NOTE: This post was composed with Matthew Winner (@MatthewWinner) and was also published on

Last year we took a journey that forced us out of our comfort zones and challenged us to rethink how teaching and learning takes place in our schools. It also resulted in what would be, without question, one of the most meaningful experiences working with children in our careers in education. We called the experience Earth Pals, and our collaboration was recognized by the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) for their 2013 SIGLIB Technology Innovation Award.

This year we want you to experience the joy, the challenge, the discovery, and the genius. Today we invite you to join us for the first ever GeniusCon.

Kids are genius. They don’t perceive limits or boundaries in the ways that hinder most adults. Their solutions to life’s problems can seem convoluted, indirect, and unnecessary, but often the ideas of kids can be the most profound.

Unfortunately, their genius can be easily stifled when we place unnecessary limits and boundaries on them, forcing conformity to our “better” adult ideas.  

We know that involving stakeholders in decision-making opportunities increases buy-in for the resulting solution, yet often we make decisions for the students. It’s easier. It takes less time. It requires less work; less planning. It allows us to remain in control.

So, let’s do an experiment.

Challenge your class with the following question:

If you could change one thing about your school, what would you do?

No matter what age level, chances are your students can name a handful of areas they’d address if given a chance. So, let’s give them that chance!

Here’s our hypothesis: By allowing students to generate their own solution to a problem, devise their own way of collecting data to measure the success of the solution, and produce a method of sharing their results with the world, a learning environment where students feel empowered and learning feels authentic will be fostered.  

The Pitch

Last year our Genius Hour-inspired inquiry-based learning opportunity challenged students to be change agents within their school and in the education community at large. We worked persistently to ensure student-driven inquiry at all cost, facilitating where needed, but constantly asking, What solution do you think would work best? and Why don’t we try it and see what results? The end findings went beyond anything we could predict, affecting the students, their classmates, and, later, the entire school population. We’re still feeling the ripple effects, and that’s part of why we’re bringing this idea to all of you.

So, give it a try! Step back and let the amazing ideas of your students shine centerstage. Guide your students, but allow them to try new ideas that may lead to both successes and failures. Your students will be challenged (as will you), but will walk away with a sense of pride and ownership in all they accomplished.   

But as LeVar would say, you don’t have to take our word for it!

Give students an opportunity to shine and they will rise to the occasion.

The Process

We documented our processes throughout Earth Pals to ensure that the projects were replicable. In our cases, we, as teacher librarians, each paired with a classroom teacher in our school, and then connected the two schools together across state lines through Skype, Edmodo, and the use of Google Docs to plan and document our progress.

Here are the archives of our work:

Matthew’s students (Energy Conservation)

Sherry’s students (Recycling)

There’s no right or wrong way to approach this project and you will most certainly do what you feel is best to help your students thrive. Use the GeniusCon Google Doc or the #GeniusCon hashtag to share ideas, find support, and collaborate with others.

The Payoff

In May, we will host the first ever GeniusCon, live on Google Hangouts.  It will be a day filled with the sharing of ideas implemented... of geniusness shared school to school, class to class, student to student.  

Details will be determined closer to May, but one thing is certain: it will be a day to remember.

Until then, let’s connect and share together.  

Take the GeniusCon pledge below:

Let’s use our ideas and voices together to make our schools better.

Let’s show the world our genius.


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