Genius Hours: Something all Teachers Should Consider for Spring

screenshot-2016-11-28-10-08-45When teachers adopt and adapt successful  business models in classrooms, the results can be as beneficial in schools as they are in the business world. Here’s one business concept taking classrooms by storm:  Genius Hours.

Mr. Ferrell’s 6th graders explain their passion project.


The idea is credited to something started at Google corporate in 2004, when founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote a short blurb in their annual IPO letter, We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner. Some of the highly successful 20% products include the development of Google News, Gmail, and even AdSense.

Teachers across the country have taken the idea to their classrooms. For a designated amount of time (some teachers tell us they use minutes each day, others prefer 1 block of time each week) students work on projects they are passionate about while meeting state standards and indicators without even realizing it.

In order to see the concept in action, we turned to none other than K-State College of Education Graduate, Jonathan Ferrell, a 6th grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary in Shawnee Mission School District. A Kansas Teacher of the Year nominee, Mr. Ferrell’s students have found rigor, relevance, and relationships through their Genius Hour projects this semester. Mr. Ferrell’s  students’ “passion projects” include an ever-evolving list of projects and products. Here are just a few:

  • Prosthetic fingers
  • Designing a game
  • DIY Cooler
  • Cleaning spray
  • Prosthetic limb for an injured dog
  • Inventing a stylus
  • “Bake It” a bakery Etsy shop
  • Model train
  • Designing clothing

Students hone their skills by researching real-life concepts and interviewing industry experts. Mr. Ferrell’s sixth graders host outside audiences as they gain confidence in their product designs and prototypes. Cross-curricular applications are discovered as they present to students in other grade levels and schools.  Students become highly motivated as they see inventions realized and sales made.

Want to know more about how you might incorporate Genius Hours in your classroom this spring? A great resource is Chris Kesler’s YouTube video and the resources found at The Genius Hour webpage. Clicking around that site you’ll also find books, webinars, and blogs to get you started. Do you teach primary grades? Click on Erica Adams’ YouTube video of her 2nd grade Genius Hour experiences. Whatever grade level you teach we think you’ll be convinced that adopting and adapting the Genius Hour concept this spring is a good thing!


Virtual Reality: Coming to a Classroom Near You

Child with virtual reality and network

Think of the possibilities… You live in a remote area and teach in a school with limited assets, yet after lunch your students are going on a field trip to walk around The Louvre.

A field trip to the Louvre?

It’s possible. Without even leaving your classroom.

An explosion of virtual reality (VR) technology has found it’s way into education. At first only high end and pricey headsets made classroom use seem frivolous. However, Google Cardboard–an inexpensive cardboard viewing device– can provides students with 360 degree virtual reality experiences for less than the price of a school lunch (We actually found them for $1 on E-bay).

How can EdCats get in on the ground floor? Here are some ideas:

  1.  Here is an early demo of Google Cardboard. You will quickly see the potential the inventors had in mind.
  2.  This is more of a nuts and bolts video of how Google Cardboard works and how you put the pieces together for classroom use.
  3. While Google Cardboard is the least expensive, there are other choices. We found the Oculus Rift at Best Buy for about $600. Pricey, but includes headphones, a Microsoft controller, and other gaming accessories. So why would a classroom need such an expensive piece of equipment? Here’s a great demonstration of how students could virtually walk through parts of the human body while wearing an Oculus Rift.

If we have whet your appetite for the potential of using VR technology in your classroom, head over to to see apps, demos, or even order your first classroom set of Google Cardboard.

Let us know if you are an early adopter and how you are using VR in your classroom!

When the Honeymoon is Over.



The grind has started. New shoes are scuffed, knees in students’ jeans are starting to fade a bit, and the five extra minutes of sleep is worth more than the latte at the local coffee shop. Welcome to the REALITY WEEKS.

What’s different?

TIME… the beginning of the school year began after weeks of anticipation, Pinterest and preparation for your honeymoon, er…classroom. Now it seems that time is a commodity that is more valuable than you ever dreamed.

MONEY…you may not have the first paycheck of the year yet–if you have, it may have depleted quickly as you purchased personal and professional items that were long overdue.

You have gone from an outsider to an insider, and the view may be markedly different than you had anticipated.

So just like a relationship gone stale, it is important to know and understand ways to keep a vital, vibrant, engaging classroom on track:

  1. Keep the classroom alive. Look around. Have you changed the seating arrangement yet? Have you moved your desk? Can you see your desk? If parent conferences were tonight, would the room look inviting and tidy? In this Scholastic Article on organizing physical space, Linda Shalaway discusses ways to keep your classroom student-centered grades K-12.
  2. Get a reading of your instructional practices. Better yet, give them a survey to discover what’s going well and what could be improved. Robert Marzano has some excellent surveys to enhance your reflective practice. There is even a primary grade survey with smiles and frowns that could be read to students to gain information on how they perceive school is going.
  3. Stop and Smell the Roses. The season is changing. Is it cool enough to go outside and read in a shady spot? Can you open a window in the morning? What are some successes and achievements thus far? CELEBRATE! Any milestone can become a fun celebration.
  4. Bring in a Guest Speaker. Educator Michael Adams has 8 reasons bringing in a guest speaker is a good idea. Adams suggests that guest speakers provide student benefits–such as hearing a new voice, to teacher benefits–such as learning from the guest speaker and enhancing future lessons. Remember, guest speakers don’t physically have to be present, you can Skype, Face-time, or Zoom them right in! Many parents would love to visit and participate in a way that can be helpful.
  5. Take a risk. Try something you have never tried. Perhaps there is an app, an idea for a lesson to try, or something simple as getting under desks/tables rather than sitting at them. Switch things up! Perhaps you could swap teachers for a teacher trade for 15 minutes of calendar time, lesson introduction, or other creative endeavor?

Keep in mind that none of these tips can be helpful if you are exhausted and grumpy. As a new teacher you are laying the foundation for future years of teaching. What seems like an endless cycle of planning/teaching/grading will be much less intense in future years. Files and folders may only need a little tweaking next year! Take good care of YOU. Restock the treat drawer (or make a list of what treats to buy when that paycheck finally comes in), download a guilty pleasure on Netflix and watch 10 minutes while you eat lunch. Better yet, take a quick walk outside, inhale deeply, and reset for a minute. Need more ideas? Please consider checking out our EdCat Chats created by professors and partners in the College of Education. You’ll find some additional helpful hints for enhancing YOUR professional practice. Another great resource is the Before the Bell  news letter put out by the College of Ed. Thank you for all you are doing for students!


Layered Curriculum

I was recently asked to do some professional development for a school district. The assistant superintendent asked me to include some ideas for Layering Curriculum. With those teachers in mind, I am going to put some links here that I think will be useful to EdCats as well.

P8JCZaoHuBqBVY2EBDFZ4vHb7pa43YXOsxa09zCcUbW2oJ2nwukX_eEnJdsCxdwntM8kxw=s85  Kathy Nunely is a secondary teacher that coined the phrase “layered curriculum” in the context of classroom learning and has a significant amount of resources on her website.

Her out-of-the-box thinking allows students to choose assignments from a teacher-created menu they can get excited about!

You may want to check out her hot topics section to get some ideas to refresh your teaching.

Taking the menu idea to a whole ‘nother level is Rick Wormeli. When you click on that link you will go to some resources put together by the Kentucky Dept. of Ed. Lots of menu ideas there.

Do you use menus? Do you have some ideas to share? Send them to and I’ll be happy to post them here for EdCats!

Teaching until the last bell.

It’s interesting to hear some teachers complain about state testing taking up instructional time but they are willing to show movies and play games during the last two weeks of school. Don’t be that teacher!

yougotthis1Here are some ideas for keeping things going until the last bell:

  • Set some short-term academic goals and encourage students to finish strong!
  • Learn something new with your students. Modeling an interest in life-long learning can be motivating.
  • Short term project based or theme based learning can be a great way to combine two classes or grade levels for a portion of the day.
  • The busier your students are, the less time they have to misbehave. This can be a good time to put students in charge of some of the tasks they have seen you model all year: what are some of your tasks that students could take over?
  • Use Skype to cross barriers. Is there a project that you could do with a classroom across the city, across the state or across the world? Technology allows teacher-to-teacher planning to exchange ideas on teaching the same content.
  • Turn students into videographers. Short movies can be great performance-based assessments.
  • Incorporate music and art into the day if you haven’t been.
  • Writing with a purpose can be fun. Letters to the senior center, a retired teacher, or next year’s grade level (giving them tips for the next grade) can be a great new tradition!
  • Keep a daily joy journal on a poster, on a bulletin board, in dry erase marker on the desk or on the door!
  • Hold focus groups for feedback on how to do things with your students next year. You won’t believe the great ideas that students have.
  • ENJOY. There are still so many memories to make! Your students will take your cue and learn to find joy in each of the “lasts” for this year.

Solvitur ambulando. We can do this.

Just say NO to Summer countdowns.

I was a visitor in a building yesterday and on a huge screen in the cafeteria there was a countdown to summer. I’m not a fan.

The students were chatting and I decided to ask them about it.

“So you guys, I see there’s a countdown to summer break up there. How do you feel about the countdown to summer?”

The first student confirmed my assumption.

It gives me anxiety. I have so much to get done before the break.


A second student chimed in as she looked back and forth to the students next to her,

“I’m dreading summer. I’m going to miss you guys so much!”

So why the countdowns? I suppose it encourages students that freedom is coming, as if school is a sentence to be endured. It might be that a teacher wants a visual reminder that his/her freedom from the students is coming; however, neither message seems very positive. Here’s why I wish countdowns would go away for the sake of students:

  • For some students, breaks from school mean physically moving to another house. Students may have challenging summer scenarios such as moving to another parent/guardian’s home for summer custody arrangements.
  • For some students, summer means food insecurity.  We may joke about cafeteria food but it’s available and nutritious.  Summer breakfast or lunch programs can fill a gap but they may not be close to students’ homes or convenient for consistent attendance.
  • For some students, summer means lack of supervision. Students may not be supervised while parents work and they may even find themselves in charge of younger siblings.

Although teachers may find countdowns motivating, the countdown mentality may actually do more harm than good:

  • Teachers may be giving the signal that they can’t wait to be away from their students. Instead of beginning the day with enthusiasm, teachers may be sending the message that school is a “sentence” in which to be endured.
  • Teachers may be reinforcing a message that the time left is insignificant and that there isn’t much time for more learning to take place.
  • Teachers might be sending the message that the time to come is more important than what is happening today.

No matter how educators feel about countdowns, summer break is coming. Perhaps being mindful of how our students perceive the impending break from school can help us help them to navigate what awaits them. We owe it to ourselves and our students to take advantage of every opportunity to build skills for all aspects of their lives, including the summer months ahead.





School is never out for the professional.One of the great joys of being a lifelong learner is visiting schools and having the opportunity to get ideas to pass on to our students. Last week I had the privilege of visiting Junction City Middle School. They are utilizing a “short cycle” formative assessment strategy within a framework for teaching by Steve Ventura at Advanced Collaborative Solutions.  Any talk of assessments can guarantee a few groans in our test-crazy school climate, but Mr. Ventura’s work is geared toward low-risk, short cycle formatives, that encourage a culture of errors-as-process in a 4 step formula of continuous improvement. His website even touts the adage:

What would your students be willing to accomplish if they knew they could not fail?

Teachers work in teams as they approach a new unit. Each student’s strengths and challenges are kept in mind. Here are some photos of the charts this team used to move their students (a lot of them) forward:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Not only was this fun to see, but one of our own EdCats was part of this team and their presentation! Please consider sending is what YOUR building is doing as an innovative practice in schools!

Dr. Martinez


There are some VERY exciting collaborations happening in the The College of Education. One of the most exciting is with Shawnee Mission School District. 

One would not think such a large district (28,000 students) could move so quickly but innovation abounds among a progressive administration known as LEAD 512.

Here are a few highlights of current initiatives in SMSD:

Ed Tech instructor, Cyndi Danner-Kuhn works with Instructional Coaches, teachers, and buildings on more and new ways to infuse curriculum with technology. SMSD has one-to-one technology and a tech explosion is taking place in classrooms

Dr. Socorro Herrera and some of her staff members at the Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy (CIMA) are providing professional development for seven elementary schools in SMSD. See some of the excitement right here on a link to their FB page.

Using SWIVL technology, our Professional Development School allows for distance supervision of K-State student teachers in SMSD. Our students from the Kansas City Area love the opportunity to live at home while they student teach! Our college is becoming nationally known for our pioneering work with SWIVL technology.

There are some exciting new initiatives coming for Fall 2016, stay tuned and find out more reasons we are proud of this innovative collaboration!




This semester, the Office of Innovation and Collaboration has bridged a partnership between Ft. Riley’s Bravo Battery and USD #383 to recognize teachers who have served our country.  Bravo Battery Captain Steven Maxwell, Soldiers, Dean Mercer, and COE students have enjoyed surprising veterans and their students.

As these heroes and “she-roes” share their military career highlights with their students, we have been touched by their stories and their students’ reactions to these important contributions to the freedom we enjoy. We hope you enjoy seeing some of the salutes!

EdCat Salute EMS
Eisenhower Middle School teachers who are veterans. We SALUTE you! Thank you for your service.
One of our veterans and his former student! Quite a happy coincidence!
One of the Certificates presented at an EdCat Salute!


What an exciting time to be a part of the College of Education at Kansas State. We talk a lot about Family at Kansas State University. We talk it and we walk it. So welcome to a little family reunion right here on this blog.

Who are EdCats? College of Education students and alumni of the College of Education. Not sure if you are? Here’s a little quiz:

  1. The word Catalyst makes you smile.
  2. Bluemont Hall isn’t just a building, it’s a memory that includes all 5 senses.
  3. When people mention K-State in a conversation, you’re pretty sure they think they know…but they don’t know your K-State.

We want to keep your College of Education experience going. We want to continue to provide opportunities for growth and collaboration after you graduate. We want to see your classrooms, exchange your great innovations and ideas. We’re even planning to get together at a Tailgate next fall. (It doesn’t get more FAMILY than that, does it.) Join us!