet it excited all of us so much. All the things we just look over when playing games, we can really appreciate now. It took a lot of work and it wasn’t with out compiler errors, but luckily we got through it. Not only did we finally get those pesky collisions that have been giving us so much trouble out of the way, but we also started working on the camera and finished that as well. We now have our camera working as it follows the player around. Yes, it sounds really trivial, but you have no idea how much work it actually took. I mean, can you tell me what “Vector 3 = 0. Mathf.SIGN” means, because before today I sure didn’t. Overall, I felt really accomplished after today. It feels good to see the outcome of your work doesn’t it. Next up, we have to work on making a model, so that our character doesn’t look like a square. I’m looking forward to that since making your own character is one of the most exciting parts. So, things are looking up for weeks to come.

Is this student engaged and motivated in his learning? Is this kid learning skills that will benefit him in his career choice?

I can’t believe it has taken me more than 25 years as a teacher to figure out this model for learning. It has been so powerful and it has been incredibly rewarding. My students blow me away every single week by the amount that they are learning and sharing. Don’t be afraid to give up control to your students and let them navigate their own learning.



What does it mean to be Principled? (reflection)


Each week at our school, we have a homeroom challenge. It started off in September as a trivia question and evolved into identifying songs which were played over the intercom. Each homeroom class was challenged to submit an answer and the homeroom challenge trophy was awarded. In October, each week had a dress up component…wearing pink, Canadian pride, sports jerseys, etc. Some of these challenges were introduced through our school Twitter feed…as a way of getting our school community to start looking at Twitter as a way to receive important information.

As a result, students and staff are looking to Twitter for the homeroom challenge.

In November, we turned our challenge up a notch:

I sent this out via email:

Hello Everyone,

Here is this week’s challenge:

As a homeroom, you must read this blog post and, together with your class, submit a reply (right on the blog site). We will acknowledge a homeroom in PYP and one in MYP to as the “winners”.

To leave a reply, scroll to the bottom of the post and enter it in that space…you may need to submit an email address. Remember, this reply is public on the internet and can be seen by anyone in the world. If you want to include a picture or other media, you will have to provide the link. Please remember digital citizenship and FOIPP.

Please remember to sign your reply with the name of your homeroom (eg. 7A, 3B, etc.)


Then, followed up with this…

The reason that we originally chose this kind of challenge was to expose our staff and students to a blog site and get them to see how easy it is to post a reply. Also, we wanted our students to talk about what it meant to be principled.

We chose two “winners” for the challenge but that is not the important part. What is important is that we used collaboration to create a page which does a great job of explaining the IB Learner Profile attribute of “principled”. Our school community has provided examples which will be easy for other students to relate to because THEY WERE CREATED BY KIDS…with the help of their teachers. We were all blown away with the quality of the replies that we got on the blog post.

This challenge has reinforced a few things for me:

  • Great things happen as a result of collaboration.
  • The replies submitted by each class on the blog page are a by-product of a rich conversation which happened in that room around the attribute of Principled.
  • Kids need teachers to guide them in the areas of citizenship and digital citizenship.
  • Blogging is a powerful way to share information and have a “conversation”. Since replies were posted in a public forum…they were extremely well crafted.
  • It doesn’t matter if you are the “winner” as long as you learn and grow as a result of an activity/challenge.
  • Our school is awesome!


What does it mean to be Principled?

This is a cross post from our school’s blog site.

The IB Learner Profile attribute for this month is Principled.

In September, we focused on the attribute of Risk-taker and in October, we organized our activities and conversations around the attribute of Open-Minded. These two attributes are pretty self explanatory and students and staff could easily relate to them.

What does it mean to be Principled?

When you go to a dictionary, this is what you get:

principled - definition






When you look at the defintion from the IB Learner Profile, this is what you will see:


But what does this mean for our school and our students? How do we demonstrate that we are principled learners? When is it important to be principled? Are there people that you admire because they are principled? Why is this an important and essential attribute to possess?

Please share your thoughts. On our school site, we have asked each of our homerooms to submit a reply. If you have the time, could you please submit a reply below?



Attributes of a Learner

It is so great to be back at an IB World School. At the heart of the International Baccalaureate programme is the Learner Profile.


The Learner Profile is made up of 10 attributes that we, as an IB school, strive to instill in our students. At our school, we are focusing on one attribute each month. For example, this month’s attribute is Open-Minded. We try to incorporate the monthly attribute into the activities that we do at school. At the end of each week, a student offers a reflection on the intercom pertaining to the monthly attribute. Classroom learning activities are planned with the monthly (and other) attributes in mind. Check out our twitter feed to see some of the things that are going on in our fantastic school.

It struck me recently that this Learner Profile looks very similar to the Curriculum Redesign initiative created by our Provincial Education Ministry. Alberta’s curricular redesign concept is represented by this graphic:

Curriculum REDESIGN outcomes

Hmmm…looks pretty similar to the IB Learner Profile…the words are a little bit different but I think the concept is pretty similar.



Does any of this make sense?

Introduction of my #geniushour project


This year, I am teaching a technology option class for ninth grade students. These students came to the class in early September and were eager to learn. In the past, they have learned about Photography and Animation. As a former Math teacher, I was a little confused about how to teach technology. As a technology leader, I have learned things by trial and error and by making mistakes. I thought about teaching the students to use Photoshop…but what if they could care less about that?

To make a long story shorter, I challenged my class to use their time to learn whatever they wanted. The only requirements that I placed on the students was that their project had to involve the use of technology. Sticking to the #geniushour philosophy, I also told students that their project had to:

  • be driven by a guiding question (eg. How do you create a green screen movie?)
  • involve a research component (eg. there is so many sources of information online)
  • their learning must be shared

Hmmm…how do I get my students to share their learning with, not only each other, but with the world?


So that was my project…I started a class blog on Kidblog and I intend to have my students document and reflect on the learning that they will do for the next few months. By starting this blog site, I am not only giving my students a platform to share their learning, but I am also modelling the learning process in which I want them to become engaged.

Our school is an IB world school and our learner attribute for the month of September was Risktaking…ironic, isn’t it?

I will let you know how the projects are coming along.

Remind: a great way to send messages to your school group


I discovered Remind over 3 years ago through a fellow educator on Twitter. I tried Remind (at that time it was called Remind 101) and I was immediately impressed with the potential of this tool. I was teaching a class at the time and I had my kids test it for me. It was a great way to remind kids about upcoming exams and assignments and also remind them to bring certain materials to class. Kids today seem to always have their phones with them and text messaging is their number one way to communicate. I have tried many ways of getting information to students (daily announcements, emails, visual announcement (monitors in hallways), etc.) and I have determined that Remind is the BEST way for teachers to send announcements to their school communities. As a high school administrator and technology leader, I shared the tool with my staff (and at district technology PD sessions) and the feedback that I received was amazingly positive.

As we get back to school, here is a list of reasons why you should use Remind:

  1. It is easy for students and parents (not to mention teachers) to sign up for a class. Just post or project the info for your class. It takes literally seconds for a teacher to create a class…and it takes even less time for students and parents to sign up. Once a student texts the information below, they are asked to send their name and that is the last time that they can write a text response to any of the teacher generated messages.


  1. Remind is great to remind kids about tests, assignments or anything else. I just finished sending a message to my Technology class…”Please remember to bring cameras to school for tomorrow’s class”.
  2. Remind works great for clubs and teams or any other groups that do not meet regularly. I used it for a Cross Country Running team that I was coaching and it was extremely valuable…it also prevented some major frost bite. I could send out messages like, “It looks like snow for the race tomorrow…make sure you dress WARM!” When we are at a XC meet and my athletes are separated, I can use the Remind app on my iPhone to let them know where to meet.
  3. Teachers can send messages using Remind and they do not share (or have access to) any personal information. No phone numbers are recorded. Teachers get a list of the members of their class based on what the student types in when they sign up.
  4. Remind can be used from your desktop or by using the app on your phone.
  5. Remind does not let you play favorites…when you send out a message it goes to EVERYONE who is signed up. Our Provincial Teachers’ Association reminds us that having personal text conversations with students is not a good idea.remind4
  6. There are a few new features that are quite useful. Now, teachers can send attachments or record voice notes and send those out. Messages can also be scheduled…want to remind kids about a lunch time meeting? Write the message and schedule it to be sent out right before the lunch time bell.
  7. Remind keeps a history of every message that was sent by a teacher. From this archived list, a teacher can choose to tweet the message or send it again. When you are working with teenagers…they may need more than one reminder…as you are aware. Also new is a feature which allows students to “vote” on a message using the following icons:.remind2I can see this being extremely useful for teachers. Send out a message to your Basketball team like, “Are you available for a tournament on November 8? Check mark for yes, X for no”

I would recommend that you try Remind for your student/parent groups. There is no better way to send out timely information. I was so impressed by Remind that I dedicated one of the sections in my iTunes U course to it.

If you have any other uses of Remind, please share them in the comments section below.

Advice to a New Administrator – 3 years later


I was just re-reading a post that I wrote three years ago entitled, Advice to a New Administrator. This is the bit on which I have received the most hits since I began blogging. After I wrote that piece, I moved to a different high school within the same school district. Now…as I begin to bid farewell to this school <big sigh>, I have some thoughts running through my head and I feel that I need to add to my original post. I could go and edit the original post but I believe that a blog should serve as a journal. It is interesting to see how I have grown as an administrator with a different experience. I look forward to my change for next year as I will be working at a K-9 school. This is a little bit out of my comfort zone having worked in high schools for the past 19 years.

Anyway, here are my additions to my advice…

Relationships are definitely the most crucial thing for any administrator. Positive relationships built on trust…not only with students and staff but with everyone with whom you work…bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers, contractors, the list goes on. No…I didn’t forget about PARENTS. Your relationships with parents are paramount! These people are trusting you with their children. I know, as a dad, that this is not an easy thing to do. If you build positive relationships with parents, those hard-to-make phone calls are not as difficult. I had a parent say to me the other day, “I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I trust that you are doing what is right for all involved.” Powerful!

Show people that they matter -just as Bill Ferriter talks about in this post, take the time to look into the eyes of the people that you are dealing with…they matter. As I mentioned in my original post, administrators get interrupted many times throughout the day. If someone comes into your office…even if you are working on something that has a deadline…stop what you are doing, look them in the eyes, and LISTEN to what they are telling you. You can tell so much from looking someone in the eyes…anxiety, fear, anger, peace, etc. Learn the names of the kids in your school and find out what kinds of things they like. Get to know your staff…find out the names of their children, where they grew up, etc. I guess another way to give this advice is to simply say, “be there…and care”

Try not to solve people’s problems for them – Help and support students and teachers that come to you with problems. If you solve problems for people – which is very easy to do – they can blame you if the advice you give them blows up in their face. Also, having people solve their own problems works to build leadership capacity and confidence.

Enjoy time spent with kids – they grow up so fast! I can’t believe that the kids that I met as grade 10 students when I first came to this school are graduating already…where has the time gone? We all entered the field of education because we enjoy working with and inspiring young people…never lose focus of that! Some of my students refer to me as their “school dad” and I think that is an honour. I guess in many ways, I am like a dad here at school. Wow…I have a lot of kids!

Communication – let people know what is going on. More importantly, tell people the reasons why decisions are made. People like to be informed…especially parents.

Take time to breathe – sometimes you have to take time to yourself…whether you go for a run, a workout, or into a student/staff common area to hang out and to laugh. Reflection is the key to learning and growing. Spend time in quiet reflection – blogging and journaling are great ways to record your thoughts and the things your have learned. Don’t feel bad for spending quiet time alone – you deserve it.

There are very few emergencies in education – I can only think of a few things in my entire career that needed to be dealt with immediately…and those situations involved student safety or medical emergencies. Most things that we deal with as administrators can definitely wait. Take time to make the right decision…the decision that is best for all involved.

Health trumps education – in terms of priorities, health (mental and physical) is far more important than education. We have had many situations in which students have had to take some time away from school to get their health in check. In these situations, try not to talk about school – instead talk about getting the student some help. If a student is not well – school will be a struggle.

Share – share your experiences with others…as I am doing through this post. Find a great article…tweet it! Have some teachers who are doing amazing things in their classrooms?  Get them to share it at a staff meeting. Work with other teachers…share ideas…do some team teaching. We will all get better if we collaborate and share.

Never stop learning – you work in an environment where you are one of the lead learners. It is important for educational leaders to model lifelong learning. We live in a world where there is so much to know and so much to learn. It is absolutely impossible to know everything but you should have a pretty good idea of where to access the information that you need. Find out who your experts are in your building and use them as a resource. For example, I have learned so much about autism from some of my colleagues over the past three years.

Step outside of your comfort zone – if you do what is comfortable, you will never grow and learn…and your job will get old. Try something that is new and different – you will be amazed at how refreshing it is. Yeah, your brain will hurt at first but you will be better for it.

And last but certainly not least…in fact, VERY IMPORTANT…

Trust teachers – teachers care about their kids and they will always do what is best for them. Many tasks are labelled as “admin tasks” and I don’t understand why. Teachers are extremely capable of doing many of these tasks. In fact, they are honoured when you ask them to do something…they feel empowered. Wouldn’t you have been flattered when you were teaching if an admin asked you to do something that you thought was an “admin duty”? Need some insight into a situation? Ask the teachers involved. Teachers know their stuff and can give you tons of insight. We had a situation here recently which was solved by going to the teachers involved and asking, “What do you see as the solution”. Empower the teachers in your building to be leaders! Don’t be afraid to give up the power.

Well, that’s all I have for today. I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment.