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Please complete the following poll before beginning the coursework for this class:
What is your level of Genius Hour level of knowledge?
1 vote
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I'm a Genius Hour newbie.
I've heard of GH, but want to learn more
I'm a Genius Hour expert.

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Of all the possible curation tools students can choose from online, the three sources that have been addressed by this module are by far some of the best I have experienced. Each of the three has something to offer students, and each of the three do it very well. Padlet is excellent for a collection of ideas and the ability for students to quickly share and comment. Blendspace is an amazing application educator can use to not only teach an extremely interactive class but create learning boards or choice boards students can use to succeed. These two applications can both serve as a portfolio for students throughout the year and both serve their purpose very well. The last of the three, Smore, has the functionality to serve as both an informative newsletter and a working website. More than Padlet and Blendspace, Smore appears to me to be most inclusive, and therefore the best choice for kids in the classroom.

Smore offers its users many different avenues to present their ideas in a scrolling newsletter setting. They offer many different themes for users to choose from, as well as many different formats within each theme. Having the ability to embed links, videos, photos, and documents, pushes the functionality of this application to high levels of engagement. The students will be able to create professional looking websites and newsletters that allow them to share all of the information they have gathered and projects they have completed. The best attributes of Smore are the preconceived formats that do not require much changing to adapt to a format that fits one’s personal style. Each bar of the newsletter allows for full customization and unique formats for the type of media you are wanting to make public. There are many color combinations, font choices, and background images that can be chosen to personalize the entire interface. Aesthetically speaking, I have never made something look so professional in such a short amount of time. All of the features allow students to create a high-level project for the high-level work they put into their research and essential questions.

I would use Smore as a curation device for students to use as they develop and answer questions throughout Genius Hour. The ability to scroll throughout the application creates a perfect template for students to walk the reader through each step of the process, what they found, and what conclusions they have come to in the end. Students can have videos uploaded from YouTube, of themselves talking, or of interviews with other people. They can upload images they have uncovered in their research and have space to write small captions about the impact of their findings. With so many different formats, no two presentations will look entirely the same. The only downside to Smore is the lengthiness that may be reached by some students projects. I do not necessarily know how engaging it might be for a student to scroll and scroll and scroll throughout a Genius Hour summary. There is also limited collaborative capabilities that do not allow for students to comment or reflect on other work in the classroom. These are very small critiques of an otherwise beautifully created application to help student share their thoughts and ideas.

The most powerful research tool on the Genius Hour Learning Board is NewsELA. The purpose of this website is to give kids reliable and accurate article in a centrally housed location. The ease with which students can search and find information they need for their Genius Hour projects is perfect for a self-guided, self-paced project. The best attribute NewsELA has to offer is the ability for students to choose a reading level they are comfortable annotating. There is no point in students finding a good article if the lexicon is over their head and the majority of the article does not make sense to the student. The other beautiful thing about this tool is the ability to save articles for later. In the middle of research and following hyperlinks, it is very nice for all articles to be filed away and brought back up with relative ease. These attributes make NewsELA the best option for students of all age groups.

NewsELA gathers articles from around the internet and adapts them to fit the style and lexicon levels of the majority of students. In a non-discrete way, students can lower the level of the article to a lexicon they are capable of understanding. NewsELA has also created a vast web of categories and tabs that have made it extremely easy for students and teachers to navigate in order to find an article that can help them in their research. It also updates on a daily basis, adding hundreds of articles each and every month that are both current and relative to modern day events. Teachers also have the capability of creating a classroom, allowing them to push out articles to students that are useful to their course of study. In the short time I have used NewsELA, I do not believe there to be any glaring holes for use in the classroom. I am thrilled to incorporate it into my classroom in the near future.

All of these features provided by NewsELA make it the perfect research tool for students of all learning abilities. It is a launching point where students can survey articles from all different courses of study: Geography, US History, Arts & Culture, Religion & Philosophy, etc. For a student driven project such as Genius Hour, these wide reaching topics provide students a multitude of ideas and opinions to help jumpstart the research of their topics. The worst part about having students research is the painstaking conversations informing them a blog from a left wing biased reporter might not be the most reliable information. With NewsELA these conversations no longer need to happen. Students can seamlessly search over thousands of articles that are acceptable and teachers can rest easy knowing they will easily find success.

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Beginning next year with 1:1 devices, I am excited to learn about multiple opportunities for my students to develop graphic organizers to help them organize information. In the past I have used websites like MInd42, but was very disappointed in what it has to offer. Both MindMeister and Coggle offer an easier interface, are more aesthetically pleasing, and create a better final product. Outside of Genius Hour, I could have students start a Graphic Organizer at the beginning of every unit, adding to it each and every day before they leave. By the end of the unit, students will have a completed graphic organizer mind map chronicling all of the information we have covered in the current unit. There are so many possibilities for students to use these tools in the classroom.

After using both MindMeister and Coggle, I am fairly certain I enjoyed using Coggle for my brainstorming needs. Although both websites essentially do the same thing, Coggle offers a couple of things that push it above the rest. One of these reasons is the ability to collaborate on a graphic organizer. Two students have the capability of working on one mind map, from two different locations. MindMeister provides the opportunity to share your creation, but doesn’t not allow you to collaborate. The second reason is the aesthetics for Coggle. The ease of the menu, the already established color schemes, and the flowing legs of the mind map invite me in to learn and take away from my thoughts. I do appreciate the ease of which one can read the ideas in MindMeister. Oftentimes in Coggle, the placement of the words for each part of the mind-map can be difficult to spot or read because of previous arrows and subtopics. I go back and forth on whether I like the menu on the side, or simply pop up for the strand I am currently focused on making perfect. I also appreciate MindMeister’s ability to attach a document or video to any strand, creating a much livelier graphic organizer. Both offer so many options, however, I still believe is the mind map creator to use in the classroom.

Genius Hour presents itself as a unique ability for students to consistently be brainstorming. Not only for help with determining what a student is passionate about, but also throughout the research portion to keep all their ideas detailed and organized. It is entirely plausible for me as the educator to create a mindmap that links every student in my classroom in order to have updates and check-ins with all students. Rather than a long list of students and projects, I can have nicely detailed and organized map of all students. I still am not entirely sold that this method of retention and brainstorming is any different than paper and pencil, however, if it is engaging students and they enjoy the process, it is definitely worth a try. 
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